How the mighty have fallen… Considering they were once the No.7 airline in the world, Turkish Airlines dropped to No.12 in 2017, No.18 in 2018, and then to No.27 in 2019 (see SkyTrax World’s Top 100 Airlines). The jury is still out for 2020, but you can see where this is heading. We were quite excited about flying with this airline for the first time back in 2016. At the time our expectations of the Turkish Airlines inflight experience were justifiably high.
In fact, finding a flight to India – with such a highly recommended airline – was a major factor in determining our holiday itinerary.
The flight ticked all our boxes:
♦ Depart from Italy: Great excuse for a 2-night starter-break in Rome.
♦ Change planes in Turkey: 2-night stopover in Istanbul.
♦ 3 weeks in India, arriving/departing Mumbai.
♦ Return flight to Edinburgh: Final city break before heading home.
The cost for this diverse flight itinerary was just €457 per person.
However, our inflight experience with Turkish Airlines was somewhat under-whelming. Considering their position in the rankings at that time, maybe our expectations were too high?
Our Turkish Airlines Inflight Experience
Our Turkish Airlines inflight experience started with our first flight from Rome to Turkey. This was a 2½ hours flight in a cramped Boeing 737. On take-off they announced that the inflight entertainment system would be out of order for the duration of the flight. During the flight they served an uninteresting meal on small trays with plastic utensils. And no miniature spirits – spirits were served from bottles.
All small issues, maybe, but we’ve had better experiences on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (No. 18 in the world in 2019), and certainly on Emirates (No. 5).
At least we had a wide-bodied Boeing 777 for our 7-hour flights between Istanbul and Mumbai. However we were back on a small 737 for our 5-hour return flight from Istanbul to Edinburgh.
Turkish Airlines – In-Transit in Istanbul
The transit between planes in Istanbul on our return was chaotic and stressful, with confusing directions and lots of frustrated passengers. We had a scheduled 2-hour transit between flights, but our inbound flight was delayed by 1½ hours.
On arrival in Istanbul, cabin passengers were literally pushing their way through to the exit door to try to reach their connections. Before leaving the plane, no information or assistance was given to transit passengers – who clearly feared they were about to miss their connecting flights.
It looked like they were about to refuse boarding us. Everyone else had boarded and the gate was now closed.
In the airport things only got worse. Once again there were no announcements or assistance offered to delayed transit passengers. On the departure board, I could see that our connecting flight out was due to leave on schedule. Following the confusing directions, we ended up being sent around in circles – through the same busy security check twice – before finally reaching our departure gate as it was about to close – the last few passengers were boarding.
At this point, the Turkish Airlines staff raised the ante further by holding us at the gate while they questioned our visas for entry to the United Kingdom. This isn’t required for holders of an Article 10 residence card, but the staff on the departure gate were ignorant of this. At one point, it looked like they were about to refuse boarding us. Everyone else had boarded and the gate was now closed.
After my insistence, and a telephone call to the UK, we were brusquely allowed to board.
In 2016 Turkish Airlines wasn’t all bad
There were a few nice touches with Turkish Airlines: A complimentary piece of Turkish Delight, the very palatable Turkish wine of which they are rightly proud, and their up-to-date entertainment system and range of inflight movies (when it was working).
Still, how on earth did Turkish Airlines ever get their stellar No. 7 worldwide rating? It’s a mystery to us.
2020 – and 2 long-haul return flights later
We flew economy class with Turkish airlines in 2016, 2018, and 2019. But enough is enough. From 2020, we will be travelling with other airlines (ideally Emirates), and here are the reasons why…
Dumbed-down inflight service
Do you remember the days of hot face towels and courtesy drinks in miniature bottles? Then it became disposable (but still hot) paper towelettes and drinks served from a bottle. Now it’s a wet wipe wrapped in paper crammed together with your milk and sugar sachets when (eventually) they pass you your tiny plastic food tray.
Forget the courtesy drinks: If you’re a nervous flyer and need a nip of something before takeoff, you’ll need to bring your own.
Unprofessional & inattentive stewards/stewardesses
In the past they’re been disrespectfully referred to as trolley-dollies. Now with the massive expansion of Turkish Airlines in response to the unprecedented increase in air travelers there’s no time for niceties.
With even more passengers crammed into the same old planes in even smaller seat spaces, the stewards/stewardesses are intent on doing the basics before disappearing to the back for a rest
Smallest seats & tightest legroom
Did I mention the legroom? Try spending 11 hours sat in the middle of the center isle with 2 large people on either side of you and an idiot in front who insists on lowering his seat back to the maximum.
When the food tray is delivered to you, you’ll know what it feels like to be an elephant trying to ride a tricycle.
Turkish Airlines Inflight Experience – Slop presented as food
Sorry, did I call it food? 2 or 3 small plastic containers filled with odd-colored sweet or savoury slop would be more accurate. Great if you’ve no teeth and are accustomed to eating through a straw. You won’t find any solids here.
Probably just as well as the last thing you want to do is squeeze past the sleeping whale next to you to go running to the loo (which after a few hours will be a disgusting mess – make sure you keep your shoes on!).
Infuriating online booking and management system
Turkish Airlines have an annoying habit of changing the time of one or more of your flights by just a few minutes. No big deal, but then when you try to check in 24 hours before departure, you’ll get:
Your flight has been updated. Please contact our call center to update your reservation code (PNR) for check-in.
You can click Checkin/Manage bookings’, then you’ll get:
Your flight’s date/time changed. You can confirm the new flight recommended to you, change or cancel your flight. Please select your preference.
Cancel, Change or Confirm
If you click Confirm, you get a message:
Attention – Please control your new flight information.
Click OK then you get:
Error – We are unable to cancel your booking via turkish airlines.com or our mobile app for technical reasons. Please contact one of our sales offices or our call center.
Try reaching the call center – there’s either no answer or an auto-responder.
All this results in you not being able to check in online, and therefore almost guarantees you’ll be automatically allocated one of those middle seats in the center isle!
No through-checking of baggage
One of the main reasons for booking a through-flight is so that your luggage is checked through to the final destination. In our case, although we paid Turkish Airlines for all flights, the last short leg of our journey they sub-contracted to Malaysia Airlines. We had to pick up our luggage and check it in again for the last leg! We almost missed our connection because of this.
No control over scammers at their own hub – Istanbul airport
As if all this isn’t already enough, if you qualify for a Turkish Airlines complimentary stopover (free hotel) you’ll first have to run the gauntlet of a hoard of scammers waiting for you at Arrivals – pretending to be Turkish Airlines personnel. We already know of many jet-lagged passengers who have fallen for these scams.
Have you had similar (or worse) experiences with Turkish airlines? Let us know – it would be nice to share the misery 😧
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