Flight review: Turkish Airlines' new business class aboard the 787-9 Dreamliner
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Editor’s note: During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. Instead, we have been publishing a selection of popular reviews from recent years — like this flight review from October 2019 — as well as resuming publishing of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
This review covers a flight from 2019, and you can expect your experience to be different today.
[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="85" ground-experience="18" cabin-seat="25" amens-ife="12" food-bev="18" service="12" pros="Much-improved cabin, exceptional food, top-notch beverage list, friendly service, diverse film selection, free Wi-Fi for business class." cons="Significant Wi-Fi downtime, mixed ground experience at IST, forgivable service hiccups." /]
For years, Turkish Airlines has operated one of the world's top business-class products, despite having a dated 2-2-2 (and even 2-3-2 on the 777-300ER) seating configuration. The carrier's exceptional catering and generally excellent service have consistently landed Turkish a top-notch ranking among reviewers and travelers alike.
Now, with the long-awaited introduction of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, Turkish can truly compete with a compelling hard product, as well, complementing its renowned food-and-beverage program with a far more modern, private lie-flat seat.
Naturally, having already reviewed the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777-300ER products, I was eager to give Turkish's 787-9 Dreamliner a try. I ended up booking a round-trip ticket between Istanbul and Atlanta with an economy return for a reasonable $1,645.
We paid with the Platinum Card® from American Express, earning 8,225 Membership Rewards points, worth $164, based on TPG's most recent valuations. Beginning next year, American Express will also offer trip-delay protection, making Amex Platinum an even more compelling booking option.
I credited my flight to United MileagePlus, earning 100% elite-qualifying and redeemable miles for the 5,774-mile flight.
Though there wasn't any US-bound availability around my planned travel dates, you can find business-class awards on the 787-9 from time to time, and since the airline is part of the Star Alliance there are numerous ways to book, including through Air Canada Aeroplan, Aviana LifeMiles, Singapore KrisFlyer and United MileagePlus. See our detailed guide for more on booking Turkish business class with miles.
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The business-class lounge at the old hub was spectacular, but the rest of the terminal left much to be desired.
This is, quite simply, a whole new world for Turkish, and any other carriers and their passengers flying through IST.
The new terminal is massive, so I recommend arriving early enough to get through all of the various lines — starting with a security checkpoint just to enter the building — and make your way to your gate, which in many cases can require far more walking than you'd normally expect.
You might even want to reference a map on your first visit — I found check-in areas were well-marked, but it could be tricky to get your bearings at first.
I was dropped off by Turkish's economy check-in area, for example, and walking to business class took at least a couple of minutes.
Eventually, I found my way there, strolling into the dedicated business-class check-in space.
The business-class check-in hall was almost entirely empty — unlike at economy, there weren't any kiosks here, so if you didn't print your boarding pass online (I was getting an error message when I tried), you needed to walk up to an agent.
Still, the process was speedy enough, and I was on my way in only a minute or two.
It was clear that Turkish focused on improving the experience for business-class travelers across the board. There was even a dedicated immigration and security "fast track" area, also accessible to Star Alliance Gold members and Turkish's own elites.
I was through in just a few minutes and found myself in the absolutely enormous departures area.
From there, it was a decent walk to the Turkish Airlines business lounge, which we reviewed in great detail just a few months ago.
Normally, I'd just breeze through a lounge if we already have a detailed review, but this space was especially exciting, so I'll revisit some of the highlights quickly here.
First, there was a fair amount to do, even if you didn't plan to eat or drink. There was a funky TV section, with a whopping 12 screens and an art installation around the corner.
There were a variety of local and international newspapers to take in, too.
There was also a fun kids area, complete with a popcorn machine.
Most exciting of all was this little aircraft mock-up.
There was even a PlayStation rig inside the "cabin" — how cool is that?
And, of course, there were plenty of opportunities to get your grub on.
Smack dab in the middle was an impressive mezze selection, with a huge variety of salads and other cold dishes.
That's where I found Turkish's olive sampling area, which, thankfully, the carrier brought over from the old airport lounge.
There were plenty of hot-food stations, too, most of which were staffed by Turkish Airlines chefs.
I was expecting a ton of food on board, so I kept things fairly light, but I couldn't pass up a visit to the Chinese noodle bar.
The dessert selection was worth checking out, too, with a variety of Turkish treats.
You could choose from a selection of cakes, as well. Whether you prefer savory or sweet, you won't be going hungry here.
The beverage selection was on point, as well.
There was a staffed coffee bar in the main lounge area, and a tea sampling area off to the side.
There were also a few self-serve beverage stations, with a pretty robust selection of booze.
Seating areas were plentiful, too. Though the lounge was certainly crowded during my visit, there was still plenty of space to camp out.
Some guests were hanging out in the large, open areas overlooking the terminal, while others preferred to hang out in some of the side rooms.
The lounge also offered luggage storage and a handful of computer workstations.
Finally, there were 12 showers, and I didn't have to wait at all during my midday visit. There were also 13 private nap rooms, which could only be booked if you were awaiting a long-haul flight with a four-to-nine-hour connection.
Each shower room was well-stocked with towels, robes and toiletries, though my shower soap dispenser happened to be out of soap. Dental and shaving kits were available upon request.
The Wi-Fi situation was a bit annoying: To access the internet, you needed to find a special kiosk and scan your boarding pass, at which point you received a little login slip.
That made getting online a bit of a hassle, but the Wi-Fi was decent once I was able to connect.
Just before leaving, I noticed a fun model of Istanbul and the airport, which helped build up more excitement for my flight.
From there, it was a long walk to my gate — about 10 minutes of power walking, though buggies were allegedly available, too (just not when I needed one, apparently).
There were seemingly endless opportunities to shop and eat in the terminal, but with a lot to check out in the lounge, I hadn't left enough time to explore the rest of IST.
Travelers used to the old Istanbul Airport will certainly appreciate many aspects of the new terminal.
There were comfortable spots to wait for your flight even if you didn't have access to a lounge.
And the airport views were second to none, especially from the lounge.
Eventually, I made it across the terminal and began my final approach to the gate.
Our flight was departing from A4A, which, I quickly discovered, was a bus gate. Turkish was also using the same area to provide secondary screening for passengers headed to Chicago O'Hare (ORD), so the scene was a bit chaotic.
Eventually, I located the business-class area and made my way through and to the bus, where we waited on board for 10 minutes or so.
Eventually, we made it to the plane, nearly 40 minutes after I stepped out of the lounge.
Some passengers are clearly annoyed to have to deal with a bus gate, but I often prefer it — I mean, just check out this boarding view!
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Turkish's Dreamliners offer a total of 30 business-class seats spread between eight rows.
Seats are in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration. Center seats in odd-numbered rows are closer together, making them better for couples.
Meanwhile, window seats in even-numbered rows are by far the most private, since they're right up against the windows.
There are three lavatories, making for a fairly decent 10-to-1, passenger-to-lavatory ratio. They're of the standard Dreamliner variety, with touch-free controls, though Turkish has added a fragrance diffuser, lotion and high-end Molton Brown amenities to jazz them up.
I decided to snag a seat in the back of the cabin, correctly assuming that passengers would be assigned seats from front to back. As a result, all three seats near my own ended up going out empty.
In fact, my pick was so private that you can barely see it in the shot below — that's 8K peeking out from behind 7K, which faces the aisle and is far more exposed.
8K, and 8A on the port side, are the most private in the cabin. They're also closest to the rear galley, but the noise and light didn't bother me one bit.
I found the seats to be a huge improvement over Turkish's older variant, with significant privacy, especially at the windows.
There's also more storage, though still not a ton.
Compartments were limited to a shoe cubby underneath the ottoman, for example ...
... along with a small, closable storage area above the side table.
I did find that even the seats away from the bulkheads had plenty of room for my feet, though, which made nap time especially comfortable.
The seat controls are clearly marked but hard to find at first — simply tap the panel, and all of the options illuminate.
Each seat has a wired touchscreen controller, a headphone jack, a universal power outlet and a USB port — all of which worked just fine during my flight.
I found the bed and bedding to be comfortable, though I didn't love that the seat's shell obstructed part of the window.
Best of all, Turkish installed dedicated air vents, making it easy to control the temperature around my seat.
I know I've mentioned this before, but the level of privacy is really night and day compared with Turkish's A330 and 777 product.
I ended up loving my seatmate last time, but I was also perfectly happy not having to interact with anyone else.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="12" tpg-rating-max="15" screen="18" movies="347" tv-shows="1138" live-tv="Yes" tailcam="Yes" wifi="1.8" wifi-2="17.85" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Turkish has done a great job of balancing out an improved business seat with top-notch amenities and entertainment.
First, the amenity kit. It's the little things that make this kit more appealing, from the higher-quality eye mask and large tube of toothpaste to the super comfy fuzzy socks. Not to mention the Versace products that came inside the kit.
The inflight entertainment system is excellent as well, starting with the 18-inch high-definition touchscreen that can be adjusted downward for easier viewing from "bed."
I found the dedicated handheld remote to be unnecessary, since the main screen was so responsive, but it was there if you wanted to use it.
I also appreciated that Turkish handed out high-quality noise-canceling headphones. They weren't quite on the level of Bose's QC35 or our other top picks, but they were better than what most carriers offer in biz. The airline did collect them before landing, but not until we were 30 minutes or so from Atlanta.
I counted a whopping 347 English-language movies, including some entire collections, such as "Harry Potter" and "Toy Story."
The airline also offered seven live-television channels.
The live TV worked well. It started streaming on the ground and never seemed to cut out, even when the Wi-Fi did.
There was also a robust flight map and live-camera views.
The airshow was fully interactive, so you could choose whichever view you liked. You could also keep an eye on the map from the handheld remote.
There were two cameras to choose from, too, including a forward view, which was really only useful on the ground, and a downward shot, which I enjoyed watching when the windows were darkened during the flight.
Turkish also offers high-speed internet on its 787s, and it's free for business-class flyers. On my flight, it wasn't working for the first few hours, though eventually the system did come online, at which point service was fast enough for me to get serious work done.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="18" tpg-rating-max="20" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals="2" champagne="Tattinger Brut Reserve" dine-on-demand="No" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
When it comes to flying Turkish, the aspect I find to be most memorable is the food. And that was certainly the case this time around, too.
The dining experience really started with the menu: It seemed to go on and on.
The wine selection was especially impressive, with three white wines, five reds, Taittinger Champagne, a Turkish rose and a port.
What wasn't quite as impressive was the speed at which the beverages arrived. A predeparture beverage was served just after boarding, but after that, I didn't receive the first round of drinks until more than an hour after takeoff, and I found the Champagne pour to be especially modest.
A selection of canapés arrived five minutes after that, along with my second drink, a glass of Turkish rose.
A flight attendant set my table 20 minutes later, including Turkish's signature LED candle and my pick of breads from a well-stocked basket.
I really appreciated the attention to detail at mealtime, down to these adorable salt and pepper shakers that even had little magnets at the bottom so they didn't fall off the tray.
The appetizer trolly reached my row after another 20 minutes. The top tray was empty, and the prawns and roast beef on the menu were gone.
There was still more than enough to choose from, though. Honestly, this could have been my full meal, especially with the incredibly rich and delicious pumpkin soup.
My steak arrived 25 minutes later, at which point I requested a glass of Bordeaux. The flight attendant brought a glass of red wine after a few more minutes, after I had already finished my steak, but it tasted very sweet. Still, he insisted it was indeed Bordeaux before later admitting that he had accidentally poured me port. Not the end of the world, but he also neglected to bring the water I requested, which I was more bummed about.
Then, nearly three hours after takeoff, the dessert cart arrived.
I was stuffed to the gills, but I couldn't resist the assortment of Turkish treats, all of which were outstanding.
Shortly after the meal service, a flight attendant set up a snack spread in the galley. Turkish doesn't offer hot snacks between meals, but I was hardly hungry after our feast.
I was thirsty, though, so I pressed my call button and requested a glass of 15-year-old Glenfiddich Scotch.
About two and a half hours before landing, it was time for the second meal.
The appetizer assortment was followed quickly by my chosen hot meal, a delicious eggplant stuffed with minced beef.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="12" tpg-rating-max="15" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="Yes" turndown-service="Yes" /]
Turkish is one of a few carriers to staff flights with onboard chefs, which, in theory, results in consistent, higher-quality inflight meals. It certainly seemed to pay off here, as did the unmatched Do & Co catering.
Beverage service was clearly less of a priority, though: The crew never proactively offered refills and didn't bring a couple of drinks that I requested. The wine mix-up was unexpected, too.
Another minor point of frustration was the fact that the crew locked the dimming Dreamliner windows in the darkest mode. A flight attendant unlocked mine when I asked, but I wish I had been able to "open" the window ever so slightly earlier in the flight.
Everyone I interacted with was friendly, though, and a few flight attendants even addressed me by name.
This was certainly one of my very best transatlantic flight experiences, despite the minor service hiccups. Three hours is quite a long time to get through one meal, but with a 12-hour journey ahead, it did ultimately help pass some of that time.
There's no question that the Dreamliner — and Turkish's much-improved business seat — made the journey even more special, too. I'm eager for another Turkish business-class experience soon!
All photos by the author.