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I recently needed to travel between London and Istanbul (IST) to review the new home base for Turkish Airlines. I was keen to fly the flag carriers of both countries in business class to compare the differences between the two products, which turned out to be substantial.
In order to access the new Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul, I decided to fly British Airways outbound and Turkish Airlines back. Both flights were available with points. The best way to book the BA flight was by using 20,000 British Airways Avios for the one-way flight from London Heathrow (LHR) to Istanbul plus £25 in fees and taxes as a Reward Flight Saver. Given revenue fares for this flight were around £500 one-way, this represented a great use of points. British Airways operates Airbus A320 aircraft on this route.
One of the reasons I was so keen to fly Turkish Airlines was because I knew it operated a range of aircraft on short-ish European flights, including some that featured its flagship long-haul product. On its eight daily services from Istanbul to London (Heathrow and Gatwick), Turkish operates a range of aircraft including narrowbody Airbus A321s, as well as widebody Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s, which are the same aircraft it operates on its longest flights to the likes of San Francisco and Tokyo.
As I only booked it around 10 days in advance, there were no direct flights available with miles to London, but there were various options via other Star Alliance hubs. I chose a flight to Geneva to be operated by an Airbus A330-200, with a connection through to Heathrow on its Star Alliance partner Swiss. A great way to book this is with 25,000 United miles in business class.
My British Airways flight departed Heathrow Terminal 5. I visited the Galleries South Lounge, which I had access to with my business class ticket. I wasn’t a huge fan of the lounge, as the options were minimal. In my trip to the lounge, it was not that busy, so it was quite peaceful to sit in and wait for my flight.
In Istanbul’s new airport, I had access to the Turkish Airlines Business Class lounge. It is a spectacular lounge with the best food I have ever experienced in a business-class lounge, cooked fresh to order. There was plenty of seating and different zones, depending on what you were in the mood for.
I could have easily spent all day there and ended up eating far more than I intended to because it was so delicious.
Winner: Turkish Airlines by a mile
Cabin and Seat
The ground experience was heavily in Turkish’s favor, but the experience differed even more once I got on board. British Airways’ Airbus A320 on this route has the disappointing Club Europe seating, which is simply an economy seat with a blocked middle seat. There were a huge eight rows of Club Europe allocated to this flight.
The legroom was reasonably tight, and the seat only reclined a small amount.
On the other hand, my Turkish Airlines A330-200 had spacious 2-2-2 seating with just three rows of fully flat seats. There was legroom for days.
These are the same seats on the Boeing 777 aircraft Turkish Airlines use on some London routes, although on those aircraft, there is an extra seat in the middle — a 2-3-2 layout.
The seat reclined to a fully flat bed, which was very comfortable for a quick nap after all that lounge food.
These seats differ from the seats on the narrowbody Turkish A321 aircraft on some London flights. Those narrowbody planes have 2-2 plush recliner seating, which I’ve flown previously, with seats similar to domestic first-class seats on US airlines. If possible, choose the widebody aircraft on flights to London (and other European destinations), but these recliner seats are still significantly better than BA’s blocked middle seat.
Winner: Turkish Airlines — also by a mile
Amenities and Inflight Entertainment
Both airlines offered menus, hotel towels and newspapers on boarding. On British Airways there was no inflight entertainment screen and no Wi-Fi.
The Turkish Airlines flight had Wi-Fi, which was free and fast for business class passengers by entering my seat number and surname on the login page.
There were also seatback screens, a fair distance away from the seat because of the enormous legroom. I actually found the selections to be quite limited — for some TV series like Shark Tank, there was only one single random episode loaded.
Winner: Turkish Airlines
Food and Beverage
Turkish has an excellent reputation for its inflight catering, and that is largely because of its well known caterer, Do & Co. Interestingly, British Airways has recently also adopted catering from Do & Co, and my desserts on both aircraft had Do & Co stickers.
On my British Airways flight, service started with menus for the meal service.
With a four-hour flight time and no IFE or Wi-Fi, there was plenty of time for the meal service, which started with drinks and nuts.
I chose a glass of Castelnau Champagne.
The entire meal was served on one tray at once without a tablecloth. I selected the roast beef salad and was impressed with the presentation. Although the portion of the main course initially seemed small, it tasted great and actually filled me up. The ‘Celebration of British Cheeses’ wasn’t much of a party, with only two slices of cheese, but it did the job.
I’ve flown Club Europe numerous times on shorter flights of less than two hours, and this was definitely the best Club Europe meal I’ve had.
On Turkish Airlines, the meal was more spaced out. I was also provided menus.
I was also served homemade Turkish lemonade with nuts.
The meal was then served on a tray with a tablecloth with the appetizer first. The side salad was a bit limp and sad. There was also Monopole Champagne served.
After the appetizer was cleared, I selected the Turkish ravioli for the main course. This is one of my favourite Turkish dishes, and this one was okay, although I’ve had better before. The reheating of the pasta dried it out somewhat and serving the yoghurt in a plastic tub seemed a bit cheap.
I’ve flown Turkish Business Class numerous times and this is probably the least impressive meal I’ve had — the food in the Turkish lounge was far better.
Winner: British Airways, just
Both flights had perfectly fine, but forgettable service. Crew were friendly and professional, but there wasn’t a lot of warmth or smiles. This is consistent with the service I’ve had on both carriers in the past.
I was disappointed not to see the Turkish crew wearing their beautiful new Italian-designed uniforms.
Turkish Airlines admittedly does not operate wide body aircraft on all London flights, and I specifically sought out a flight on an Airbus A330 to ensure I experienced the best product. Look for flight numbers TK1972, TK1980 and TK1986 from London for the best seats, although this is subject to change.
Turkish was better than BA in almost every respect except for the onboard food. If you are originating in Istanbul, the lounge food is so good I would encourage you to eat there instead of on board, as it’s easier to produce higher quality food when it is cooked fresh to order rather than being reheated at 30,000 feet.
Even if you are “stuck” with a narrowbody Turkish aircraft, you can still expect the experience to be superior to British Airways in business class between London and Istanbul. A fully flat bed on a flight of less than five hours is, of course, overkill, but it’s a very comfortable ride.
All photos by the author unless specified otherwise.
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