Flight Review: Turkish Airlines (A330-300) Economy From Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur
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When I flew from Madrid (MAD) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) via Istanbul (IST) on Turkish Airlines, I planned a long layover so I'd have a chance to try out the free city tour the carrier offers to international transit passengers. Then, I flew the IST-KUL leg in economy aboard the A330-300. Here's what it was like.
At the time, I was searching for two cheap one-way economy fares from Madrid to Southeast Asia for myself and my travel companion, as I was planning to use American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book two economy, one-way award tickets from Bangkok (BKK) to Madrid via Doha (DOH) on Qatar Airways for our return trip.
Using Google Flights, I realized routing through Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur on Turkish Airlines was only about $350 per person one-way. Not only that, I could also fiddle with the flight times to build in a longer layover and give myself enough time to take the free city tour, which ended up being great. I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to book the flights so I could get 2x points — or in this case, about 700 Ultimate Rewards points — for the travel purchase. I also made a Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles account so I could earn more miles that way as well.
I was able to check in for both flights online 24 hours in advance while I was still in Madrid, and selected our seats free of charge. At the airport, there was virtually no one in line for the bag drop, and I checked my bags all the way through to Kuala Lumpur. Because I was going to be exiting the secure area at IST to spend the day exploring the city, I did need a visa, which I was able to arrange ahead of time online — you can also do this at the airport, but it may take longer. Had I been transiting and not leaving the secure zone, I wouldn’t have needed to deal with visas at all though.
Cabin and Seat
Tip: the display boards at IST don’t show the gates right away, so try going farther in to find your flight information. The areas around the screens just after security are usually packed, as people tend to station themselves there until the gates are announced. Once I got to my gate, I asked the agents if I could be among the first to board so I could take some photos. They let me on without question, so I boarded along with the business-class passengers.
The rest of the boarding process was fairly smooth, and my travel companion eventually joined me as Group B boarded the plane. Our seats were 14B and 14C, close to the front and in the green section you can see in the photo below.
Our seats were a set pair in an economy cabin with a 2-4-2 configuration. This A330-300 aircraft had a total of 289 seats, including 28 lie-flat seats in business class with a pitch of 61 inches and 261 economy seats with a pitch of 31-33 inches.
At 17-18 inches wide, I found the economy seats to be pretty standard — the business-class seats were 21" wide, by the way — though I did appreciate the fact that there was a footrest and the bottom slid forward a little when the seat was reclined. Some people hate the footrest, but I love it because I'm extra short — if I'm sitting up completely straight, my feet don’t reach the ground.
Visually, the seats weren’t very nice looking, featuring I considered to be a strange and ugly color scheme that didn’t really match. Even though they looked a bit scruffy and odd, I think it was just the colors and design that bothered me, and not necessarily that they were old.
Thankfully, they were more comfortable than they looked, with a decent amount of padding.
I thought it was nice that one of the bathrooms was much larger than the others — it was most likely a disabled-accessible bathroom, though I saw no official sign. It was nice to be in an airplane lavatory that you could actually turn around in for once.
The in-flight entertainment screens at each seat, though slightly older, were operated by touch and remote control.
Since the IFE was much more responsive whenever I used the remote, I used it instead of banging on the touch screen and bothering the passenger in front of me. I had to tap on the screen several times to get it to do anything so the remote was much easier to use. The entertainment system offered a solid selection of new releases as well as older films. The TV options weren't as good as I've seen on other carriers, but were still decent and I knew I would find plenty to keep me entertained during the 10.5-hour flight to KUL.
There was a USB plug at each seat, so I could charge my electronic devices during the flight.
Complimentary headphones and a double-plug converter were given out, so I could plug in my own headphones as well.
This was the first time I'd flown with Turkish Airlines, and I was pleasantly surprised by the great service and amenities.
Economy passengers received an amenity kit by Chopard, consisting of socks, slippers, earplugs, an eye mask, a small pot of lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
The flight attendants were helpful and friendly. We also received menus, which I’ll talk more about in the next section. These small touches and details made me feel as if I weren’t just flying in economy, but perhaps premium economy.
Food and Beverage
The food was pretty good for an economy meal, though dinner service didn’t begin until about 2.5 hours into the flight, which seemed to be forever. I’d taken a red-eye flight the night before and spent the whole day touring the city, so I wanted to eat and sleep as soon as possible.
It was all worth it when we got menus detailing our food choices, giving me hope that my meal would be better than average. I chose the kofta — Turkish-style minced beef — and my travel companion selected the chicken paprika. We found the dishes to be more flavorful than the usual economy airline fare.
I was pleased that the salad included fresh peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers, while tasty, healthy veggies came with the hot entrée. A woman in a chef’s toque came out to serve the food, too, making it feel like a chef had prepared it fresh from a restaurant kitchen hidden somewhere in first class — which obviously wasn't the case. Still, combined with the extra flavor and the menus, this made dining in economy seem very high-end.
Other nice touches included real silverware and a tasty Turkish mint lemonade that was prepared fresh. I opted for this instead of alcohol, although the flight attendants were serving beer and wine as well.
The meal also came with bread, olive oil, green beans and coffee mousse for dessert. Afterward, coffee and tea were served.
My only complaint about dinner was the amount of time it took for FAs to start serving it. There was no mid-flight snack — perhaps they served dinner later on so they wouldn't have to offer a snack? Breakfast, started 90 minutes before we landed, was just average, with eggs (a little soggy), cheese, jam, bread and yogurt. The food was nothing special, though it also got the chef's hat presentation.
I had an enjoyable experience with Turkish Airlines and wouldn’t hesitate to fly with this carrier again. Little details, like the menu and amenity kit, helped to make this long-haul flight more bearable and made me feel more appreciated as an economy passenger. While these extra items probably cost virtually nothing to the airline, I think it shows the company is respectful of all its passengers and wants those seated in coach to feel as special as those traveling in its premium classes. I also loved the fact that Turkish Airlines offers a free city tour or free hotel room to keep you busy during long layovers, showing an added appreciation for travelers that I don’t often feel when flying in economy on other airlines.
As a frequent economy flyer — I prefer to use my points and miles for several economy flights rather than for a single business-class flight — I look for airlines that provide relatively top-notch service and amenities in coach. I'd recommend Turkish Airlines to anyone looking to have a nearly premium-level of care at economy prices.
Have you ever flown in economy aboard Turkish Airlines? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.