Turkish Airlines has long been held in very high regard as one of the world’s leading premium carriers, with their onboard food and drink in particular receiving consistently high praise.
Until last year, however, Turkish Airlines’s hard product on the Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s have actually been lagging behind the times somewhat, as the standard forward-facing seats on those aircraft were overshadowed by many of its peers. But that would all change when Turkish added the Boeing 787 to its long-haul fleet last year (with the Airbus A350 also soon to follow), giving its business class seating a much-needed makeover with added privacy and direct aisle access from every seat.
I was naturally looking forward to trying out the new Turkish 787 business class ever since seeing the first concept photos, and I was therefore delighted when I managed to book myself on the final segment of their Istanbul–Mexico City–Cancún–Istanbul triangle service as part of my relentless round-the-world trip with Aeroplan.
I arrived at Cancún International Airport about an hour and a half before our scheduled 9:55am departure. Turkish Airlines’s Mexico operations were only launched very recently, meaning that I couldn’t find any information online on which terminal they use in Cancún, so I and my shuttle driver had to wait until the signs right outside the airport to figure out which terminal to go to (Terminal 4).
Upon checking in, the agent was somewhat surprised when she saw that I was flying onwards to Nur-Sultan after a 12-hour layover in Istanbul, mildly raising her eyebrow as she asked if I wanted my bag to be checked all the way through to Kazakhstan’s capital, which I agreed to. I had packed a light change of clothes in my carry-on backpack, which should be more than enough for my short time in Istanbul.
After proceeding through security, I decided to visit the airport lounge and relax for a bit before my flight. I made my way to the Mera International Lounge, which I had assumed was the designated lounge for Turkish Airlines business class passengers at Cancún Airport, since it was only a short escalator ride downstairs from the boarding gate that Turkish was using.
“Sorry sir, Turkish Airlines passengers do not have access to this lounge,” the lounge agent said.
“But I’m in business class,” I said to him, somewhat flabbergasted. “Could you let me know which lounge Turkish uses here?”
“It appears Turkish have not set up any lounge contract yet.”
Wow, that’s a first for me – flying in business class without lounge access. It just so happened that I had left all my Priority Pass cards at home on this trip (and hadn’t set myself up with the mobile app either), since I was assuming I’d get lounge access at every stop thanks to my business class flights.
Disappointed, I headed back up to the gates, where it was thankfully a rather quick 20-minute wait before boarding was called.
Turkish Airlines | TK181
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Cabin: Business class
Route: Cancún (CUN) to Istanbul (IST)
Date: Thursday, November 7, 2019
Time: Departing 9:55am and arriving 6am the next day
Duration: 12 hours 5 minutes
Embarkation was conducted via the second set of doors on the Boeing 787-9, and I was directed to turn left at the far aisle to access the business class cabin.
As I did so, I let out a quick gasp at how striking the new Turkish 787 business class cabin looked. Now, the older product on the Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 wasn’t too shabby to look at, but it wasn’t exactly gorgeous either.
This new business class cabin, however, was pure eye candy, and I was really digging the modern matte-black finishes on the seats and the seat shells, adorned with thin bronze stripes and golden seat pillows. It’s all brought together nicely by a beautiful Turkish Airlines logo in the very same colours set against the backdrop of the cabin.
The 30 business class seats are arranged across eight rows in a single cabin in a 1-2-1 configuration, with the middle seats ending at Row 7 and the window seats continuing to Row 8. The seats are staggered from row to row, meaning that the middle seats alternate between being closer together and being farther apart, while the window seats alternate between being closer to the window and closer to the aisle.
My top choice as a solo traveller was one of the window seats closer to the window, and I had accordingly selected Seat 2K. If you were travelling as a couple, then you’d probably be best-served by one of the four sets of middle seats in odd-numbered rows, which allow for the greatest proximity to your travel companion.
In fact, this product is known as the Aurora business class seat, and it’s the exact same seat that Singapore Airlines uses on their Boeing 787-10s for regional flights (down to the very small details). While I had enjoyed my five-hour flight on the Singapore Airlines 787 previously, I was definitely curious how the seat would fare on a long-haul journey.
To kick off the process of satisfying that curiosity, I sat down and began playing with the seat features, which was altogether quite a familiar feeling from my previous flight on the Singapore 787-10.
To begin with, an 18’’ entertainment system is positioned immediately ahead. Below that, a rather heavy-set tray table slides out towards you and can then be folded over.
The footwell is just below that, and we’ll come back to it when it’s time to put the seat into lie-flat mode and test out how comfortable it is.
Beneath the footwell is a storage space that’s large enough to fit a backpack of laptop bag, which I found very useful for the easy access to my belongings without having to reach for the overhead bins.
Adjacent to that, also down by your feet, is the literature pocket that contains all the magazines and duty-free guides for the flight.
The seat console does a great job of balancing surface and storage space, two things I’d consider essential in any good business class seat. The surface space was large enough to place a few drinks or even an entire tray throughout the flight…
…while the storage compartment had more than enough room to house a few loose items, including any small electronic devices that you wished to charge using the USB and power ports located here as well. The door on the storage unit can then be latched shut to keep your items secure.
A coat hook and a pull-out vanity mirror rounds out the list of notable features here at the seat console.
On the side of the seat console, just beneath the surface space, is the headphone jack and a set of LED seat controls; beneath that, the pull-out entertainment controller.
Compared to other products out there, these seat controls were a rather simple set, allowing you only to move the seat between upright, recline, and lie-flat modes, and lacking any controls for fine-tuning the seat cushions, massage functions, etc. Notably, there’s also a Do Not Disturb button which illuminates a corresponding sign on the outer shell of your seat, letting the crew know that you’d prefer to be left alone.
It’s also worth noting that the armrests on either side of your seat, which are raised by default, may also be lowered to provide additional width.
These seats make use of the three-point shoulder belt, so there’s a strap underneath the seat pillow for you to pull the belt down across your shoulder.
Finally, a set of buttons on the inner seat shell opposite from the seat console controls the various reading lights available to you.
One of the crew members came by to offer me a selection of Turkish’s usual welcome drinks: raspberry juice, lemonade, orange juice, and water. I usually go for either the raspberry juice or the lemonade, and on this occasion I opted for the former.
I was also handed the menu for the flight, which consisted of separate pamphlets for the food and beverages. On account of our departure from Mexico, the food menu (but not the beverage menu) was also available as a separate pamphlet in Spanish.
The dining menu read as follows:
- 1 of 6
- 2 of 6
- 3 of 6
- 4 of 6
- 5 of 6
- 6 of 6
Meanwhile, the wine list and beverage menu read as follows:
- 1 of 7
- 2 of 7
- 3 of 7
- 4 of 7
- 5 of 7
- 6 of 7
- 7 of 7
While the choices for the main meal are simply listed on the menu for you to choose, breakfast is taken via a specific form that you must fill in, and I’m not really sure why some airlines choose to do it this way (perhaps because the breakfast order can be highly customized among so many different choices?)
Every Turkish Airlines flight has an onboard chef who oversees the catering for the flight and often interacts with passengers as well. On this flight, our head chef was a particularly friendly fellow, who came across as very warm and genuine as he first told me to take my time choosing my breakfast order, before later returning to my seat to take my breakfast card, verifying each item that I had checked off one-by-one.
I also took the time before take-off to inspect the amenity kit. While my previous flights on Turkish Airlines all came with a kit by the London-based skincare brand Molton Brown, I was treated to a much more luxurious Versace-branded kit on this flight. I’m not sure if that’s because of the newer 787 business class, although I would assume so, since I’d still receive an older Molton Brown kit on my next flight on a Boeing 737 to Kazakhstan.
The amenity kit was stocked with Versace body lotion, lip balm, and scented mist, as well as the usual suspects of a sleeping mask, dental kit, and tube socks.
Turkish Airlines’s rather newest safety video (and a rather whimsical one at that) played over our monitors, and that was followed by a smooth takeoff and climb as we began our journey across the North Atlantic Ocean.
To my utter surprise, the cabin lights were dimmed almost immediately after takeoff, and so too were the Boeing 787’s electronic window shades. While the windows weren’t completely darkened, they were reduced to their second-dimmest setting, and they would revert to that setting very quickly in spite of any attempt to brighten them manually on my part.
I suppose that, as far as eastbound transatlantic flights go, this was a rather unusual one in the sense that it departed in the morning (rather than in the evenings like most Europe-bound flights), but would still land in Istanbul at 6am the next day (just like most Europe-bound flights). Dimming the cabin lights would encourage passengers to sleep on this 12-hour journey and adjust to our new timezone as effectively as possible.
In keeping with that, the crew initiated the first meal service very soon after we reached cruising altitude. And I was yet again surprised to find out that we’d be served breakfast for now, rather than the main meal, which would instead be served a few hours prior to arrival.
This made very little sense to me – yes, it’s only around 10am local time after departing Mexico, but wouldn’t breakfast be better served prior to arriving in Istanbul in the early hours of the morning, especially if the cabin lights were dimmed to encourage passengers to sleep throughout most of the flight?
I can see how this flight’s unusual schedule could’ve made the meal service more complicated than usual, but in my mind, it should’ve been one way or the other – either keep us on a North American time zone by leaving the lights on and serving breakfast shortly after take-off, or help us adjust to the European time zone by letting us sleep with a light breakfast shortly before landing.
Anyway, I planned to work throughout most of the flight, so I ultimately didn’t mind too much about having breakfast now. A round of hot towels were passed out, followed by the breakfast that I had ordered served on a tray.
My breakfast began with some fruits and carbs – the fruits tasted very fresh, but the pastries not so much accompanied by small portions of frittata, cheese, and yogurt, as well as some coffee and orange juice to drink.
For the breakfast’s main course, I had ordered a particularly greasy helping of scrambled eggs with cheese, hash browns, and sautéed spinach, and I was happy that the excellent taste at least somewhat justified the huge caloric intake.
It was at this point that I noticed one small problem about the seat (which I had also encountered when flying the Singapore Airlines 787-10 previously) which is that the tray table is rather small and can get pretty congested during the meal service.
I’m typically someone who likes to order multiple beverages during my in-flight meals – it’s not unusual for me to have a coffee or tea, a juice, an alcoholic beverage, and a water all within my reach at a given moment – and here on the Turkish 787, I found myself needing to find extra space to put stuff (like the surface space to my side, or the “arm” of the tray table that extends from underneath the entertainment screen itself), since it wouldn’t all fit on the tray table.
Normally, I’m accustomed to the first meal service on a long-haul flight taking a few hours to finish, but our breakfast service here was wrapped up very quickly. The cabin lights were also fully dimmed by this point, encouraging us to lie back and get some rest.
I decided to fight the urge to take a nap and work on my laptop for now. Turkish Airlines is one of the saintly carriers that offer free wifi to business class passengers, and I had connected to the wifi on my phone earlier during the flight. However, I struggled to connect to the wifi service on my laptop at first, since my browser was steadfastly refusing to bring me to the in-flight wifi’s landing page.
Eventually, I had to copy the URL of the landing page from my phone to my laptop, and only then did the browser manage to find its target.
I worked for about an hour, and I couldn’t help but feel annoyed that the cabin lights and windows were completely dimmed, when it was in fact broad daylight outside and I would’ve preferred to remain awake.
Eventually, though, I gave in to the total darkness of the cabin around me, and decided it was time to take a little nap.
Turkish Airlines provides business class passengers with a mattress pad when they wish to sleep, and even though I had declined the crew’s offer to make my bed earlier, I now asked them if they could prepare my bed for sleep while I visited the restroom.
As is the case on most Dreamliners, the restrooms aren’t the largest in size, although they do feature high-quality Molton Brown soap and hand lotion, as well as eau de cologne by Atelier Rebul, a Turkish cosmetics brand.
I returned to my seat to find my mattress pad, pillow covers, and blankets nicely arranged in place for my nap. I took my spot under the covers, eager to find out how this business class seat would feel as a lie-flat bed.
The overall verdict, alas, is mixed. While I had read some complaints that this seat was on the tighter side around the upper-body area, I didn’t find that to be a problem as long as the two armrests were lowered to give me additional space to move around in.
The footwell, however, is definitely tight, and if I lied in the bed with my lower body fully within the footwell, then it was very difficult to bend my legs. My solution was to creep upwards as much as possible, and to bend my legs in such a way that my shins would be somewhat flush against the curvature of the footwell; however, this could only be accomplished when I was lying on one side, but not on the other, and furthermore someone taller than my frame of 180 centimetres might struggle to do the same.
I didn’t view this as a dealbreaker for the new Turkish 787 business class seat, since I still got a relatively comfortable few hours of rest, but I could definitely see it posing a challenge to my comfort if I wanted to sleep for a longer period. In the context of the overall seat itself, the limited space of the footwell is definitely one of the drawbacks.
Anyway, I ended up napping for only about two and a half hours, which is quite a bit of sleep considering that it was in fact the middle of the day according to my biological clock (and I imagine most of the fellow passengers’ as well). The cabin was still totally dark, and the sun was setting outside by this point, so I figured it would only remain this way until the end of the flight.
I ordered a cup of coffee to perk me up, and decided to briefly flick through the entertainment channels.
The entertainment system on the Turkish 787 is the same as what’s available on their older aircraft, although the screen resolution is much crisper, and it’s also nice that you can reach out and touch the screen yourself rather than having to use the small controller (unlike the older aircraft, where the screens are usually positioned far out of your reach).
There are no shortage of options for your in-flight viewing pleasure, with over 300 movies and over 1,000 TV titles to choose from. I was also impressed that there was Live TV available, so I decided to put on some Europa League action for some idle entertainment in the background while I worked on my laptop.
The service on Turkish Airlines can be hit-or-miss, and on this flight I’m happy to say that it was pretty good. Flight attendants came through the cabin on regular intervals, offering me either a top-up on my beverage or to clear the plate, although after that, they didn’t go so far as to proactively ask me if they could offer anything else.
I spent the next three hours or so working, before feeling a little peckish and deciding to order something off the snack menu. Truth be told, none of the items on the snack menu sounded particularly tempting, so I asked for a mini cheese sandwich, which seemed like the most substantial option.
As another marker of the good service on this flight, the crew member proactively offered something to drink, and I got a black tea to go along with my mini-sandwich.
Then, 30 minutes later and with about two and a half hours of the flight later, the primary meal service finally began. I ordered a glass of the French white wine to drink, which was served along with some mixed nuts.
After that, my table was set with Turkish’s signature tableware: a long, thin plate for the bread and butter, a central plate for the appetizer (to be replaced later by the main course), and that distinctive “candlelight dinner in the sky” ornament that never gets old.
I very much enjoyed the appetizer of roast beef with truffle mayonnaise, savouring every bite of the decadent sauce.
My main course of beef fillet, however, was tougher than I had hoped, and I don’t think it was the best showing from DO&CO, the world-famous caterer that services Turkish Airlines flights. In hindsight, since the appetizer was already a beef dish, I regretted not ordering the grilled salmon for the main course instead.
On the plus side, the vegetables on the side and the tangy sauce that was drizzled on top of everything were both very tasty.
The meal concluded with Turkish’s signature dessert cart being wheeled through the aisles, with passengers free to order any number of desserts to be plated individually at their seat. I had a few bites of baklava with some vanilla ice cream, and when presented with the option between coffee and tea, also ordered some black tea – served in a distinctive Turkish-style glass – to wash it all down.
We were flying over the Balkans by the time the meal service was concluded, with about half an hour until landing in Istanbul.
I put on the feed from the Boeing 787’s nose camera as we made our descent and landing into Istanbul’s new airport, and as is usually the case here at this sprawling airport complex, we must’ve taxied for about 20 minutes across the tarmac after we landed, only to eventually pull up at a remote stand.
Thankfully, after taking one final glance at the stunning business class cabin and making my way off the plane, our dedicated bus for business class passengers was loaded up very quickly, ensuring a smooth passage through to the immigration and customs facilities and onwards to the Turkish Airlines Hotel Desk where I’d get my free layover hotel in Istanbul sorted out.
Turkish Airlines has done an excellent job with its new business class cabins on its new Boeing 787s and soon-to-be-delivered Airbus A350s. While the Aurora business class seats aren’t necessarily the most cutting-edge product available on the market, they nevertheless represent a huge improvement from the old Turkish seats in terms of the privacy, storage functionality, direct aisle access from every seat, and visual appeal.
The price we pay for these improvements is a reduction in the amount of personal space for each passenger, which results in a noticeably less comfortable sleeping situation than the open-air cabins on Turkish’s older aircraft. For me, this is very much a worthwhile trade-off, although if you do prefer having lots of room to spread your legs, then you can always seek out Turkish’s Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 routes that remain widely available.
Beyond the hard product, the airline’s DO&CO-inspired catering delivered yet another solid showing this time around, accompanied by some genuine and friendly service from a crew that was on top of their game. And despite the scheduling challenges on this rather unique Cancún–Istanbul route, I still thoroughly enjoyed my 12 hours on this flight.
Overall, I would now rank the new Turkish 787 or A350 business class ever-so-slightly above Scandinavian Airlines as my favourite transatlantic business class product, and I’m sure many of you will get to try it out for yourselves soon with more and more of Turkish’s North American destinations (including Montreal and Vancouver) set to be serviced by these new aircraft in the near future.