Turkish Airlines leads the intra-Europe business class market by a huge margin - a real business class seat, great food and service. This particular seat doesn't put Turkish ahead of ME3 for one-stop Europe-Asia travel, though.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic I haven’t been able to see my parents and sister for two years. Once quarantine in Hong Kong was massively cut down from 21 days to 7 days, I made plans to see them in September before my final year in university. I hoped to stumble on some cheap deals or award tickets to Hong Kong, though obviously everyone thought the same thing I did, so prices across the board were through the roof, and award space was non-existent.
I eventually found a Turkish Airlines roundtrip business class ticket at a non-exorbitant price. Turkish Airlines operates a hub-and-spoke model system with a mega-hub at their new airport in Istanbul, and often offers reasonable prices for their business class product. I’d always wanted to try Turkish Airlines’ business class, especially because of their renowned lounges, onboard catering, and industry leading intra-European business class product (they feature “real” business class seats, instead of just economy class seats with a blocked middle seat). This trip home seemed like a decent opportunity to do so.
This is a review of the flight I flew from London Gatwick to Istanbul, which was operated by a Turkish Airlines A321neo. Turkish Airlines operates A321neos to many destinations across Europe, as well as some in the Middle East. For what it’s worth, Turkish Airlines often operates widebodies to and from London Heathrow, including 777s and A350s, both featuring superior business class seats; my itinerary included both of the aforementioned planes, so I decided to include a segment on the A321neo for variety’s sake.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Landing at Gatwick Airport
How I Booked Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class
I booked a cash roundtrip business class ticket from London to Hong Kong, departing from Gatwick and arriving at Heathrow. My itinerary cost a total of £2,480 (~HK$22,330 as of time of writing). This was cheaper than both a direct flight in economy with Cathay Pacific, and the cheapest premium economy option on Lufthansa (which priced at around £2,500).
As Turkish Airlines is a Star Alliance carrier, I credited all earned miles to my Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer account.
My Experience Flying Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class
I arrived Gatwick Airport at 1 PM ahead of a 5:10 PM flight, unsure of how hectic the airport would be and obeying Turkish Airlines’ instruction to get to the airport four hours ahead of all international departures. Fortunately at that time the check-in counters were already open, so I could drop off my bag. The check-in agent was very friendly, and in high spirits.
Turkish Airlines Check-in Counters Gatwick Airport
I was given an invitation to the No1 Lounge at Gatwick Airport, which I’ve already reviewed (and was granted entry, despite dropping the actual paper invitation – oops!). I wasn’t told that I had access to Gatwick Airport’s premium security, though correctly assumed so when I saw signage there – I was through security in a matter of minutes, and headed straight to the lounge. So much for arriving four hours before departure…
In reality, if flying business class out of Gatwick Airport, I’d still advise you to get to the airport at least an hour and a half before departure, as check-in counter lines could pile up closer to departure, and I’m not sure if premium security is always as breezy as my experience was.
Gate information for my flight was released at 4:10 PM, an hour before our flight (and 20 minutes before the stated boarding time of 4:30 PM). I headed over to gate 20, where my flight would be departing – the gate area had already opened by then. This is one of the most depressing major airport holding pens I’ve seen, but I at least appreciated that there were vending machines available.
Gate Holding Pen Gatwick Airport
Through one of the tiny windows providing natural light to the holding pen, I spotted our A321neo that would be taking us to Istanbul. For those interested, this was TC-LSZ, an airframe delivered to Turkish Airlines in October 2020, just under two years ago. Turkish Airlines names their aircraft after districts in Istanbul, and this particular aircraft’s name was Erenköy.
Turkish Airlines A321neo at Gatwick Airport
My boarding pass indicated a boarding time of 4:30 PM, though in reality boarding began at 4:50 PM, starting with business class passengers.
Turkish Airlines Flight TK1998
Monday, September 5, 2022
Origin: London Gatwick (LGW) Gate: 20 Dep: 17:10 (17:15)
Destination: Istanbul (IST) Gate: A11 Arr: 23:10 (23:05)
Duration: 4 hr (3 hr 50 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo Reg: TC-LSZ
Seat: 5F (Business Class)
I made my way down the very short jetbridge, and caught a glimpse of our beautiful A321neo shortly before boarding through door 1L.
Turkish Airlines A321neo at Gatwick Airport
I was instructed not to take photos by the cabin purser, though explained that I “just really like flying”. She allowed me to take pictures of the cabin, but just not to photograph the crew (there’s no way on earth I’ll ever knowingly focus in on a crewmember doing their job without their consent, though I tried my best on this flight not to include them in the periphery either) – I obliged.
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class Cabin and Seat
Turkish Airlines’ A321neos feature 20 recliner business class seats laid out in a 2-2 configuration.
The cabin is pretty, and I liked the hints of gold laced throughout the cabin.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Cabin
Before exploring my seat, I also had a peek at the comfortable-looking economy class cabin, featuring 162 seats in a 3-3 configuration. All seats had seatback TVs, and about 32″ of seat pitch.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Economy Class Cabin
I’d picked myself seat 5F, a window seat located in the last row of the business class cabin. I always like being near the back so I can observe the service flow, though in this case I appreciated it even more for the ability to recline without worrying about the person behind me. The seat was comfortable, if not the most well-padded.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Seats 5D and 5F
As you’d expect in a recliner business class seat, the seat had fairly generous recline, and also featured a legrest and fold-out footrest.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Recline
Legroom was plentiful – even when the person in front reclined, I had no major issues clambering over my seatmate to access the aisle.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Legroom
As you’d expect from a business class product refreshed in 2018, this seat was quite modern and well-equipped. By the seat panel in front was a 13″ high-definition touchscreen TV, and separate literature and storage seat pockets.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Seat Panel, Screen and Seat Pocket
To my left were the intuitive seat controls.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Seat Controls
Also to my left was a handy storage area large enough for a phone or passport. This storage area also featured a 110V and USB power port, headphone jack, and a touchscreen remote for the TV. The armrest to my left opened up as a cover to this storage space, though it wasn’t fully covered, so stowage wasn’t allowed here during takeoff and landing.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Storage Space and Power Ports
The tray table folded out of my right armrest, and was very sturdy, though not particularly adjustable.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Tray Table
A (fairly useless) cocktail table popped out of the armrest between seats.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Drinks Table
Additionally, each seat featured an air nozzle.
For a recliner seat, I could get comfortable, though did find myself wishing the seat reclined just a little bit more than it did. I guess my evaluation of this hard product really depends on what type of carrier you view Turkish as. I’d say Turkish has a foot in the competition with both European carriers and Middle Eastern carriers (if you’re flying a one-stop route to Asia) on this route. I’d say that Qatar Airways and Emirates fly widebody planes with lie-flat seats to many of the destinations where Turkish exclusively flies narrowbody aircraft, and those flights are only typically an hour or two longer in duration (this flight from London to Istanbul was four hours).
But if you’re trying to compare Turkish Airlines’ shorthaul business class hard product against European carriers such as British Airways and Lufthansa, both of which fly to Istanbul with their shorthaul product as well as further destinations – this product blows other European carriers out of the water. There simply isn’t another intra-European product that can compare with Turkish anymore (now that Aeroflot, for very unfortunate reasons, is out of the competition). Having a separate cabin with a real, wider business class recliner seat, with more legroom, recline, a legrest and room for storage, just makes a massive difference.
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class Amenities
No pillows and blankets were provided at my seat, though pillows were definitely available on request – not sure about blankets.
After boarding was completed, the crew came down the aisle with some low-quality headphones (they have a much better offering on longhaul flights).
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Headphones
No amenity kits were offered on this short four-hour flight.
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class Pre-Departure Service
While boarding started 20 minutes after what the boarding pass indicated, this was the fastest boarding process I’ve seen in a while (granted it’s also a while since I’ve been on a narrowbody aircraft). Boarding began at 4:50 PM and was completed by 5 PM, meaning that it took all of 10 minutes.
Since this was a narrowbody aircraft and everyone was boarded through the forward door, service was quite challenging during the boarding process. After boarding was completed, a crewmember came around with welcome drinks, with a choice between water, orange juice, mint lemonade and raspberry lemonade. I was the last to be served, and still all choices of welcome drink were available – the crew would go back to the galley to get more after they ran out of any of the options. I chose raspberry lemonade, which was quite nice.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Pre-Departure Beverage
The crew came around quite swiftly after to collect glasses.
Takeoff from London Gatwick Airport
At around 5 PM, a “boarding completed” announcement was made. The flight was full in both cabins, and based on observations in the holding pen area, was mixed between connecting passengers travelling to Asia/the Middle East and passengers stopping at Istanbul. Seated next to me was a very nice gentleman who worked in Tashkent, who took interest in my documentation of the flight and said he’d check my stuff out – hello!
The captain (who spoke both Turkish and English) came onto the PA to introduce himself, and cited a flying time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, and a flying altitude of 35,000 feet.
Soon after the safety video was played, once in Turkish, then once in English. The graphics were cute and the video was aircraft-specific, though the safety video didn’t incorporate any humour (I like when it does, since it’s more likely to make passengers pay attention, which is the entire point).
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Safety Video
For the 1% of you who are interested, here’s the safety video in full (as well as an implicit reminder that you are very much in the minority, and that that’s okay, and that you can be whoever you want to be and don’t gotta please nobody):
Turkish Airlines Safety Video
We pushed back at 5:15 PM, and taxied to runway 08R, during which time I caught a glimpse of the airport’s Skybridge connecting the North Terminal to the Pier 6 gates.
Taxiing at Gatwick Airport
Our taxi wasn’t very long, and at 5:30 PM we took off. From the right side of the plane I had views over Kent, including Crowborough and Tunbridge Wells.
Takeoff from Gatwick Airport
While it was a fairly nice day in London, we eventually crept upwards past a layer of cloud.
Takeoff from Gatwick Airport
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class WiFi
I decided to connect to WiFi once the service was turned on. One of the USPs of flying Turkish Airlines business class is that they offer 1 GB of free WiFi to business class passengers. Turkish used to offer unlimited WiFi for all passengers, so this seems stingier, at least on the surface; however, Turkish’s WiFi was renownedly unusable before they started charging for it, due to how much bandwidth was stretched out. Also, even after my longhaul flight I’d used less than half of my allowance, and I use a lot of data.
Although the system suggests I could only connect one device at a time, I was able to connect two devices at once by entering my ticket number on one device and my seat number and last name on the other (the data allowance totals 1 GB from both devices, so I don’t think I was cheating the system).
The allocation of data varies both by class of service and elite status:
- Business class passengers with Miles & Smiles elite status get unlimited free WiFi
- Business class passengers get 1 GB of free WiFi
- Economy class passengers with Miles & Smiles elite status get 400 MB of free WiFi
- Economy class passengers with a Miles & Smiles account get 10 MB of free WiFi (at that point, why bother?)
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class WiFi Options (in Turkish, sorry – didn’t realise this wasn’t in English until after I deboarded)
If you’re flying economy class without a Turkish Airlines frequent flyer account and/or you’ve used up your allowance, the pricing is as follows:
- 20 MB of WiFi costs US$2.99
- 50 MB of WiFi costs US$4.99
- 100 MB of WiFi costs US$7.99
- 250 MB of WiFi costs US$14.99
- 500 MB of WiFi costs US$24.99
This pricing is just about standard for airline WiFi – while it’s annoying that Turkish Airlines prices WiFi based on data usage, at least 500 MB (or 1 GB, for that matter) is a decent amount of WiFi.
Speeds were good, but not amazing (I forgot to do a speed test on both of my flights) – the only issue was that the portal to purchase WiFi/enter my seat details would always take a while to load, and occasionally required reloading the page several times. WiFi worked for the entire time that the plane was at cruising altitude.
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class Meal Service
After we reached cruising altitude, the crew passed out menus. The food menu read as follows:
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Food Menu
Drinks were featured overleaf and read as follows:
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Drinks Menu
From the ayran and tea to the wines, I really appreciated the Turkish flair in the drinks options. I also appreciated that there was a variety of specialty non-alcoholic beverages for selection. 15 minutes after takeoff, we were asked what we wanted to drink, and I asked for homemade ayran. We hit some chop shortly after this, which slowed down service rollout.
Before the meal service started, we were given hot towels (the first time I’ve remembered being given a hot towel since COVID-19 started!).
When meal trays were being taken out with our appetisers, the crew laid the trays on tables without using a trolley. The crew served the cabin front-to-back and left-to-right, so my seatmate and I were consistently the last to be served – there was a significant time gap between when the crew began serving the front row and when I received my food (this isn’t a criticism, but may affect where you choose to sit if you fly this aircraft – I was fine where I was). Remarkably, all three meal options were still available by the time the crew got to taking my order. My tray was handed to me 40 minutes after takeoff.
The tray featured the appetiser, a tabbouleh and hummus dip, a rice pudding dessert and a cheese plate. The appetiser was a “best of mezze” selection, which I enjoyed – everything tasted more flavourful than it looked, including the chicken on the right. The rice pudding was phenomenal and the highlight of the meal. Not pictured is a piece of warm bread from the breadbasket, which I alternated between dipping into the delicious tabbouleh and hummus, and a soft pat of salted butter.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Meal – Best of Mezze Appetiser, Tabbouleh and Hummus, Selection of Cheese, Turkish Style Oven Baked Rice Pudding
10 minutes later, mains were rolled down the aisle using a trolley, and I was asked what I wanted to eat. The swordfish sounded the most interesting to me, so I ordered it – the swordfish itself was dry and overcooked, though the flavours were really good. My empty appetiser plate was taken as the main course was placed on my table – a piece of aluminum foil was taken off the serving plate by the flight attendant before I was served.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Main Course – Grilled Swordfish Brochette
My seatmate had the kebab, which did look a fair bit better (I didn’t ask him if I could take a picture, but he said he enjoyed it).
Around 30 minutes after our plates were cleared, we were asked if we wanted tea or coffee. I requested Turkish coffee without milk or sugar, and it was served with a Turkish delight. Mmmm…
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Turkish Coffee and Delight
While al fresco dining at this height would have been literally breathtaking, we did get a gorgeous sunset view (partitioned by window) by the end of the meal service.
Sunset Over Europe
Even though the swordfish was overcooked, I was so, so happy about the meal – Turkish Airlines’ investment into their onboard catering is very impressive. I’ve even heard that they serve among the best meals in economy. I also loved how much Turkish showed off their local culture – both the food and beverage choices were thoughtful, and made me want to visit Turkey more.
I will point out that Turkish doesn’t seem to be super creative with their meals on shorthaul flights, as my friend Ben from One Mile At A Time seemed to have exactly the same meal that I did on his flight (on a different route) in 2019. However, I really don’t mind the odd repeated meal if the meal is good.
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class Service
The crew were friendly, and smiled. I had the chance to speak to the purser afterwards, and she confirmed that she was excited about my enthusiasm for the product (and just wanted me to make sure I wasn’t taking pictures of crew). I’d comment that the team didn’t go out of their way to please, and just went through the motions.
I thought that the meal service was carried out at a good pace, but felt rushed. Especially since I was the last passenger served, I felt like the crew came around to clear plates before, or just as I finished them. At no point did an empty plate wait at my table for more than a minute, to a fault. This was consistent with my experience on my subsequent longhaul flight.
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class Lavatory
There was one lavatory available to use for business class passengers (shared with both crew and the cockpit). It was fairly standard, and featured Molton Brown toiletries.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Lavatory
Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class Entertainment System
I’ll be the first to admit that I care significantly less about the entertainment system when WiFi is working – especially considering WiFi was free! That being said, I did enjoy the large selection of movies and TV shows available. Multiple episodes from each series of most TV shows were uploaded, but not entire series in many cases, which I imagine could be a little annoying on a longhaul flight.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Entertainment System
The moving map feature on the entertainment system was cool, interactive, easy to use, and featured many different views, though no tail or nose camera.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Moving Map
I felt like Turkish’s entertainment system was much better than expected, but maybe I just came in with overly low expectations.
Landing into Istanbul Airport
While I’d have loved to report back on something interesting that happened during the remainder of the flight, I ended up napping for an hour, and waking up about an hour before we landed. 45 minutes before landing the captain came onto the PA to announce that we were landing into Istanbul soon, and thanked us for flying Turkish Airlines.
I browsed on my phone for about half an hour, and soon enough, the seatbelt sign came on approximately 15 minutes before our scheduled landing time. During this time, we were told to put our seatbacks upright. It’s worth noting that during both takeoff and landing, the crew came around to make sure seats were upright and window shades were open, but weren’t strict on clearing all of the areas that said “no stowage during taxi, takeoff and landing”.
Cabin lights were dimmed upon arrival into Istanbul, as it was dark outside.
Turkish Airlines A321neo Business Class Cabin during Landing
We headed south over the water before doing a U-turn, finally landing onto runway 34L at 10:45 PM Turkey time.
Landing into Istanbul Airport
Our taxi at Istanbul Airport was quite long, as Istanbul Airport is massive. I don’t remember the last time I’d been on a plane that taxied this fast – the moving map suggested that we were moving at over 30 km/h. Even then, it took 20 minutes for us to reach our gate.
During this time I took the opportunity to admire some of the traffic outside at Istanbul Airport, including a 787 parked in front of an aircraft hangar (there was much to see, though unfortunately my camera didn’t do very well, as it was dark outside).
Turkish Airlines Hangar Istanbul Airport
We reached gate A11 at 11:05 PM, and business class passengers were called to deboard after. I’d read on someone’s story that Istanbul Airport’s international transfer counters weren’t doing well that morning, so was dreading my transit experience. You can imagine my surprise when an airport staff member outside shouted for connecting passengers to show him boarding passes for onward travel, as we were immediately let out into the departures hall.
I was dazed by how fast it took, but also dazed by how incredible Istanbul Airport is architecturally. Just wow…
Istanbul Airport Terminal
I’ll hold off the lounge review until my inbound flight to London, so will review my connecting flight to Hong Kong next, which was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER.
Conclusion: Turkish Airlines’ A321neo Business Class
As briefly mentioned earlier, to evaluate this flight I really have to understand what I’m comparing it to. In my case I flew Turkish on a one-stop itinerary from Europe to Asia. I could’ve chosen to fly a Gulf carrier (if they had cheaper promotional fares, which they didn’t), which would have been more likely to feature lie-flat seats and comparable catering – even dine on demand in some cases – on a slightly longer flight, or at least matched the offering of a recliner on this flight. This flight was also significantly longer than a intra-European business class flight that I would’ve taken as a first leg on a comparable itinerary. With this mindset, I was happy, but not blown away – I thought Turkish’s catering exceeded my experience on Emirates and Qatar Airways, though the overall product “finesse” otherwise felt second-rate, especially since Turkish treats this route as a “regional” flight.
However, I also recognise that Turkish competes on this route against British Airways, and similar routes against other European carriers. Turkish is in a league of its own when it comes to their intra-European business class product. Not only do most carriers fly business class configurations that consist of economy class seats with a blocked middle seat, but keep in mind that Turkish flies more widebody aircraft (with lie-flat seats) within Europe than any other airline. The catering on this flight was also top-notch, and there was (free!) WiFi and personal TV screens, which surpasses just about any other intra-European competitor out there.
Overall, from the comfortable seat, excellent food (and showcase of Turkish culture), and free 1 GB of WiFi, I was very, very happy with my four-hour flight on Turkish Airlines. If the intra-European flight was operated by an A321neo, I probably wouldn’t choose Turkish over Emirates or Qatar Airways on a one-stop itinerary between Europe and Asia, as they’d be more likely to fly widebodies to secondary European destinations (e.g. Emirates flies A380s to Gatwick, whereas Qatar Airways flies 787s), and also service their European routes as longhaul flights. However, Turkish offers lie-flat seats to quite a few primary European destinations onboard their 777s, A330s, A350s and 787s, which should give a considerably better experience.
Have you flown Turkish Airlines on an intra-Europe flight before? How was your experience?