Our previous experience with Turkish Airlines on the route Prague - Istanbul - Prague, in September 2007, was excellent; we therefore decided to benchmark, in August 2010, the quality of one of the longest routes operated by TK: Istanbul - Hong Kong.
Just like in September, we left from Prague. Same perfect impression from check-in to arrival, as described in our short-haul in-flight test; with one bonus: that time we received a “fast track” for express security control in Ruzyne. No need to stand in queue for this slow, boring procedure which always spoils our pleasure of flying. This was our first excellent surprise.After a short transfer via the Istanbul Atatürk transit area, we reached the «CIP Lounge», where TK offers a lavish treatment to its business and VIP clients. The company feels proud of what we actually consider like one of the best, most impressive C/F Class lounges in the world. We got there a display of what TK offers to executive flyers. The ground attendants are helpful, smiling and actually charming. The lounge is among the most beautifully designed we have experienced. It is very spacious and has a glamorous decoration, mixing large and deep leather sofas with gilded chairs (we should write thrones!) which made us feel like pashas. Many lounges come stressing, oppressive at peak hours; we experienced it between 7 till 10pm, when the traffic goes intense in Atatürk. Thanks to its cleverly designed 1470 m2, there was still plenty of room to accommodate oneself at ease. The buffet was regularly refilled with fine quality snacks, club sandwiches, sweets for kids, and a wide choice of soft and alcoholic beverages. Excellent espresso coffee. Large selection of daily newspapers and magazines (most of them in English; they should also consider other major languages like Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Mandarin). There is a huge, extremely comfortable Internet corner (WiFi is complimentary also: using you own laptop is easy, with a prompt signal shake-hand and electric plugs close to every armchairs and sofas). There is a prayers room. Long-haul flyers will like the presence of clean, well designed showers and a dark relaxing room with vibrating stretched armchairs which did us a world of good, driving us into a fast sleep. The washrooms are simply palatial: with precious marble and antique taps! All the marvels of the Orient are concentrated in this «CIP Lounge», which is well worth five star, as it actually reflects the atmosphere of a palace hotel!
After some quick purchase in what appears to be the cheapest, and one of the largest, duty free shopping mall in Europe (Cuban cigars and French perfumes are 30 till 50% cheaper than in Paris CDG!), we reached the gate after a long, cautious security check (no fast track for C Class passengers; most of them were clever enough to leave the CIP Lounge at the very last moment, not to stand in queue during 30 minutes; which we will do next time!). TK70 took off right on time: at exactly 23:50 (IST time). Much at ease, after a glass of chilled Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut and a refreshing towel , we could inspect more closely our Airbus A340-500 C Class cabin once we had reached our cruising speed. We sat in row 3, and could observe one of the flight attendant opening bottles of Champagne behind the front bar, decorated with natural flowers, and featuring crystal glasses, bottles of wine and other treats available to passengers throughout the flight. Two other attendants were navigating from one passenger to another, distributing “L'OCCITANE” smart and practical toilet kits, and inquiring about any personal request. We have been impressed by the service aboard: anticipating, indeed! We never called the attendant; we got everything we needed without requesting it. Of course, the permanent activity of the crew doesn't allow much communication with the passenger, and might give quite a cold impression; when flying TK with a B737, for instance, we found the staff much warmer and talkative; but the A340 C Class cabin shows an average 50-75% occupancy, and priority goes to efficiency and satisfaction of all the passengers.
The cabin is divided in 4 rows of 2 x seats. We didn't feel like in C, but F Class: there is much space and privacy, the already mentioned bar is not common in C Class, and the brand new flat-beds make all the difference. Quite similar to the “SpaceBed” we experienced aboard Singapore Airlines (and for a much higher ticket price...), the TK A340-500 ergonomic, fine wool and leather seat, is top comfortable in all positions. Actually relaxing in its full recline (135 degrees), once the lumbar supports have been adjusted to our back (this is either automatic or, if you prefer, manual via the electronic control located on the armrest). We were said by some travelers -and read it also in Internet airlines-related forums- that a slight angle doesn't allow a full flat-bed position. This is correct that our backrest was elevated by something like 30 degrees; while our footrest was standing perfectly horizontal. In our case, this allowed a superb position for sleeping during the 12 hours of the flight and, most important, for avoiding any jet lag. Business travelers can make sure that they will arrive in great shape in Hong Kong: being able to join meetings on the spot without feeling tired at all. 54 inches separate each seat from another. Seat features a personal, laptop-size multi-channel TV which seemed to be under-used by business passengers who actually preferred to sleep... maybe listening to one of the music channels.
We don't look TV aboard aircraft... but we DO eat. And we must say that TK is wonderful for gourmets: yes, airlines food can be tasty when catered by the Turkish DO & CO (see the menu here). Our starer was a plate of “Mezze”: Smoked Salmon with Crème Fraiche, Stuffed Eggplant and Garden Fresh Seasonal Salad. This was a refreshing fare, made out of prime quality ingredients. We were presented with freshly backed bread. Our selected wines came together with each course; no delay at all. This is worth a mention: so many airlines make you wait so long (up to five minutes) before sending beverage to the impatient passenger. Our “Chablis 2006, Michel Laroche” matched our appetizer: this high quality Chardonnay, produced from Burgundy, was lively, flinty and very pure fruit with good length, apples & cream. As a main course, we chose the «Grilled Bosphorus Sea Bass», with Mediterranean vegetables, and buttered rosemary potatoes; this delicacy made us feel like seating in some Ortakoy or Bebek seafood terrace. We ordered a glass of «Raki», dry, on the rocks, to complete our illusion. We tried the Selection of Cheese, just for the pleasure of ordering a glass of « Saint Emilion 2006, Grand Cru Classé, Château Laroque ». A top-class Bordeaux. Nose was nice, not so strong. Very smooth and round taste, with an interesting aftertaste. The DO & CO speciality is the «Double Chocolate Cake»: smooth mousse, rich fragrance of cacao... we didn't dare asking a second portion... So good! Café was OK; not impressive, but not bad. Maybe little bit too blend after the rich impression produced by the chocolate cake. We finished with a glass of «Grand Marnier»: all airlines should offer this French liquor. Not only because it is delicious; but also because it always made us feel asleep within a few minutes. We made nice dreams... and didn't even notice the light turbulences forecasted by the captain.
The attendants asked us if we wished to be woken up for our "a la carte" breakfast at about 11:30am, Hong Kong time. It allowed us a 8 hours sleep. So we said yes. It was good to have “Scrambled Eggs with Turkey Ham, Cheese Toast and Grilled Potatoes”, yogurt, cheese and fresh fruits, before soft landing at Hong Kong Airport, which we reached right on time, at 15:40, local time.
Should we pick a small hole in our very positive review? Maybe TK should consider a separate shuttle bus for its executive class passengers. Leaving the supreme comfort of the C Class cabin, and dropping into the overcrowded airport bus, parked on a superheated tarmac until the last passenger joins, is tiresome: we would have been so happy to be pampered five minutes more after such a dreamed flight!
Turkish Airlines has recently seen its global Quality Rating upgraded to the prestigious ranking as a 4 Star Quality Certified Airline by the prestigious and totally independent Skytrax reviewers. It is now a member of the Star Alliance.
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