Back before Christmas, BA had a pretty good premium sale, with particularly good prices for shorthaul Club Europe routes. In need of some TPs for the first time in a few years beyond my usual travel pattern, I booked a night in Istanbul, a city I had been contemplating visiting for some time. IST is a ‘Band 4’ route in BA language – one of the few longest CE routes that most agreeably earns BAEC members double the amount of tier points when compared to other shorter CE routes (ie. 160 return, instead of 80).
Unfortunately, the only flights available that suited my dates included the third earliest BA departure from Heathrow of the day to any destination, at an eye-watering 06:20. At least this would allow me an afternoon in Istanbul, despite the 2 hour time difference.
It was a stupidly early start for me from my West London apartment, arriving at Heathrow via the Long Stay car park at around 04:45. I picked up some Turkish Lira at the Travelex store at check-in when it opened at 05:00, and proceeded through the completely empty Fast Track lane at North Security with my iPhone boarding pass. So efficient was I in undressing myself that the security agent commented I must fly a lot…
I was the second person into Galleries Club South, and managed to snap a few images of the deserted space before grabbing a bite to eat from the mainly continental selection. The sole hot items were porridge, toast/pastries and bacon/mushroom/tomato rolls. A lounge manager was patrolling the lounge and asked whether I was comfortable.
My flight soon showed as departing from T5B, and so a few minutes later I was ensconced in the Galleries Club lounge in the satellite building, which was busier than the T5A lounge due to a number of early morning shorthaul departures from T5B today.
Boarding was hassle-free through the Fast Track lane. Our A320 today, G-EUUB, had 4 rows of Club Europe, and I was seated in 2A. Cushions, blankets and headphones were on each CE seat at boarding.
After take-off, the efficient crew handed out hot towels, before offering magazines. The drop-down LCD screens showed a BBC News update, followed by a film (the new Bourne movie, IIRC) that I was unable to watch due to the headphone port at my seat being inoperable. I didn’t really mind as it was too early for me to be watching a film, but did mention it to the crew so that it could hopefully be fixed on return to LHR.
A continental breakfast tray of bircher muesli, fruit and choice of warm pastries was offered, followed by menus describing the 3 main course options. I went for the traditional English breakfast, which was typical for a CE offering – tasty, of reasonable quality, but probably containing a full weeks’ worth of salt at a minimum.
I asked for a hot chocolate later into the flight, as this was detailed on the menu, but unfortunately none had been loaded.
Drinks were proactively offered, and cabin presence by the crew was fairly good throughout the 3h30 flight length. This was the longest flight I have flown in Club Europe seats, and really was slightly too long for my liking. The seats, whilst comfortable, are just not suitable in my opinion for a business class offering with a flight length of 3+ hours. I noticed around the cabin that, as the seats offer fairly generous recline, other passengers were having to ask those in front to put their seats up during the meal service. This shouldn’t be necessary in a business class cabin.
Nuts and a further formal drinks run were offered around 1 hour prior to landing.
We landed on time into IST to pleasant crisp winter weather. Fast Track passes were handed out by the crew on disembarkation. After a brisk walk to the visa desk and parting with EUR15, I whisked through the Fast Track lane, and was soon fearing for my life in an Istanbul taxi to the Ceylan InterContinental.
After a security sweep of our taxi, I was welcomed by the friendly doorman to the hotel, and directed to the reception desk via a metal detector. Presumably these have a lower detection setting than those in airports, as I didn’t set it off despite going through with my cabin bag, coat and everything else about my person.
The lobby was generously proportioned, and check-in at the Ambassador desk was efficient and friendly. I was thanked for being an Ambassador member, offered my choice of morning newspaper, given a complimentary drinks voucher, and escorted to my 10th floor Bosphorus-view room (I had been upgraded at check-in from a standard city-view room). I also opted to upgrade for around GBP60 to Club access. The receptionist advised I stay in my Bosphorus-view room, as the only available Club rooms had city views.
My room was spacious and classically decorated, with a fabulous view out to the Asian side of Istanbul across the water, marred only by the monstrous Ritz-Carlton tower a few hundred metres away. The bathroom was a little on the small side, and featured an over-bath shower that I was slightly disappointed with, but was spotlessly clean as expected, with a good selection of premium amenities.
The Club lounge on the 16th floor was nicely proportioned, divided into four distinct areas – a formal dining area with buffet, two comfy seating areas, and a library area with three laptop workstations. Staff were accommodating and friendly, and the view across the ‘new’ town was superb, made doubly so thanks to the clear winter weather. I suspect the lounge had been formed from a number of rooms or suites, and this lead to its divided layout, which may not suit all tastes. Whilst offering intimate areas, it did mean that I was forgotten about several times and had to walk into the area with more people to catch the waiter’s eye for drinks.
I had two half-days in Istanbul, and managed to explore most of the area through a mixture of walking and taxis. Taxis in Istanbul are mildly alarming – no, OK, they’re actually downright scary. Handbrakes, indicators and seatbelts are three clearly unheard of devices in Istanbul. I used taxis I think on five separate occasions due to the distance from the hotel to the old town area (around 30 minutes in what seemed to be constant heavy traffic). I wasn’t ripped off as I had feared, as all of my taxi drivers were fairly friendly people in a non-committal sort of way – I even rounded down one fare, and the driver didn’t seem too offended (probably because I didn’t give him time to be offended, I was out of the car so quickly).
I was fascinated by the city of Istanbul itself, the seemingly endless number of people standing around doing what appeared to be very little, the beautiful architecture interspersed with modern monstrosities, dodgy pavements, earthquake damage, and horrendous traffic. Truly fascinating in every sense. I particularly enjoyed the area around the Suleymaniye mosque, the grand bazaar, and the waterfront scenery, which made for some great photographical opportunities.
Walking was not the easiest mode of transport, but did mean I saw much of the central areas of both new and old towns on the European side of the city. Given more time, I would have perhaps taken the ferry across to the Asian side, but I was perfectly content spending my time just soaking up the Turkish atmosphere in Europe.
I had my check-in extended until 2pm on day of departure, and after spending the morning in both the new and old towns and a relaxing lunchtime in the Club lounge at the hotel, I was bid farewell by the friendly doorman, handed a bottle of mineral water, and bundled into a taxi for the 30 minute ride to the airport.
30 minutes turned, due to unknown reasons, into 1h30 of Thorpe Park-like thrills. Not content with sitting in miles and miles of unmoving queues, my driver took roads that weren’t really roads, roads that definitely had no-entry signs at their entrances, and roads that clearly were not suitable for the speed of sound. We took steep hills, pedestrianized alleys, residential driveways and car parks in our stride as we made rather rapid progress through the new town to the water’s edge. Finally, once across the Galata Bridge, we were on Kennedy Avenue, a fast-flowing water-side dual carriageway that my driver took to with James Bond flair.
We finally arrived at the airport with around 1h30 to go before departure. The driver gave me a knowing look as I paid him, as if to say ‘I got you here on time – and you’re still in one piece’.
IST has security before you even reach the check-in hall, and there is no Fast Track, but everything seemed to move fairly quickly and soon I was at the empty Club Europe check-in desk getting my boarding pass and Fast Track voucher. Through a fast Fast Track, I made it to the Terraces lounge within 10 minutes of arriving at the terminal, which was pretty good in my eyes.
The Terraces lounge, whilst yet to be refurbished into the Galleries concept, is in pretty good condition, with a well stocked bar, workstation area and ample seating in a large rectangular room. Washrooms are located outside the lounge, but are literally next door to the lounge, so visiting them requires little effort. Wifi was free and reasonably fast, and food options included a fairly decent pizza, along with the usual snack items of crisps and nuts.
Boarding was announced and the lounge slowly emptied. The walk to the gate was fairly long, but once at the gate, a Fast Track lane was in place meaning the short queue could be avoided.
Boarding our non-refurbished shorthaul-configured 767 G-BNWZ today was via Door 2L, to thankfully no bing-bonging (the non-refurbished shorthaul 767s are famed for their cranky-ness). There were 6 rows of CE today, with the remaining 3 forward cabin rows seemingly blocked for crew use. The cabin was lightly loaded, and so I moved from my pre-selected 2D to 5F, to avoid a neighbour and enjoy the window view. If the cabin had been full, I would’ve preferred to stay in 2D to take advantage of the extra space afforded by the compressed middle seat. Blankets and headphones were on all CE seats, although cushions were absent.
This time, my headphone socket did work, although the dodgy CRT monitor closest to me was completely non-watchable thanks to a charming pink tinge. My reading light was also inoperable, the headrest was broken and the seat leather cracked. None of this is acceptable for a major international carrier, let alone in a business class cabin. As such, I felt an email to customer relations was justified, and prompted an apology and 10,000 Avios.
Pre-departure beverages were offered by the friendly crew (in plastic glasses prior to takeoff).
After takeoff, hot towels and magazines were offered, followed by another drinks run, nuts and some rather tasteless canapés. No menus were offered on this flight, but the two options of shrimp pasta or chicken curry were described. I first opted for the pasta, and as this dish was rather small and enough alternatives were available, I also opted for the curry. Both were fairly tasty, but poorly presented. No bottled water was available as is the norm for CE flights, but the crew were proactive in offering two glasses of water at a time.
I was glad that hot chocolate was available on this flight – my first ever hot chocolate in CE, and very nice it was too!
We flew in over London to some spectacular night-time views, including a beautiful view of Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. We landed slightly late into LHR on Runway 27R, and docked at a T5B stand. There was no queue at passport control, and the agent even managed a smile and brief conversation about the weather in Istanbul before permitting me entry!
I enjoyed my time in Istanbul, a truly fascinating place to visit. I’m not sure I felt too at ease in the city, but I’m glad I’ve visited, and the excellent IC definitely helped in this impression! The CE soft product is reasonable for a flight time of that length, but the hard product is sadly lacking when compared to many TK flights on the same route. The refurbishment of all shorthaul 767s cannot come soon enough, but the hard product will remain an issue in CE, simply not affording enough personal space to be competitive.
Thanks for reading, and I welcome all comments and questions as usual!