Fly to Africa in Comfort and Get Access to the Best Airport Lounge

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Which airline would you pick for a long haul flight to Africa? Last month, I flew business class on Turkish Airlines (TA) from Atlanta to Tanzania and returned via Kenya (Thank you TA for the free upgrade!). This was my first time flying business on TA. Here’s what I experienced…

Seats

There are 28 seats in business arranged in 2-2-2 configuration. Each seat is quite spacious covering almost 3 windows to a person. There’s enough leg room to do yoga in your space! The seats recline 180 degrees to become a comfortable flatbed fitted with a thin mattress, pillow and comforter arranged by the flight attendant when ready to rest. There is also a chair massage setting, though you can barely feel it vibrate.

A bin in front of the seat made it convenient to store purse and shoes.

Amenities

From Atlanta – Istanbul, I was given a Bentley amenity kit with the basics (socks, eye mask, dental, lip balm, masculine scented lotion), from Istanbul – Dar, Cerruti toiletries, and during the return, a Furla kit. Pretty inconsistent with branding partners.

I did like how slippers were presented in a cloth bag (to store your shoes as well) and there was a note about how in Turkish hospitality you take off your shoes when you enter a home.

Food

One of the ways TA distinguishes itself from other airlines is by its cuisine. There was a chef on board who took orders and added finishing touches to the dishes.

The bar is in front of the seats in business class cabin, thought not always manned. Welcome drinks were non alcoholic (fresh lemonade and orange juices), while pre dinner drinks were offered a long time after takeoff. A variety of tea’s are also offered to help with jet lag, bloating and stress.

There were no Turkish food options available on Atlanta – Istanbul and Istanbul – Dar legs. Plenty of American and Italian choices, with the same 3 veggies popping up in every course. I had a healthy grilled shrimp and veggies salad and very dry and flavorless swordfish with Tuscan vegetables for dinner. The dessert tray was a huge contrast. There was chocolate mousse, lava cake, hazelnuts chocolate tart, cheese and fruit trays. I was tempted to taste them all, and they were delicious!

Food was generally well presented on a tray with white table cloth and a fake candle that looked like a Turkish lantern. It was nice touch to place the candles as nightlight when everyone had fallen asleep after dinner.

We gave our breakfast orders as soon as boarded and were served before landing in Istanbul. I had sliced fruit, room temperature coffee, tart mango juice, greasy croissants, and a rubbery feta cheese omelette. Yilmaz, the chef noticed that I did not care much for the food. He told me that they did not have a Turkish chef in Atlanta, which is why they weren’t able to offer any Turkish cuisine. (TA has not been able to find a good chef in the 18 months it has operated in ATL?)

The dining experience on the 7-hour Istanbul – Dar Es Salaam leg was no different. This time, there was a small Turkish salad with olives and cheese, grilled vegetable salad (tomatoes, eggplants, mozzarella), and entree of a tangy vegetable casserole (exact same veggies).

Snacks were generally a cheese sandwich (quality may vary) and sour cherry cake (TA does a good job with desserts).

On my return from Nairobi, the food and service were much better. Breakfast had fresh baked breads, olives and assorted cheeses. The sandwich had fresh slices of lettuce, green bell pepper and feta.

The Istanbul – Atlanta flight was perhaps the best one out of all four that I flew over a period of 3 weeks. An appetizer cart presented soup, salad, seafood and Turkish meze, along with warm simit bread. I enjoyed the lunch of eggplant, tabbouleh and beef wrap, and dinner of chicken brochette with spinach and rice with a glass of red wine. The seabass in parchment was well presented but the fish was thick and dry. I picked a slice of tiramisu for my dessert this time, which was amazing.

Entertainment

Business class seats are equipped with large screen TV’s and passengers are provided Denon noise cancelling headsets which are collected 30 minutes before landing. Movie and TV selection is decent, with Hollywood, Turkish and world movies. Having a remote with built in screen makes it much easier to browse than touching the screen (which is 2 feet away).

Turkish-American celebrity, Dr Mehmet Oz partnered with TA to talk about how to stay healthy on a flight. He says to “drink a lot of water and stay away from alcohol” in one of his videos. I found it rather difficult to get water on TA though. They ran out of water bottles on one of the flights (though business class was only half full) and I had to ask the flight attendant for a refill in my tiny glass every 30 minutes (on a 13 hour flight).

Free WiFi on board was a great feature, especially for the long haul flight. I was easily able to log in and had pretty good speed during my ATL-IST-ATL legs. There are USB chargers at each seat, though they don’t always work. I had to try 3 seats in business before I found a place to charge my phone.

Service

Service was rather mixed across board. The attendants at Atlanta airport were nonchalant, and the attendants on board addressed me as “lady.”I thought it was imperative to get to know the last names of passengers in business class, but that wasn’t the case 🙁 Only the Istanbul – Atlanta flight attendants (all women) regularly smiled and addressed me by name.

Wheelchair passengers may not find it convenient to fly TA as they have to get on and off the flight using outdoors staircases on the tarmac and get into a bus to reach the terminal in Istanbul. There is no separate entry/ early boarding for business class passengers and I did not see assistance for children, heavy bags or people who can’t climb a lot of steps.

Lounge

The highlight of traveling TA is their lounge at Istanbul airport (it deserves a separate post). This may be the best airport lounge I have seen! Two floors of comfortable seating, endless dining options, free flowing liquors, multiple coffee shops, a movie theater, library, kids play area, games and much more. I scanned my boarding pass to get in the lounge, stored my bag in the free locker, and took a hot shower in private bathrooms equipped with bathrobes, towels and soaps.

Then I scanned the 10 or so food stations to see what I was in mood for – Thai, pasta, meze, Turkish pizza, fresh fruits, pastries, Middle Eastern sweets? Too many choices and everything looked delicious!

A part of the lounge looked like a solarium with lots of greenery, sunlight pouring in and a piano. There was free wi-fi to catch up with emails, while sipping on made to order cappuccino.

TA lounge in Nairobi was pretty small and located at the end of the terminal that looked like a warehouse space. The interior was modern with wooden beams and old fashioned green couches. There was only one shower with no amenities, a prayer/ ablution room and a quiet room for people to sleep (in chairs). Attendants were not friendly at this lounge (perhaps they didn’t speak English) and the food was mostly American breakfast fare (pancakes, sausages, eggs, etc). American music played in the background and sports on TV. Barring the TA sign, nothing in the lounge indicated that there was any Turkish affiliation.

Have you flown on Turkish Airlines? What was your experience like? Share it with our readers in the comments section below…

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 70+ countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and editor of ‘Go Eat Give’ and author of ‘Beato Goes To’ series of children’s books on travel.