Aircraft Type: A350-900
Class: Business Class
Date: October 2021
Turkish Airlines has continued to operate throughout the pandemic. In fact, it’s been one of the largest international carriers in Europe for the past 18 months. However, the pandemic also saw the full launch of its A350 operations, which headed to destinations such as Manila, Jakarta and Sao Paulo, meaning that the aircraft was pretty much off limits, meaning a delay to checking out what the A350 now brings to the airline’s already expansive fleet.
Like the 787, the new product firmly cements the airline’s new strategic direction for business class, which does away with the wide-open cabin. Replacing it is a modern, private product that maximises on the commercial benefits of a staggered forward-facing product – while giving passengers one thing that according to the airline’s research proved was missing – privacy.
On the ground
Turkish Airlines offers a fantastic ground product. We don’t just mean the expansive new airport that it calls home, or its iconic lounges, but also the fact it treats its passengers with a long layover to a range of options, from complimentary hotel stays, tours of the city or even bookable private yacht cruises of the Bosporus.
However, opting not to get an expensive PCR test, and wanting to try out the Yotel at the airport, we stayed airside, meaning our journey started in the Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles lounge.
The main business class lounge was closed and will reopen when demand is enough to operate both. Based on how busy the lounge was when we visited, it’s probably going to happen very soon.
This was our first time in the Miles and Smiles lounge and its identical to the Business Class lounge, just in mirror image. It was still operating normally, with a wide range of food and drink available, but there wasn’t much seating left when we arrived, which was during a peak wave of operations.
The one thing we’d love to see in the lounge, which we think was missing, was champagne. Virtually every other lounge in the world offers this, and it’s our usual go-to tipple pre-flight. That said, there’s still bountiful other options, and before we knew it, it was time to head to the gate any way.
At the gate, boarding was a little chaotic – with many passengers eager to head home to Brazil. Two departures were leaving at gates next to each other at the same time and the queues for both Business Class and economy had somehow amalgamated. But as soon as the ground staff arrived, things eased up and boarding was processed quickly, efficiently and we were headed on the jet bridge to this swanky new bird.
Istanbul uses two airbridges, so we were able to board from the front door of the aircraft. Stepping onboard we were greeted by friendly cabin crew, noticeably with less security passes and paraphernalia, making the crew appear a lot smarter. Being during pandemic, being greeted with masks is a shame, but we were made to feel welcome and on entering the cabin, it was immaculate.
It’s clear to see that Turkish are living up to their brand promise of constant cleaning of aircraft. On every single flight we took on this journey, there was no sign of even a crumb on the seat.
The cabin itself is very similar to the 787. A sea of charcoal seats, offset by the brushed bronze that is the signature colour of the Business Class product. Priestmangoode have done an excellent job in creating a seamless branded experience for Business Class passengers from check-in to cabin. Being the A350, the cabin is noticeably wider, and even with the overhead bins open, the cabin seems more spacious.
At the rear of the cabin is the Turkish Airlines logo adorned on the monument, which is cleverly illuminated throughout the flight.
If we had boarded through the main entry door, we would have been greeted by the same 3D logo treatment, which is sadly missing on the forward entry area.
The toilets are also more spacious. One of our concerns with the 787 was that with the smaller toilets, there wasn’t much space for your own belongings on the counter tops, partly because the airline offers its passengers an amazing array of Molton Brown toiletries, a signature Eau de Toilette and even a living Ivy plant.
With the A350s though, the space is larger, and there’s plenty of space to stow your amenity kits while freshening up.
The A350 has three toilets for its passengers, however, the rear two sadly were also used quite frequently by economy passengers, meaning for long lines just before landing. One of the rear toilets also is much larger, catering for disabled passengers, and even has a Toto toilet function (not that we used it!).
This is probably the biggest difference between the 787 and the A350. Thanks to a few extra inches, the more snug (yet still perfectly fine) seat on the Boeing aircraft becomes a lot more comfortable. We estimated a couple of inches extra width, both in the footwell and the seat pan.
The seats are configured in a staggered 1 x 2 x 1 layout, with honeymoon seats on odd rows in the centre, perfect for travelling together, but, we believe the even numbered pairs are just as good.
Why? Well, the privacy screens that feature on the seats still appear on the centre seats, meaning you’d have to lean forward to have a conversation even though you were travelling together, and thanks to the cabin being so quiet, it’s just as easy to talk, even if you’re a couple of feet away.
The seat itself has had a couple of upgrades as well. Firstly, they’ve placed a combination lock on the personal storage unit for additional security, although we don’t see why this is needed. Also, the slide-out mirror now tilts, making it usable, something we struggled with on the previous seat.
There’s a range of touch buttons on the console which control the seat and the ambient lighting. There’s even a ‘do not disturb’ function.
There’s plenty of storage available, however, the one element we wish was tweaked, was the inability to charge a device without keeping the storage unit open, as the door was too close to the plug, meaning that even during an overnight period, the light from the storage unit was noticeable.
Pretty much everything about the seat was the same as the 787 except wider, making it a far superior product. It’s certainly not the most expansive business class seat in the skies, but we don’t have any complaints regarding passenger comfort.
The front row seats do benefit from larger footwells thanks to their bulkhead position, and unlike the 787s, don’t have toilets facing on to them, so they could be a good option for those looking for a little more space.
Food & Drink
What was noticeable on our flights is that Turkish Airlines signature element to its Business Class product is most certainly its dining. Having travelled multiple times pre-pandemic, the theatre of the experience is what makes Turkish Airlines’ product so exceptional.
We just missed out on the full dining experience (which has now returned to its long-haul network) which included candlelight dining, welcome drinks, hot towels, plated main courses and of course the ostentatious dessert trolley.
Instead, we got an adapted pandemic-friendly experience, which still included many of Turkish Airlines’ signature elements, such as pre-order, mezze starters, hot breads, but sadly, main courses were pre-plated and served with their heat foil still on them.
However, on request, we still received a glass of champagne during boarding as well as their signature lemonade and mint drink.
The menu design has also changed, more in line with the new branding, with a simplified approach, yet a still expansive wine list, with both Turkish and international wines to try. Being a day flight, there were two main meals, instead of the usual lighter breakfast option that many are used to.
The starter of seafood tasted fresh and light, and a welcome change from the omelette breakfast we had in the lounge.
This was followed quickly by a grilled Turkish style meatball, it was tasty and tender, but certainly it didn’t feel the same without the chef’s magic touch. Turkish Airlines’ onboard chefs are exactly that, chefs. They aren’t cabin crew just in chef’s whites, and it shows, as they truly know how to get the most out of the onboard ovens.
What was a nice treat, was that the airline has now introduced a movie menu, a selection of snacks and nibbles which the crew will bring to you on request during the flight. This is on top of the cheese sandwiches, muffins or other more substantial nibbles you can enjoy on request too.
The crew were incredibly attentive during the flight, constantly going through the cabin and checking on drinks, offering refills and making sure that all the passengers were wearing masks.
The airline also offers a bedding service, and while not always necessary on a day flight, being 13 hours long, this was one that virtually everyone in the cabin enjoyed a power nap. So after the main meal, the crew quickly offered to make up each seat with a mattress protector, and cover the day pillow with a pillow case, and set up the seat with a warm, fluffy blanket.
Before landing, a second meal service was given out, consisting of a cold mezze styte starter including some very tasty beans.
This was followed by a hot, tasty Manti, a traditional Turkish ravioli style dish which is topped with fresh yoghurt. Perhaps my new favourite thing in the world.
Turkish has an excellent entertainment system, which is designed to have a wide range of programming, and, they have many films and tv shows in a variety of languages.
The screen is huge, and perfect for the seat, and naturally touch-screen, however, there’s also a hand controller by your side as well. On the 787s the screens of the controllers, were not intuitively designed, meaning an awkward head tilt to read what was on the screen.
Thankfully on the A350, the screen has been twisted so it’s easier to read, and thankfully the screen is also locked while it’s in its holder, meaning that the accidental knock of it doesn’t pause, skip or turn on the TV during sleep.
Sadly (because of the film studios during the pandemic) there weren’t that many new films, meaning the options for new content was limited, but there were still hundreds of slightly older movies that kept us entertained during both flights.
The airline still also offers the Denon headsets which are comfortable and of an exceptional quality.
What was missing however, was any reading material. No newspapers, magazines or even airline magazines. I was actually trying to find out information about the airline’s route network, products etc on the IFE but sadly there was nothing to find.
The great additional benefit to travelling with Turkish Airlines Business Class however, is the fact that there’s almost unlimited complimentary WiFi, which was relatively fast, pretty reliable and meant I could keep in touch with people on the ground.
Even though we were travelling during the pandemic, Turkish has tried to make the experience as close to normal as possible. This meant we were treated to the headphones, menus and Versace amenity kits on boarding.
We were also given the traditional slippers and shoe bags – and as an added precaution – Business Class hygiene kits, which included more masks, hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes.
We were also treated to the bedding kit which was to the same standard as in the past, as well as an additional day blanket.
These amenities are on top of the toiletries available in the restrooms as well.
It was an impeccable flight, as was the return trip. The crews operating both the outbound and return flights had oodles of personality, charisma, and actually were noticeably more relaxed than flights I have had in the past with the airline. The service was top notch, and more importantly the cabin felt more spacious and the seats were more comfortable. Turkish is certainly still headed in the right direction, and sadly while I just missed out on the return to the normal catering service, it seems that even during the pandemic, they are continuing to evolve and improve their product offering. Do I miss the big comfortable beds that the 777 fleet have, for sure, but do I miss having to jump over my neighbour to get to the aisle, definitely not. Would I recommend Turkish’s A350? Absolutely. It’s certainly one of the best airlines in Europe. You can tell that when you are comparing and contrasting to the likes of Qatar and Singapore to work out how it stacks up, and that in itself is proof enough for me.
The Big Picture
TheDesignAir paid for their tickets for this flight. The views expressed here are our own.