After spending New Year’s Eve in Paris, we’d be flying Turkish Airlines from Paris to Hanoi via Istanbul, before continuing onwards to Singapore on Singapore Airlines.
In this post, I’ll be focusing on the Turkish Airlines A330 business class experience from Istanbul to Hanoi. Turkish Airlines is one of the best options for redeeming business class awards with Aeroplan, since Turkish flies to more destinations than any other airline in the world, and does not pass along fuel surcharges either. Somewhat surprisingly, this would be my first-ever flight with Turkish, so it was something I was really looking forward to.
I’ll preface the review by quickly paying tribute to the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge in Istanbul’s old airport.
The Istanbul airport completed its relocation from Atatürk to Havalimani on 6 April 2019, meaning that there’s not much value in writing a separate review of the old Turkish Airlines business class lounge.
If you’ve visited it, though, you’ll know it was quite the grand space indeed – arguably one of the best, and certainly among the most visually stunning business class lounges in the world.
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Jessica and I opted to spend all 10 hours of our Istanbul layover in the lounge instead of heading into the city, since we’d be arriving at about 5pm and departing for Hanoi at almost 3am.
With countless cooking stations, dessert carts, and drink coolers to satisfy all our cravings, in addition to the golf simulator, the pool table, the FIFA terminals, and the TV screens to keep us occupied, the time slipped by effortlessly.
Istanbul’s new airport was supposed to be ready by the end of 2018, but I’m actually quite happy about the delays, since they gave us a chance to visit the old lounge a few times more. This lounge will certainly be missed now that it’s gone, and I’m looking forward to checking out at Turkish Airlines’s refreshed lounges at the new Istanbul airport sometime soon.
We made our way over to the boarding gate at about 2am. Those familiar with it will know that Istanbul’s old airport was pretty chaotic at all hours of the day, and it was certainly the right time for the Istanbul airport to move into a newer, larger facility.
Turkish Airlines | TK166
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Cabin: Business class
Route: Istanbul (IST) to Hanoi (HAN)
Date: Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Time: Departing 2:55am and arriving 4:15pm
Duration: 9 hours 20 minutes
Boarding was a relatively smooth process, and upon entering through the second door from the front of the Airbus A330, I turned left into the business class cabin.
Turkish Airlines’s long-haul routes are mostly operated by either the Airbus A330 or the Boeing 777. On the A330, there are 28 forward-facing seats, spread across five rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. While the first four rows have six seats each, Row 5 only features two sets of seats by the windows.
These are the standard forward-facing business class seats that you’ll find on many airlines around the world. They’re not industry-leading by any means – compared to other types of seats, they lack both privacy and direct aisle access from every seat. However, they do provide lots of space for you to move around in, and are probably the ideal seating type for couples travelling together.
Turkish’s 777s also feature these types of seats, while the airline is also in the process of introducing newer, more cutting-edge business class seats on their new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, launching later in 2019.
Anyway, Jessica and I had assigned ourselves Seats 4D and 4E in the central aisle, right beneath the Turkish Airlines logo on the back wall of the cabin.
Turkish’s seat finishes are primarily jet-black, with red and tan accents and woodgrain panelling on the seat consoles. It’s a sharp look that does a good job of conveying the Turkish identity.
Waiting at our seat were a small pillow, the amenity kit, the blanket, and a set of slippers.
In terms of seat features, these forward-facing business class seats tend to keep things simple, and there aren’t too many contraptions to tell you about.
The seats have a generous amount of pitch, meaning that there’s ample legroom at every seat, but also that the entertainment monitor, storage units, and literature pockets are all quite far from you, and out of reach unless you physically get out of your seat.
In fact, there’s arguably too much legroom (if such a thing is even possible), since one of the passengers seated by the left side of the plane, on multiple occasions, walked across our seats in the middle during the boarding process to talk to their travelling companions by the right side of the plane.
This became pretty annoying after the first time it happened, so I put my seat in recline mode and propped my feet up on the ottoman to discourage any trespassers.
Each pair of seats shares a small console and countertop in the middle, which is where the majority of the seat features are located. A set of seat controls, with both preset positions and customizable seat cushions, is mounted on the angled panel nearest you.
The tray table is latched along the side of the seat console, and pops outwards before cascading down into place.
Underneath each armrest is a small nook containing the entertainment controller, power port, and headphone jack. Speaking of the armrest, it can also be raised to provide some – but not much – privacy in case you’re travelling solo and sitting beside a stranger.
Then you have the twin reading lights mounted against the back of the seats.
Honestly, while these business class feel open and spacious, they do leave much to be desired in terms of storage, privacy, and direct aisle access. An airline of Turkish Airlines’s calibre should be aiming to offer a better hard product in business class, and I’m happy to see that’s exactly what will be happening on their new 787s later this year.
One last thing about the business class cabin is the meal prep counter at the front of the cabin, which I believe is something unique to Turkish Airlines. The airline is known for its onboard chef, who can be witnessed plating everyone’s meals at the front of the cabin during the meal service.
Soon after we took our seats, the crew came by to distribute welcome drinks, warm towels, menus, and headphones. I selected a glass of the lemonade to drink as I browsed the menu. The other options were water, orange juice, and a raspberry juice (which I had tried on the earlier flight from Paris to Istanbul, and was also very good).
The Turkish Airlines business class menu comes in quite a few separate pamphlets and leaflets. You can find the dining menu as below, which includes the menu pamphlet itself as well as the separate order form for breakfast:
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And here’s the drinks menu, which includes the wine list and the separate pamphlet for non-alcoholic beverages:
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Turkish offers dine-on-demand in business class, allowing customers to choose when to take their meals instead of following a preset schedule for the meal service. This makes a lot of sense given that Turkish’s flights often operate at odd hours of the day (case in point: tonight’s flight to Hanoi departing at 2:55am).
The head chef for the flight – dressed in a full traditional chef’s uniform, hat and all – came by to take our meal orders, which was such a novelty compared to other airlines (seriously, more airlines should invest in having a head chef onboard, it’s awesome).
He also confirmed with us whether we wanted to eat immediately after takeoff, or go to sleep and take the meal sometime later. Since it was already the middle of the night, Jessica and I decided there was no harm in staying up even later, so we chose the former.
I took the time before we began our pushback to change into the slippers (I just love the colour of these)…
…as well as browse through the Molton Brown-branded amenity kit, which came with the usual eye mask, dental kit, earplugs, socks, and creams and balms. Interestingly, there was also a sticker that you could put on top of your seat when you’re sleeping to indicate whether you’d like to be awoken for the meal service, although I never ended up using it.
I’m always pleasantly surprised by the many ways that airlines are trying to spice up their safety videos these days, and I was delighted to see that Turkish Airlines has a lovely Lego-themed safety video, which I watched all the way through.
Then, as we took off into the Istanbul night and began our journey to Hanoi, I browsed through the entertainment system. The high-resolution display was pleasing on the eye, and the selection of movies and TV was impressive as well, with dozens of recently released titles available.
The airshow software was on the more basic side, with a single channel rotating through many different viewpoints of the flight path.
As we climbed to cruising altitude, I fell asleep at some point and was lightly awoken at some point later by the crew member who wanted to set my table for the meal. Seeing that I had dozed off, he double-checked with me that I still wanted to have the meal now instead of later, which I agreed to.
The meal service began with some warm nuts, followed by a small dish of assorted canapés. Turkish’s onboard catering is handled by DO&CO, the same company that provides VIP catering for Formula 1 races and the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, so I knew I was in for a treat from the very first bite.
In terms of my drink selection, I chose to skip the wine at this late hour since I hoped to get some sleep during the rest of the flight, instead opting for a soothing “wellness tea” with fennel, ginger, and anise.
On this flight, the meal service procession was carried out as follows. The onboard chef would deliver the food from the galley to the meal prep counter at the front of the cabin, where the in-flight service manager was stationed. The food would be plated here, and then the crew members would hand-deliver each plate over to the passenger’s seat. It was all quite fun to watch, although it’s worth noting that Turkish sometimes uses aisle trolleys and plates the food at the passenger’s seat as well.
Next up after the canapés was the Turkish meze course, which was delivered alongside some bread and a small lighted ornament signifying a “candlelight dinner high above the clouds”. How cute!
The meze was excellent, with the cucumber yogurt spread proving a delicious complement to the bread.
For the main course, I chose jumbo prawn tagliatelle (the chef had been quick to mention that it only came with only one piece of shrimp), while Jessica ordered the herb-grilled baby chicken, with sautéed spinach and roasted red pepper on buttered rice.
My pasta was decent, but a little on the dry side, and overall fell a bit flat considering the high expectations I had for Turkish’s DO&CO-inspired dining.
I couldn’t help but wish I had ordered either the chicken or the fish instead, especially after trying some of Jessica’s chicken, which was delicious. Thankfully, she wasn’t too hungry and was ready to go to sleep as soon as possible, so she only took a few bites and gave me the rest.
For dessert, you could order as many times off the menu as you’d like. With my appetite almost sated, I skipped the chocolate nougat and apple raspberry strudel, and restricted myself to some baklava with “Maras” pistachio ice cream.
And WOW, the pistachio ice cream has to be one of the most delicious desserts I’ve ever had in business class. Not only was it packed with sweet flavour, but its texture also had quite a unique firmness (and almost chewiness), which I loved.
Even Jessica, who had originally declined dessert in order to get to sleep earlier, changed her mind and ordered her own portion of pistachio ice cream after trying a bite of mine, along with a fruit salad.
Oh, and the baklava, as an accompaniment to the ice cream, wasn’t half bad either.
The crew was excellent throughout the meal service. There were about four or five crew members taking care of the 20 or so business class passengers, so none of them seemed to be rushing around too much despite the inherent challenges of a dine-on-demand meal service, where passengers aren’t necessarily taking their meals at the same time.
Moreover, I was impressed by the attention to detail, like the polished way in which every single plate, bowl, utensil was placed on or withdrawn from the table, and it was clear that a strong service culture is something that’s heavily emphasized here at Turkish Airlines.
After resisting the temptation to ask for yet another portion of pistachio ice cream, I ordered one more cup of tea to polish off the meal, and then proceeded to doze off in my seat again. Oops.
This time, a crew member gently woke me up after a few minutes to put away my tray table and install the mattress pad on my seat before I went to sleep for good. The turndown service is another fine example of the refined service principles you’ll encounter when flying with Turkish.
While the crew member performed turndown service, I made a quick trip to the bathroom. The bathrooms on the A330s aren’t the biggest, although there’s a nice set of Molton Brown toiletries for business class customers to use.
When I returned to my seat, my mattress pad had been prepared, and I adjusted the seat into lie-flat mode to get ready for bed. Credit where it’s due, these forward-facing business class seats do give you ample space to move around when you’re sleeping, which really helps to improve the quality of sleep you get.
The only complaint I’d have is that I thought the bed was a little narrow here on the A330, but given the late hour, that didn’t stop me from sleeping for a good seven hours or so.
By the time I woke up, we only had about two hours to go until arrival in Hanoi. I took advantage of Turkish Airlines’s in-flight wifi, which is complimentary for business class passengers, to get some work done.
About half an hour later, it was time for breakfast. I’m a little confused about how the breakfast service works on Turkish Airlines, because the order form at the beginning didn’t really specify which items belonged to which course of the meal.
The first “dish” consisted of a loose arrangement of turkey breast, cottage cheese with black cumin, and goat’s cheese, along with some jams and spreads.
I did enjoy the taste of this unorthodox charcuterie plate, as well as the “traditional style” baked cheese pastry, which came up next. However, the highlight of the meal was proabbly the Turkish coffee, which did a great job of jolting me awake.
I ordered another cup afterwards, savouring those subtle notes of cardamom as we began our descent into Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport. The weather was excellent in this part of the world, with the daylight streaming into the cabin now that the window blinds had been raised.
A slightly rough touchdown later, we bid farewell to what had been a very comfortable home onboard Turkish Airlines business class for the 10-hour ride from Istanbul, and were on our way through to the secure area of the airport for our brief layover in Hanoi.
Turkish Airlines is certainly one of the better business class products that you can easily access with Aeroplan miles. Their DO&CO catering no doubt shines the brightest, delivering a top-tier in-flight dining experience from start to finish, with the pistachio ice cream hitting a particularly heavenly note. To top it off, the service on this flight was excellent, and if only the hard product were more competitive (which the airline is addressing with their new 787s), then Turkish’s premium product could easily be considered world-class.
Shortly after this flight, I flew again with Turkish Airlines on their Boeing 777 on a different trip. A few elements of the flight turned out differently from this time, so be sure to look out for that review as well.