Spaciously Satisfying: A Review of Turkish Airlines Economy on the 777 From London Heathrow to Istanbul
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Spacious seating in economy, endless long-haul entertainment and the usual world-class food.
Horrendous queues at check-in, and meal portion was small for a meal of this length.
I’ve become a regular visitor to Istanbul’s new airport, the home of than any other, Turkish Airlines. Having tried their business class in a head-to-head comparison with British Airways, I decided it was time to see how economy class stacked up.
Even booked only a month in advance during the busy summer school-holiday period, revenue fares on Turkish Airlines were reasonable, at around £150 one-way in economy.
Miles can be used on this route, but Turkish are notoriously stingy about releasing award space from Heathrow (LHR) in particular, even in economy, and you may have much better luck with availability flying a Star Alliance partner to the likes of Frankfurt (FRA), Brussels (BRU), Geneva (GVA), Zurich (ZRH) or Vienna (VIE) and connecting to Turkish Airlines from there. One of the best miles to redeem between these cities is to use United MileagePlus miles — a one -way ticket would cost a reasonable 15,000 per person.
I arrived at Terminal 2 approximately two hours before departure, around 9am on a Monday. I’ve used all four active terminals at Heathrow many times, and Terminal 2 remains my second favourite (after Terminal 3). I was travelling with hand luggage only, had checked in online and had a PDF boarding pass on my phone.
This wasn’t optimised for viewing on a mobile phone, so I found the Turkish check-in to see if I could print a paper boarding pass, thinking this would be a better solution than zooming in and out on my phone.
Terminal 2 is home to almost all the Star Alliance airlines operating to London and has a unique check-in arrangement where several airlines share the same area and staff can assist passengers on any of those airlines’ flights. In theory, it’s a great idea, but what greeted me in the zone Turkish used was complete chaos. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers crammed into a fairly tight area.
There were queues reaching even the self-serve kiosks, then passengers had to move to a packed holding pen with their luggage to wait to join the queue to drop their bags. After waiting for 10 minutes in a queue for a kiosk (which barely moved), I saw a nearby ticketing desk was free. I explained my situation, and the ticketing agent assured me my PDF online boarding pass was fine and I didn’t need to wait in the huge queues for a paper pass.
I estimated those dropping bags in economy would take over an hour to do so, an unpleasant start to what is usually a great terminal.
Security was busy but quick, as it always is, at Heathrow. The terminal was busy, though not nearly as busy as the check-in area. Terminal 2 has several excellent Star Alliance lounges, though with an economy ticket and no status, I did not have access on this particular day. Instead, I made my usual beeline to the Plaza Premium lounge, which can be accessed with a Priority Pass membership, complimentary with cards like the Platinum Card from American Express UK.
The lounge was the quietest I’d ever seen it (given it wasn’t a peak time), and I was able to have a quick hot breakfast, ask for a proper barista-made coffee and catch up on work before boarding.
Well over an hour before departure I headed to the B Pier of Terminal 2, where my flight was scheduled to depart.
A big downside of the design of Terminal 2 is that there is no people mover or train between the piers, like there is in BA’s Terminal 5. This means if your flight leaves from the B Piers, which is where most large aircraft from the likes of Singapore Airlines, Thai and United seem to leave from, you’re in for a long walk under the tarmac from one pier to the next.
Arriving at my gate a full hour before departure, I found there was already a huge queue of people.
I had chosen this particular flight because it was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, Turkish Airlines’ largest aircraft, which they operate all the way to the likes of Los Angeles (LAX) and Tokyo (NRT) as well as much shorter European flights like London (LHR). A plane this big takes time to board, so boarding started around 45 minutes before departure and moved fairly slowly, as everyone boarded through the one door.
Cabin and Seat
While most airlines now squeeze 10 economy seats in each row on their 777 aircraft, Turkish are fairly unique in that they have retained only nine across in a 3-3-3 layout. Having recently experienced the uncomfortable 10-across Emirates 777 economy seating as part of TPG UK’s all-class review, the difference between that seat and Turkish’s on the same plane was night and day.
Turkish had wide aisles and wide, cushy, comfortable seats.
Although I usually choose window seats for the relative privacy, flight reviews require a fair bit of moving around, so I chose an aisle seat in the middle group of three, predicting the middle seat would either remain empty or might be selected by someone travelling on the far aisle seat and would not be getting in and out over my seat.
This gamble paid off, and despite the busy load on the plane, the pair travelling together next to me both used the other aisle. Boarding was finally completed at 11:30am (the scheduled departure time), and we pushed back around 11:50am with a quick departure just before noon.
The tray table was fine for working on while the seat in front of me was upright, but when it was reclined it was almost impossible to use my 13-inch laptop.
The flight was almost completely full in economy, but there was plenty of space to move around and stretch my legs, and rarely much of a wait for the bathrooms.
Amenities and IFE
As a long-haul aircraft, it was equipped with the full long-haul entertainment options, including hundreds of movies and more than a thousand TV shows, a flight map and Wi-Fi, which worked well and was connected for the majority of the flight with OK speeds.
Awaiting me on my seat when I boarded were a blanket, which was not needed on this warm day, a pillow and earbuds.
In the pocket of the seatback in front of me were the standard safety card, sick bag, duty-free catalogue and inflight magazine.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
Turkish Airlines are famous for their cuisine, both in their lounges and in flight. This is largely because the food is prepared by Do&Co, who are regarded as one of the world’s best flight caterers. I always look forward to the food on Turkish flights, regardless of the class I’m flying in.
Lunch was served approximately one hour after takeoff. No menus were provided, so I was simply given the choice of beef or pasta. This was frustrating, because pasta could mean just about anything. Lasagna? Carbonara? A vegetarian Turkish ravioli? Who knows? Several passengers around me asked what the pasta was, to which the crew member only replied by saying it came with a red sauce.
While not every airline provides menus in economy, given Turkish go to so much trouble with the quality of their catering, it’s a real shame they don’t provide menus to allow passengers to make the best choice available.
I did spy a beef dish as it was served in front of me, and it looked good, so ordered that. It was a pretty standard Turkish beef kebab with rice and grilled vegetables. It tasted great — the sort of standard I expect from Turkish Airlines and a reason I seek them out.
The starter was strange, though. It was simply cooked green beans absolutely swimming in sour cream. I love sour cream as an accompaniment, but to be served what was almost a sour cream soup was not to my taste.
The chocolate mousse was a great dessert.
I was disappointed by the small portions. Though a short-haul flight, it was almost four hours in length, flying right through lunch. I expected a slightly larger portion for a well-regarded, full-service airline.
Only a single drinks run appeared on this flight. My white wine could have been a touch colder. If the airline really wanted to stand out in their food and beverages, a second drinks run would be a great addition.
Standard serious Turkish hospitality.
I find service on Turkish consistently forgettable. This isn’t a bad thing, and this flight was no exception. I rarely see many smiles from crew on Turkish Airlines, but they are always polite and professional. Every time I thanked them for something, they automatically replied, “You’re welcome, sir,” or, “My pleasure, sir,” even though they didn’t crack a smile. There was nothing wrong with the service, but there was equally nothing memorable about it, either.
As the plane was already half full when I boarded, I hung around after we landed to take photos of the empty cabin. The crew were happy for me to do so, even pausing their arrival procedures to ensure I had a clean shot. This was different to crew on other airlines, who make up rules about photography being prohibited in order to complete disembarkation as quickly as possible.
We landed at the relatively new Istanbul Airport on time and for the first time ever queued up the aerobridge to get into the terminal, which was strange.
I couldn’t work out why, but it turns out there were a lot of passengers on our flight continuing onto Dakar, Senegal (DSS), on Turkish Airlines with a tight connection, and staff were checking each passenger’s onward boarding pass and directing them through another door if they were connecting to Dakar.
What was even stranger was that everyone else was directed through another door that deposited us directly in the airside departures lounge area without going through any kind of transit security. This has happened to me once before on Turkish Airlines at the old Ataturk Airport, also arriving on a flight from Heathrow. This is the only airport I’ve transited where I haven’t been required to pass transit security with an international transit. I’m not sure if this was a mistake or just something Turkish Airlines does.
Without the huge trek to clear transit security, I was quickly in the heart of the airside area of the terminal.
It’s always a treat flying a long-haul configured aircraft on a shortish flight, and I’ve enjoyed every single flight I’ve ever taken with Turkish Airlines. Had I been checking a bag, the ground experience would have been rated almost a zero, but by checking in online, I was able to skip most of that check-in horror.
The seats were excellent for economy, and the time flew by with so much entertainment and connectivity. The food tasted good. I just wished there had been a little bit more of it. Turkish remains an excellent option from London to Istanbul and beyond.
All photos by the author.