I flew 16 hours business class with Turkish Airlines and, while the food was excellent, the upgrade is only worth it for a long-haul flight

BoeingTurkish Airlines is the flag carrier of Turkey.
  • Turkish Airlines, the flag carrier of Turkey, operates in over 300 destinations across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
  • One of the largest airlines in the world, Turkish Airlines is consistently ranked in the top 20 by the consumer-aviation website Skytrax.
  • After having been blown away by Turkish Airlines’ economy class a few months ago, I was offered an upgrade to business class for my flight home to New York from Dubai.
  • Turkish Airlines’ business class was worlds better than economy, and the food from the airline’s “Flying Chef” program was excellent, but the entertainment system and planes showed their age.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Last November, I took a chance. Despite never having flown Turkish Airlines before, I found a bargain economy-class ticket to Dubai and booked it.

I figured Turkish Airlines had to be solid, as it’s one of the largest airlines in the world and ranked highly by the consumer-aviation website Skytrax.

While the planes weren’t the newest or the most high-tech, I was blown away by the quality of the service and found it to be one of the best experiences I had flying in economy.

My rave review got the attention of Turkish Airlines, which offered me an upgrade to business class for my flight back to New York in February.

Here’s what I thought of my business-class flight on Turkish Airlines, departing from Dubai International Airport to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and then onward to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, operated on an Airbus A330-300 and a Boeing 777-300ER.

Turkish Airlines, the flag carrier of Turkey, operates in over 300 destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It offers similar benefits as top flag carriers such as Emirates: great service, fairly new planes, and one-stop itineraries to far places.

Turkish Airlines

Thanks to a helpful public-relations rep, I got upgraded to business class for my flight home to New York. There was a separate check-in desk for business class and first class at Dubai International Airport.

There was no separate security line for business- and first-class passengers. That special treatment in Dubai is reserved for Emirates. My partner, Harrison, flew business class on Emirates and went through a dedicated entrance, check-in, and security. Had I flown directly from Istanbul, Turkish’s hub, I would have experienced the special treatment however.

My itinerary had two flights: Dubai to Istanbul, and then Istanbul to New York, with a 90-minute layover. Since my first flight wasn’t until 2:40 a.m., I had a lot of time to kill. Thankfully, my ticket included access to the Marhaba Lounge.

The lounge had modern armchairs and plenty of seating. It wasn’t the biggest I’ve ever been in, but it was pretty quiet when I stopped in, so it hardly mattered. I got a seat.

The food selection was a mix of Mediterranean dips like hummus, baba ghanoush, and tzatziki, as well as pickles, sandwiches, wraps, and a few hot dishes. There was also complimentary alcohol.

The first leg of my journey was on a Boeing 777-300ER. With a fleet of 335 planes, it’s anyone’s guess what plane you’ll get, but Turkish uses the 300ER for many of its long-haul flights. It received its first in 2010, so the planes aren’t ancient.

Source: Turkish Airlines, Boeing

Like on just about any plane designed for long-haul travel, the overhead bins were nice and roomy. My backpack might not look like it from this vantage point, but I stuff it with so much stuff that it usually has trouble fitting into smaller overhead compartments.

Here’s what the cabin looks like. There are 49 seats in Turkish’s 777 business class, divided between two cabins. Somewhat notoriously, Turkish’s 777-300ERs have middle seats even in business class, which The Points Guy’s Zach Honig called “inexcusable.”

Source: The Points Guy

Thankfully, I was able to snag an aisle seat despite being upgraded to business class at the last minute. Before takeoff, a flight attendant offered drinks. I appreciated that there was a tasty non-alcoholic option like a lemon-mint juice.

Turkish has a few kinds of seats depending on how recently the plane has been spruced up. I ended up with the older version. Each seat had a footrest that doubles as a storage compartment for things like shoes, your computer, and other essentials you might not want to keep overhead. Newer versions of Turkish’s cabin have closed ottomans that provide more storage and privacy for your stuff.

After serving drinks, the crew distributed menus, magazines, newspapers, and amenity kits. The kit, from the beauty brand Institut Karité, provided the usual business-class goodies like a comb, a dental kit, an eye mask, a shoehorn, travel socks, and hand cream.

The crew also provided over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones by Philips. They were high-quality enough that I was able to enjoy the movies on the plane and block out some of the noise.

The lie-flat seats were comfortable, though a bit on the hard side. I’ve slept in better seats on other airlines.

Each seat has a large tray table that you pull out from the center console. It’s big enough for a full meal spread, or a laptop and a notebook.

The seat position is controlled by a set of controls on the center console. All seats were 22 inches wide with 78 inches of pitch, with the lie-flat bed. That’s considerably more than you’ll get in Emirates, whose seats are 18.5 inches wide with 48 inches of pitch — though they still extend into 70-inch lie-flat beds.

Source: Business Insider

As I got settled, I took a look at the menu. The catering is provided by Do & Co, which also provides catering for Austrian Airlines. Do & Co’s food has received rave reviews from many flight bloggers, so I was excited to try it.

Source: The Points Guy

Like Boeing’s flagship Dreamliner, the 777-300ER changes the ambient light throughout the flight to help your body adjust. Shortly after takeoff, the LED mood lighting changed to a relaxing purple.

The centrepiece of Turkish’s business-class experience is its “Flying Chefs” program. All the food on the flight — there are 112 menu combinations — is prepared by chefs with two to four years of experience. The chefs actually come around in a toque and jacket.

My flight took off in the middle of the night, so our meal was breakfast. It started with goat cheese, a croissant, veggies, and variety of sides like comb honey, countryside butter, marinated olives, and a sun-dried-tomato spread — all sourced from Turkish farms.

The main dish was a kasar cheese omelet with sautéed spinach and herbed potatoes. The omelet was flavorful and tasted fresh.

The bathroom is more or less your standard aeroplane bathroom, though Turkish does try to jazz it up with plants, scent sticks, and some high-end products.

It may have been the middle of the night, but I figured a little wine couldn’t hurt. Turkish Airlines has an extensive wine menu. For every wine available, there was a paragraph-long description with the type of grape, the region, flavour notes, and pairing suggestions.

I passed out until we landed. Even though we arrived 30 minutes early, my layover was stressful, to say the least. The security line was excruciatingly long, guards refused to allow me into the expedited line until I argued three times, and because of how poorly everything was managed, I didn’t even see that there was a separate business-class line. I barely made my flight.

The second leg of my journey, the 11-hour flight from Istanbul to New York, was on an Airbus A330-300, which Turkish relies on heavily for long-haul flights. It’s slightly slower than the 777 but it a similar cabin and seats, depending on the plane.

I boarded the plane as the sun was rising. The business-class cabin on the A330 is considerably smaller than on the 777, with only 28 seats — and no middle seats. Each is 21 inches wide and offers 61 inches of pitch. That’s not quite as much as the 777, but it’s still plenty of room.

Source: SeatGuru

The menu was far more elaborate than on my previous flight. There was breakfast, dinner, snacks, and an extensive selection of hot and cold teas.

I got a freshly squeezed orange juice as my preflight beverage. It wasn’t quite as good as the freshly squeezed OJ I got in markets in Morocco, but it was still excellent.

Shortly after takeoff, the crew brought around hot towels. I should note that this was done on my first flight as well; I just forgot to get a picture of it.

Turkish Airlines offers different amenity kits depending on the flight. For my second flight, the kit was created by the bath-and-body brand Molton Brown and had the usual amenities plus hand cream and lip moisturizer.

The noise-cancelling headphones were different as well. Rather than Philips headphones, we got ones by Denon. The Denon partnership is a newer one, dating to late 2016. The headphones were very good, though I’m not enough of an audiophile to say whether they were significantly better than the Philips ones.

Source: Albawaba

The flight attendants were attentive, making sure everyone’s internet and entertainment systems worked and setting up the lie-flat beds with sheets and pillows. However, I wouldn’t say they were exceptionally personable. It was more or less the same service I’ve received in economy on most airlines.

The screen was a disappointment. It wasn’t as sharp or particularly high-definition as I’ve experienced on even many economy flights. The only plus is that it’s slightly larger than what you’re likely to experience in economy.

The main way to control the entertainment system was through the tethered remote. It worked well enough, but it was far from the high-res touchscreen remote Turkish offers on its more recently updated planes.

The meal service began about 30 to 40 minutes after takeoff. Given that it was around 9 a.m., we received breakfast. It was a little disappointing, as I had just had breakfast on the previous flight. The spread — goat cheese, honey, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. — was the same.

Having gotten a croissant on the previous flight, I tried the Turkish simit, a circular bread crusted with sesame seeds. It was crunchy and chewy in a satisfying way, similar to a bagel. Overall, the breakfast was slightly more elaborate than on the previous flight — for example, I could order a mixed-fruit smoothie, which tasted as if it had been mixed moments before.

My second flight offered scrambled eggs with sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and tomato. I don’t know if I got a bad plate, but my eggs were dry to the point of being inedible.

For passengers who got hungry between meals, there was a snack table set up with chips, candy, fruit, and sandwiches. I made myself a cup of Turkish Airlines exclusive “immunity” tea to fight against the effects of the long flight.

A few hours later, the crew started the dinner service. One of the most innovative aspects of Turkish’s catering is that crew members come around with a trolley loaded with hors d’oeuvres like smoked salmon, roasted red-pepper hummus, and a seafood salad.

I got a glass of white wine, a selection of nuts, and a Turkish cheese puff pastry. After the crew offered fresh bread baskets, I got a creamy roasted-red-pepper soup, as well as a few extra snacks from the trolley. I was almost full, and I hadn’t even gotten my main course yet.

My main course was the steak and fresh arugula salad with grilled tomatoes. It’d be a little crazy to expect a porterhouse sizzling from the pan on an aeroplane, but the meat was cooked solidly medium and seasoned well.

The last piece of the dining puzzle was another trolley but for desserts, offering traditional Turkish desserts like baklava and burma kadayif (phyllo dough rolled with peanuts), as well as fruit salad, ice cream, and a chocolate ball with mango. Ever the chocolate junkie, I went for the ball and the ice cream.

A few short hours later, we were touching down in New York. So what did I think?

Having been blown away by Turkish Airlines’ economy-class service a few months before, I had high expectations for business class. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by the service, but I didn’t come away singing its praises either.

The seats are comfortable enough, offer a lot of legroom, and turn into lie-flat beds – which to me is the main reason to opt for business class over economy. I slept incredibly well on the longer 13-hour flight, which made all the difference when I touched down in New York.

However, the 777-300ER’s business-class cabin has middle seats, which is absurd for how much a ticket costs. And compared with Emirates’ business class, each seat has little privacy from other passengers. A business-class passenger gets a roomy seat, but there is no privacy screen or podlike configuration like many other top airlines have.

While there were plenty of movies and television shows to pick from on the entertainment system, both planes I flew on had older screens and finicky remotes, though that didn’t bother me that much because I was on a red-eye flight and slept through most of it.

The best part of the Turkish experience – and I think the company knows this – is its dining service. The menus are fun and inventive, with lots of options. While my plate of scrambled eggs was disappointing, the rest of the meals were top-notch. I particularly enjoyed the trolley service – it’s a fun way to let customers pick exactly what they want.

Whether I would fly Turkish Airlines business class again depends on the price. Business-class offerings from the likes of Emirates and Qatar Airways are certainly a step above, because of better customer service and newer planes, but the food is comparable.

If a Turkish Airlines business-class ticket were considerably cheaper than those from other airlines of that calibre, I’d have no problem getting it – but if it were close to or the same in price, I would choose another airline.

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