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

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…

Review of Air Canada

Recently, I got a chance to fly on Air Canada, one of the largest airlines in North America. I took two flights making my way from Atlanta – Toronto – Tokyo and back. Fortunately, I was upgraded to business class (thanks to Air Canada’s PR!) which made the 24-hour long journey relatively easier to get through. Here is my unbiased review.

Planes

The E175 plane between ATL-YYK was very old, with 1-2 configuration, small seats even in business class, and outdated TV screen (ones where you see a mouse pointer and a rotating wheel each time you select a tab).

Between YYK-HND, the Boeing 777-300ER plane was newer and more spacious, with a total of 40 seats, spread across two cabins.

International Business Class cabins had a 1-2-1 configuration, each of the Executive Pod seats equipped with 18″ touch flat screen TV’s and flat beds. The firmness of the mattress on the chair could be adjusted using a touch screen comfort system, though I could not feel the difference. There was also a chair massage but I could barely feel it vibrating. The pillow and comforter were quite comfortable for a good night’s rest. There was also an adjustable armrest and a foldable tray table.

Air Canada provided a Canadian-brand Escents Aromatherapy amenities kit for business class passengers with just the basics – socks, toothbrush, ear plugs, lip balm.

The business class cabin had a total of three restrooms, including two between business class cabins, and one at the very front. The restrooms were standard size, and didn’t have especially nice finishes or amenities.

Timeliness

3 out of my 4 flights were delayed by at least half hour. One of the flights was related to a typhoon in Japan, others did not have an explanation.

Entertainment

Noise cancelling headphones were given to the passengers in business class cabin. The selection of movies and TV shows included French, English, Japanese and Hindi, though not as many as I have seen in some of the other airlines. I had seen most of the new releases two months ago on Delta. Also, the ‘search by category’ was rather funky, resulting in English movies when I selected Hindi language.

A selection of premium newspapers, including route-specific titles were offered before takeoff.

Each seat had a personal power supply and USB port for charging electronic devices. It’s always great to arrive at your destination with your cell phone fully charged. There was no Wi-Fi on any of the planes.

Duty-free selections could be accessed from the screen monitors as well as the inflight magazine. Most products were standard, with nothing new or exciting.

Food

The food on board was quite good on Air Canada. Drinks and salted nuts were offered soon after takeoff, though a generous pour of champagne was served in a regular glass.

Meals were served 60-90 minutes after takeoff. For lunch, I had a fresh mixed greens salad, poached tiger prawns with marinated artichokes, grilled eggplant and zucchini lasagna, cheese tray and a decadent dark chocolate fondant with hazelnut praline and cherry compote. This was the best dessert I have eaten in air!

Plentiful snacks were stocked in the galley for between meals, and water bottles were passed out at regular intervals. Since I was flying between Canada and Japan, there were Japanese menu options also including dim sum, noodle soups, congee, chicken teriyaki wrap and yakitori chicken.

The menus on Air Canada are created by celebrated Canadian Chef David Hawksworth.

Service

I have mixed feelings about the service provided by Air Canada. Only on one of the flights, the cabin attendant introduce himself before takeoff and asked for my order. At other times, nobody bothered to even bring a welcome drink before takeoff. Service during the flight was courteous and to the point. I didn’t feel like anyone went out of their way to make me feel special.

The on-ground staff was a bit more courteous and smiling.

Prior to landing, the flight attendant passed out enveloped asking for donations of left over currency for the The Air Canada Foundation, a registered charity focused on the health and well-being of children and youth. I thought this was a great idea since I hate bringing back foreign currency coins, which I eventually lose or never use again.

Lounge

I visited Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto on a Friday evening. Though parts of the airport are quite modern, the lounge looked outdated with uncomfortable brown and blue leather chairs and dirty tables. Limited food and drinks were offered to guests. At dinner time, there was only mac n cheese, nachos and salads. They did have kids play room, a loud entertainment room, and a business area. I was also able to use complimentary shower facilities where they provided a towel, but no toiletries. Also, there is no place to hang your clothes in the shower rooms so leave your jackets outside.

Air Canada is Canada’s largest airline and the largest provider of scheduled passenger services in the Canadian market, the Canada-U.S. trans-border market and in the international market to and from Canada. Air Canada is among the 20 largest airlines in the world and employs 30,000 people. Its corporate headquarters are in Montreal, and four major hubs are Toronto (YYZ), Montreal (YUL), Vancouver (YVR) and Calgary (YYC).

In my opinion, Air Canada can be best described as ‘safe, reliable and no frills’ airline that prioritizes serving the people, environment and community.

Flying Qatar Airways Business Class

Honestly, I am jealous of my friends in the corporate world who get to jet set when they fly for work. They relax in their flatbed seats while sipping on a glass of champagne served in real crystal glass, while I am squeezed in the economy middle seat for up to 30 hours at a time. As a freelance travel writer, I have to more then often cover my own airfare when going on assignment, which is every month. Usually, I am scrambling for cheap fares, using my miles, or negotiating with airlines for discounts.

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So when I had the opportunity of traveling Business Class on Qatar Airways (QA), I grabbed it!

qatar airways

I booked a round trip flight from Atlanta, GA to Yerevan, Armenia, both of which are new hubs for QA. In May 2016, a launch party featured a private concert by American singer and actress Jennifer Lopez at Atlanta’s historic Fox Theatre, which enraged Atlanta-based Delta Airlines. Grow up Delta! Read more about their reaction to it.

The online booking process was easy. QatarAirways.com website gives several options of flights for each day and shows a calendar of low fares through the week. You can pick any combination of flights based on schedules and prices.

Checking in at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport was strange as the attendant at QA counter did not know recognize the city Yerevan, or the country Armenia. He said he worked with the airlines, but perhaps a geography lesson wasn’t included in the training.

I got access to The Club At ATL lounge at Atlanta airport, which is a far cry from any VIP lounges I have seen before. It was crowded, the wifi was slow, and there was hardly anything to eat at the buffet table.

Once I boarded the plane, things got a lot better. An attendant escorted me from the entrance of the flight to my seat and helped me stow my carry on bag. Soon, the cabin attendant addressed me by my name and made polite conversation about my journey. I got a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice right away and was feeling relaxed already.

qatar airways

I was on the 777-200 airplane which featured fully flat horizontal beds in a 2-2-2 configuration. The maroon (official color: Qatari red) leather seats were equipped with massage functions and I had over 6 feet of legroom! Sorry coach people. I had the biggest individual flat screen TV screen I have seen on board (estimating 17 inches) which was programmed with over 3,000 hours of entertainment in 30 languages through the award-winning Oryx One system. Some of the flights also have WiFi but neither of my legs (Atlanta-Doha-Yerevan) did.

qatar airways

Next they brought out amenities – A Giorgio Armani toiletries bag with a perfume and lotion, cozy PJ set (in my size) which contained a long sleeve shirt and pants, along with slippers, fluffy pillow and comforter. Once I changed into my lounging clothes, the attendant asked to make my bed for the night. She flattened the seat to 180 degrees, laid out bedspreads and tucked in the comforter, a left a chocolate flight on my pillow. I felt like I was getting a turndown service at a hotel.

qatar airways

QA business class features a Dine On Demand style of dining, meaning passengers can order whatever food and drinks they want whenever they feel like it. The drink menu had a great selection of wines and champagnes from around the world. One could chose from Australian Shiraz, Spanish Mencia, French Bordeaux, Tawny Port, as well as spirits, cocktails and teas.

The food menu offered a good selection of vegetarian and regional choices.   I had a fresh salad of butternut squash and goat cheese on a bed of arugula; a flavorful paneer tikka masala with herbed rice and lentils; and individual size carrot cake and chocolate tart for dessert. Just before we arrived in Doha, I ordered my breakfast – kadak cardamom chai, kippered salmon with capers, muffin and croissant. The sun shone in from the large windows as I sipped on my strong hot tea and read the morning news.

qatar airways

Another thing I really liked about my QA flight was the attention to the bathrooms. During the 15-hour long service, the toilet was always clean and well equipped with toothbrushes and hand lotion. One of the attendants made sure to clean the toilet after every single use.

If you have a 4 hours or more layover in Doha, Qatar Airways offers free city tours. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to avail this opportunity. The airport does have a hotel, art displays, spa, lots of shopping and dining, as well as VIP lounges.

Doha

Qatar Airways is commitment to giving back to the community. You will see some of their projects featured during the in-flight entertainment and  announcements are made on board asking for contributions. Read more about QA social projects here

Would I fly QA again? Absolutely! In my opinion, QA delivers a lot more than it’s counterparts when it comes to seat comfort, food and entertainment, making it an overall much better flight experience. And the best part is, you would probably end up paying a lot less for a business class ticket on Qatar Airways versus some of the US-based airlines.

Qatar Airways is the national carrier of the State of Qatar. Launched in 1997, QA flys to over 150 destinations worldwide. It was named Airline of the Year by Skytrax in 2015 and Business Class of the Year by Skytrax in 2014.

7 Airlines That Offer Ultimate In-Air Passenger Pampering

Love to travel, but don’t enjoy long flights? These innovative airlines are pushing the boundaries when it comes to providing the best customer experience.

Do you ever wish that more help was available with children on long-haul flights, so you can sit back and have a little “me time”? Etihad provides fully-trained Flying Nannies to assist parents with an extra pair of hands – whether it’s helping to get the children settled for bed, keeping them entertained, or simply offering advice and support. Every Flying Nanny comes equipped with a goody bag of games and activities to help keep the little ones entertained, so go on and take your nap.

flying-nanny-etihad

While many airlines are upping the ante when it comes to dining in air, Qantas offers its customers – even in Economy cabins – an option to pre-order their meals, so you don’t have to choose between the chicken or the pasta. Their menu is perhaps the most diverse one can find on a flight. For example, on the Australia-USA route, pick from shoyu ramen noodles, lamb biryani, moussaka, chipotle pulled pork, and many other tempting choices.

KingFishRadish-Qantas

Prefer to fly on newer planes? American Airlines has placed the world’s largest aircraft order in history, replacing an average of one plane every week as part of their massive fleet renewal program. It means that by 2017, American will have one of the youngest fleets in the skies and the newest offerings among US carriers. The new planes will offer more legroom (as the number of rows are being reduced by half), WiFi on every flight, walk-up refreshment bars, and 700 hours of inflight entertainment.

american airlines

One of the best ways to refresh yourself after a long flight is with a nice hot shower. But you don’t have to wait till you land. On Emirates Airlines, you can get ready at 40,000 feet in your private A380 Shower Spa. With your complimentary Bvlgari amenity kit filled with designer fragrances and lotions, you will arrive just in time to hit the red carpet.

emirates shower

Wine connoisseurs may prefer to travel on Qatar Airways. Though its home country is dry, the carrier is known to have the most extensive wine seections in air. Business class choices include Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune du Château 2010, Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from New Zealand’s Marlborough district, and McWilliams Elizabeth Semillon 2006, to name a few. The airline’s wine program is curated by Master of Wine, James Cluer, who climbed 19,331-foot Mount Kilimanjaro with nine bottles of premium wine, in order to learn how altitude affects their taste.

If the safety videos on Air New Zealand don’t get grab your attention, you must be asleep by now. Rugby stars rapping to Men in Black, hobbits roaming through Middle- earth, pro surfers catching the big waves, and swimsuit supermodels on stunning beaches are some of the figures you will see informing travelers of safety procedures on board. Since 2009, Air New Zealand has produced 10 safety videos, entertaining more than 65 million viewers globally with their wit and humor.

men in black safety video

With only 12 extraordinary suites available on each A380 aircraft, Singapore Airlines Suites offer a home in the skies, complete with a sliding door and window blinds. The leather- and wood-finished suite has one of the largest seats in the sky. In addition, each suite is furnished with a 23-inch LCD video monitor, height-adjustable table, chaise lounge for companion seating, ambient and mood lighting, luggage stowage space, and a personal coat closet.