In South Africa for nine years, Turkish Airlines offer 10 flights a week to Istanbul from Johannesburg, seven from Cape Town, and seasonal flights from Durban in a 289-seater Airbus A330 with 28 business class and 261 economy seats. Ataturk Airport connects passengers to 291 destinations in 116 countries, making it an ideal hub. The flight leaves Johannesburg on Fridays at around 18: 15 and arrives in Istanbul at around 05.25 the next day.
Check-In: Even though I had checked online, Turkish Airline crew were going through Business Class so it was quicker to use the economy class segment to drop off my luggage. Pandemonium reigned throughout the baggage security and passport area with just three passport control desks being manned. Re-entering South Africa was equally chaotic. What will it take for Acsa to employ more staff members? Finally, I made my way to the SAA Business Class lounge, used by Turkish Airways in Johannesburg, as a Star Alliance partner.
Lounge: The lounge, which offers a runway view, staffed bar, and a self-service food area, was jam-packed and the Internet was not working. When I finally found a seat, there was nowhere to plug in my laptop. Fortunately, the food offering wasn’t too bad and I settled for some artichoke hearts, washed down with sparkling water.
Boarding: At the Gate A20 check-in, all seats had been taken and no Business Class queue was defined, but finally a bus ferried us across the tarmac to the waiting A330. I ascended the steps; turned left into my preferred section only to confront two crumpled tissues on the floor in front of my seat. The plane comes from Cape Town – stopping at Joburg before Istanbul – but a quick tidy-up wouldn’t go amiss, surely?
A welcome drink – something yellow or bright pink from a plastic bottle – was passed around. Lemon squash? Kool-Aid? I would have preferred Champagne, but this was not on offer, so I settled for some water.
My carry-on luggage (just my laptop bag) had to be stashed at the back of the section, as all the overhead cabins were full. This may have been because of an ambassador with about 10 bags on board, who sat next to me. She turned out to be such a charming companion I didn’t bother to access the in-flight entertainment – 400 movies, 400 TV series, music albums and games – but I did, at least, manage to charge my laptop on board.
The Seat: I had chosen seat 2B (or not 2B) online. The seat, which stretches into a flat two-metre bed, was super for sleeping. There was no “cradle” position – halfway between “bed” and “upright” – but that’s just a small gripe. You could, at least, put your feet up. Comfy slippers provided a nice touch along with the inclusion of a shoehorn in the amenity kits – I wish all airlines provided these – as well as the usual chapstick, moisturiser and eye mask. Much appreciated, Turkish Air!
The Meal: In a nutshell: delicious food but slow service. Tasty butternut soup followed a prawn starter, salad, and some pre-prandial pistachios. The ambassador and I both waved away the bread offerings, which came with a variety of condiments including olive oil. Two clever ideas included magnetic salt-and-pepper shakers that could not be knocked over, and gorgeous LED candles, which really set the mood for a candlelight dinner in the sky.
I opted for a piece of salmon (rather than the beef fillet) as a main, washed down with a superb French red wine. Having skipped the bread, we both indulged in some divine baklava, followed by a cheese platter, and a Godiva chocolate. After a sumptuous meal, I settled into my seat, closed my eyes, and slept through the night – an airline first for me. The breakfast menu is given to you the night before so you can tick off your preferences. I opted for carrot juice and some plain yoghurt with fruit. Fortunately that proved to be enough for me, as I found the omlette rubbery and the fried potatoes too soggy to eat but to be fair, it’s difficult to make a good omlette on a plane.
Arrival: The flight arrived on time and business class passengers were allowed off first. I was easily able to catch my connecting flight to Dubrovnik, which arrived at 10:10.
Verdict: Having shopped around for a Business Class ticket to Croatia I found Turkish Airlines to be nearly half the price of most European carriers, making them excellent value for money. I was pleasantly surprised.