Oh My Gözleme: A Review of the Turkish Airlines Business Lounge in the New Istanbul Airport
As part of my recent visit to the new Istanbul Airport to experience the world's largest airport terminal building, I was eager to check out the jewel in its crown. Turkish Airlines had won praise in frequent-flyer circles for operating possibly the best business-class lounge in the world at the old Istanbul Ataturk Airport.
I had visited the Ataturk lounge several times and was blown away by its stunning design as well as the delicious food, though I observed that the increasing numbers of passengers using the lounge meant the overcrowding was seriously detracting from the allure of the facility.
So, how does the new lounge stack up?
Given the size of the airport, number of flights and therefore eligible lounge guests, Turkish was smart to build two huge, almost identical lounges facing each other. One is called the Business Lounge, for business-class passengers flying Turkish Airlines or its Star Alliance partners. Under normal Star Alliance access rules, this lounge can also be accessed by Star Alliance Gold status holders flying in economy.
The other lounge is called the Miles&Smiles Lounge -- named for the airline's loyalty program -- and is for Star Alliance Gold-status guests flying economy.
I had an onward Turkish Airlines business-class ticket and no Star Alliance status. I spent most of my time in the Business Lounge but popped my head into the Miles&Smiles. Both lounges are almost identical, especially in terms of space, food and beverages. Given that, in theory, all eligible passengers have access to both lounges (though I would not expect all nonstatus business-class passengers to be allowed into the Miles&Smiles lounge in the future), it makes sense to make the lounges identical and spread the crowds out.
There is also a domestic lounge in the Pier A for domestic passengers.
As well as cleverly designing two identical lounges, Turkish also placed the lounges in a sensible location, just above the security checkpoint for both originating and transiting passengers.
The actual entrance to the Business Lounge was oddly hidden on my visit. There was a fairly obvious entrance point as I walked from security, but that was for passengers in wheelchairs only, and the attendant spent most of her time directing passengers to the regular entrance, which lacked good signage.
It was actually at the back of the lounge, near Gate E1 and up the escalators.
The Business Lounge is on an open-air level overlooking the main part of the terminal. It's roughly rectangular in shape and, as expected, huge.
The old Turkish lounge at Ataturk was spread over two floors and featured the spectacular and famous globe symbolizing how Turkish Airlines really does connect the world.
The new space has familiar furniture and design elements, but not quite the same wow factor as the old lounge. I was disappointed to see the beautiful white lattice design from the old lounge was not brought over to the new one.
I'm not a huge fan of open-air lounges, as they make you feel like you're just in the terminal. I prefer the space to be enclosed, private and more exclusive-feeling.
When I entered the lounge, to my left was luggage storage.
There were various seating areas across the lounge, with cafe tables and chairs, as well as the squishy, square couches I recognized from the old lounge. These couches didn't look that great back then and looked even worse in this brighter space.
New in this lounge is the stonework around some of the cooking stations. I realize that the goal of this was to make the lounge feel uniquely Turkish, but the execution didn’t seem to suit one of the world’s best business-class lounges.
There are darker, quieter seating areas, which made for a nice change from the bright, exposed main sections of the lounge. I thought these sections felt more like an exclusive lounge.
There are also open nap nooks, which were all occupied when I arrived.
The bathrooms are spacious and were kept spotless by diligent attendants.
There's even a cinema of sorts, with various televisions broadcasting at once. The volume was turned off, thankfully.
The iMacs in the business center are just as new as the lounge itself.
The Wi-Fi process was painful. There were no signs about passwords or connecting, so I asked a passing server, who instructed me that I needed to find a kiosk for a voucher. I found one of these and had to scan my boarding pass, which eventually printed a slip of paper with a complex username and password.
While I appreciate the lounge wanted to keep the network for lounge guests only, this process was needlessly complex. A simple password displayed on signs around the lounge would have made a lot more sense. Even then, the Wi-Fi didn't work in all parts of the lounge and was fairly slow.
I really liked the kids area, which featured a slide that looked like a jumbo jet, a popcorn machine and a slot-car racetrack, which numerous middle-aged businessmen gleefully raced each other.
Food and Beverage
Much like in the old lounge, the food options were nothing short of spectacular.
To start with, there were a series of stations all around the lounge with various foods: plenty of cheeses and olives, salads and more desserts than you could possibly sample.
These were regularly replenished throughout the day and changed from breakfast to all-day items around 11am.
Spreading buffet items across the entire lounge is a smart way of reducing crowding. It makes it so that you don't have to walk from one end of the lounge to the other to find an item, as they're available at various points around the lounge. The same went for beverages. There are various fridges with canned and bottled soft drinks and beers.
There were also stations with homemade lemonade, iced tea and flavored waters.
Alcohol was available all day. I loved these liquor cabinets dotted around the lounge.
There were various white and red wines kept in tubs together, but no sparkling wine. Based on how the wines were presented with many labels obscured, I got the impression wine isn't a priority for this lounge.
There are also coffee and tea stations, though they were oddly unmanned when I arrived at the lounge at 10:30am, which I had thought would be a prime time for coffee demand.
When I saw the server eventually return, she made me an excellent cappuccino. Other than the coffee stations, all drinks were self-service.
The absolute highlight of the lounge, just as it was in the Ataturk lounge, is the incredible manned cooking stations. There are several of these cooking all sorts of delicious, fresh Turkish food, from pide and gözleme (a savory dish of flatbread filled with a range of delicious fillings) to Turkish ravioli and omelets to grilled meats and vegetables.
I ate way more than I should have, because it all tasted incredible. I would have happily spent the entire day in the lounge and just eaten and eaten and eaten. If you are lucky enough to visit this lounge, try and fast for as long as possible beforehand so you have maximum appetite to eat this delicious food.
In case I'm not being clear enough: This is the best food I have ever had in a business-class airport lounge, followed by probably the Qantas lounge in Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) and the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan lounge at Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Doha.
Just how fresh was the food? The ravioli was made just minutes before they cooked it.
There's a big problem with these cooking stations, however, and it's exactly the same problem the Ataturk lounge suffered. Such care and tradition is taken in cooking the food that the chefs cannot possibly keep up with demand. Many of the stations had chefs cooking furiously, but lines built up, which was not luxurious.
I can't really figure out why Turkish couldn't solve this problem with the new lounge. I think they need to both have more chefs working and larger cooking spaces — the sole made-to-order omelet station, for example, had only two pans going at once for a lounge with a capacity of probably 400 people.
Turkish Airlines had huge expectations to live up to with its flagship lounge when moving to the new airport, and on balance they were met. The decision to have two almost identical lounges next to each other is a smart way to help with overcrowding — the lounge felt reasonably busy, but there there were still plenty of spaces to sit throughout my entire visit.
There is a never-ending array of food and drinks, although it would be nice if they could showcase wines rather than almost hiding them away. The food is just as good as the old lounge, and I would say the cooking stations produce even better food. But the airline needs to find a way to produce this food faster, as empty cooking stations in a huge lounge and lines as soon as an oven door opens is not a good look.
Overall, the architectural design doesn't have quite the wow factor of the previous lounge, but the smart design choices and, OMG, that food, make up for it. I would rate this lounge slightly above its predecessor and say it is still one of the world's best business-class lounges.
All photos by the author.