Turkish Airlines is set to launch new nonstops between Istanbul and San Francisco on April 13. SFO is one of nearly a dozen airports the carrier serves in North America. Its meteoric rise on the air travel scene has been mesmerizing, and the airline can now claim that it serves more countries (108) than any other airline in the world.
Its route map is staggering with 265 destinations across Africa and Central Asia that many frequent travelers may have never even heard of, and its coverage of Europe goes beyond serving national capitals to connecting secondary and tertiary cities like Bilbao, Spain; Friedrichschafen, Germany; and Vilnius, Lithuania.
Turkish will compete with the big three Middle Eastern carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways) thanks to its well-positioned hub that allows it to connect north to south as well as east to west traffic. The airline is a bullish competitor with European airlines too, often pricing fares between the US and Europe well below the competition.
For example, we found roundtrip coach fares SFO-IST in May for just $917. Business class roundtrips are just $3,900. (A press release states that there are coach fares as low as $699 roundtrip, but we’ve been unable to find them.)
Turkish Airlines is a member of Star Alliance and is known for providing a decent amount of award space to travelers interested in redeeming miles. Stateside, partner United Airlines almost always has plenty of Turkish seats available, which are searchable via united.com.
Turkish has a fleet of new Airbus and Boeing aircraft coming online at a steady pace, and as a result of this growth, its main hub is beginning to see the strain of the airline’s growth. Plans to open a new Istanbul airport are in the works with the first phase of construction set for 2019. This will increase the airport’s capacity to 90 million passengers and give Turkish Airlines the ability to stretch its wings as far away as South America and Australia, the only two significant white patches in its route network.
Frequent travelers with the airline will recognize its onboard cuisine to be one of the best. Designed by catering company Do & Co, there is always a wide selection of Turkish cuisine on board. All passengers are treated to Turkish Delight (a pistachio-stuffed sweet) after boarding, no matter where they are seated. And most flights feature an onboard chef in the business class cabin that prepares the meals.
The inflight experience is not without its drawbacks, though. The Muslim influence of the Turkish government sometimes puts pressure on the airline to not be as free with alcohol as other airlines. Turkish used to provide champagne upon boarding, now it is only upon request. And receiving a refill on wine or cocktails often requires a friendly reminder to the flight attendant who may not offer it automatically.
Another issue: aircraft cabins are typically kept so warm that North Americans get uncomfortable. Over several recent flight experiences, I noticed the cabin temperature set to 78 degrees, and many of the airline’s long-haul planes lack individual air vents.
The new SFO flight will use the 777 aircraft, which Turkish has equipped with true lie-flat business class seats and free (!) wi-fi on most of its birds. Turkish Flight 80 will depart SFO at 6:10PM and arrive in Istanbul at 5:05PM the next day. Flight 79 departs IST at 1:15 PM and arrives SFO at 4:25 PM on the same day. Turkish will use a Boeing 777-300ER on the 13-hour flight with business class in a 2-3-2 configuration and coach in a 3-3-3 configuration and no first class.
Not to be missed: Turkish Airlines’ double-decker business class lounge which is the envy of most airlines and a conversation point among savvy frequent travelers. Roaming masseurs, self-playing pianos, self-serve beverage stations, private napping rooms, video game stations, a golf simulator, billiard table, and even a kids’ playing area are among the special amenities. Live cooking stations at every turn produce fresh pizza, pasta and omelets made to order, an array of fresh salads and Turkish appetizers, Turkish sweets, coffee, fresh lemonade, and grilled meats. Planning a long connection in Istanbul is worth the extra time to take advantage of the lounge’s unending space.
Rumors swirl of potential new service to Atlanta although nothing has been announced.
There is no doubt that when Turkish touches down at San Francisco in April that long-haul flyers will find a worthy competitor. Just be ready to ask repeatedly for booze and to fight your way through a congested Istanbul airport upon landing.
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