Turkey’s flag carrier dates back to 1933 when a passenger service was launched within the Turkish Ministry of Defence. The airline was called State Airlines Administration but eventually adopted its current name in 1956. The airline originally had a mixed fleet of US, British, German and Russian aircraft and following WWII they acquired several war surplus DC-3’s. The airline’s first international flight in 1947 was to the capital of Greece; Turkey’s traditional rival. Turkish Airline’s network expanded in pre-deregulation Europe by offering cheap tickets together with terrible service. The airline experienced several spectacular accidents including France’s worst one in 1974 with the lose of 346 lives. In the 1980’s the airline began to improve its image by replacing older aircraft, improving maintenance, train staff better and pay attention to customer service. By the new millennium Turkish Airlines had become a quality airline and today it is often regarded as Europe’s best carrier. In 2001 the airline was listed on the Istanbul Stock Exchange, however the government remains the biggest shareholder. Turkish Airlines operates the world’s largest hub from a single airport and now serves 200+ international and domestic destinations. In 2008 the airline joined Star Alliance. In 2012 the airline became the first to commence flights to war torn Somalia and as a sign of the deep friendship between Israel and Turkey the carrier is the only airline from a Muslim country to serve the Jewish state.
Turkish Airlines genuinely do provide very good service from attractive flight attendants. The multi lingual crew are formal and professionally attired in a classical airline suit. Meals are served diligently and call buttons will be answered reasonably promptly. Asking for a coffee top-up will be greeted with a smile rather than a snarl. The smiles and warmth of the crew will come as a pleasant surprise for European travellers accustomed to the rudeness of discount carriers.
Turkish Airlines has expanded to become one of Star Alliance’s largest airlines with more than 200 routes. Turkish Airlines operate a comprehensive point to point network throughout Turkey and also Northern Cyprus. Internationally Turkish Airlines serves practically every major destination in Europe with particular emphasis on many ‘forgotten’ cities of the Balkans, such as Kosovo, Macedonia and Moldova. They also serve many smaller cities and often provide better links than the national flag carrier. For example Turkish Airlines link three cities in Denmark to Istanbul making them a better choice than SAS. The airline operates a comprehensive network around the Middle East with flights to six cities in Iraq as well as connections to the ‘usual’ destinations. Turkish also cover East Asia comprehensively and serve five destinations in the US including the airlines longest route to Los Angeles. Turkish Airlines is popular with Israelis as they provide excellent connections between Tel Aviv, Europe and Asia. Turkish Airlines also operate an excellent network across Africa, from Cape Town to Ethiopia. They were also the first international carrier to return to war ravaged Somalia.
Considering how superior the service is above legacy European carriers and the vast number of connections the airline operates, Turkish Airlines is great value for money. Turkish Airlines is genuinely worth paying a little extra for, however their airfares are typically amongst the cheapest. A Turkish Airlines flight experience is far superior to comparable British Airways, Lufthansa or Alitalia flight so comparable ticket prices make them a better option.
It is no exaggeration to claim that Turkish Airlines have the best on-board catering for any European airline. First time passengers may be surprised to discover complimentary meals and drinks on domestic flights which are served in a playful cardboard box. Domestic meals typically consist of a roll, dessert and juice. On international flights in all classes Turkish Airlines provide a very nice selection which vary depending on the route. On Asian routes dining options will typically be a European choice and an Asian inspired choice, while on other routes meals are a blend of modern European cuisine. Serving sizes are generous, flavoursome and nicely presented. Turkish Airlines are lavish with the alcohol service which includes unique Turkish wine and beer. Premium passengers are served beautifully presented meals on luxurious linen and cutlery. As you would expect, Turkish flights serve excellent coffee.
As part of Turkish Airline’s image overhaul they have invested in the latest individual video on demand in-flight entertainment units which are located on seat backs. On shorter domestic flights and maybe some charter flights these will not be available however audio entertainment and rooftop drop down screens are available. The airline’s video entertainment options include a wide range of recent Hollywood releases and movies from Asia, Europe and the Middle East in a choice of languages. Music and entertainment options are numerous. The airline’s magazine Skylife is an interesting read and is available on iTunes.
Turkey is a modern sophisticated country with airport facilities to match. Turkish Airlines have a variety of check-in methods, from on-line and mobile check-in to self check kiosks. Traditional check-in remains the most practical method and is average to slow. The airline has a standard baggage allowance however will be more pleasant and flexible over a few kilos of excess than their budget rivals. Luggage is handled carefully in Turkey however the airline does fly to many locations where mishaps are routine, from London’s Heathrow to Africa, so Travel Insurance will put your mind at ease.
Turkish Airlines have gone for understated elegance rather than self indulgent luxury, like Virgin Atlantic. The airline’s Business Class cabin is nicely appointed in prime colors and has a formal feel about it. On long distance flights the lie flat bed will be extremely welcome while on shorter flights the airline’s reclining leather seats are more than adequate. The airlines amenities kits, pyjamas and extras are very collectable and the on board dining is restaurant quality. The airline operates its own CIP Lounges throughout Turkey and several overseas ports while they use partner Star Alliance lounges elsewhere. CIP Lounges resemble the lobby of a sophisticated hotel, but can also be crowded at peak times. While Turkish Airlines premium product cannot compare with the luxury of the new Middle East carriers like Qatar Airways or Etihad, they are superior to European rivals like Lufthansa or Air France for example.
Turkish Airlines attracts many first time passengers who are won over by price but discover a great airline as a bonus. Turkish Airlines provides Economy passengers with very good service and look after their passengers before and after they land. The airline provide Economy and Comfort Class, which is their premium economy. Comfort Class typically costs around 15% more than Economy yet the seats are considerably more spacious and the meal service is noticeably better. Comfort Class is an excellent value option and is actually superior to the First Class of Alaska Airlines or the Business Class of many airlines such as Jetstar or short distance JAL flights.
Turkish Airlines loyalty scheme is called Miles&Smiles and operates like most other airline programs. Miles are earned from flights, flights on other Star Alliance airlines and partner companies such as Hotels, Rental Cars and selected service provides. While the scheme is quite good it is primarily targeted at residents of Turkey and isn’t as good as Lufthansa’s Miles & More or Air France’s FlyingBlue, which it appears to be a copy of. Individual miles are worthless and considerable flying is necessary before real benefits will materialise.
Turkish Airlines had a dreadful name up until the 1990’s and the company has worked hard to change the culture that made them a by-word for poor quality. The airline has copied the best of other carriers and has now surpassed them. Without doubt Turkish Airlines is the most improved airline in Europe and much of the credit goes to wise management choices. While other airlines, such as Greece’s Olympic Air and Italy’s Alitalia have remained inflexible and sunk into debt Turkish Airlines handled the decline in business caused by 9/11, SARS and the US invasion of Iraq with skill. The low cost base of operating an airline in Turkey rather than Holland for example also provides the airline with a natural advantage competitors in Europe do not have.
If it wasn’t for Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines would have the worst European safety record, however the airline has addressed this by upgrading its pilot training, investing in a new fleet and improving its procedures. But the airline remains plagued with bad luck, having two fatal accidents since the millennium. Turkish Airlines still have the unenviable world record for the largest number of casualties from a single aircraft accident with the 1974 loss of a DC-10 in France and since then have had eight more fatal accidents. Turkish Airlines was also a popular target for hijackings, the last one in 2011 during a flight from Norway. Passengers overpowered the would-be hijacker.
Turkish Airlines is certainly Europe’s most improved carrier and wins customers with great service at a great price.
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