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Return To Glory: Turkish Airlines

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was an airline that flew movie stars, royalty and spies. They actually had separate cabins in first class plus a dining room. The famous Pan Am Clipper, originating in the 1940’s, may sound like a fairy tale today, but some airlines are trying to bring back the grand old days of air travel with superlative comfort and, yes, an on-board chef.

In a classic “He Said, She Said” ALO sent two seasoned travelers to see exactly if Turkish Airlines is making the thirteen hour, non-stop flight from LAX to Istanbul like flying in Seventh Heaven or a Walk on the Wild Side.

SHE SAID: Even before this flight, I was still convinced that air travel could be the most luxurious experience of a lifetime. It still could be with the exception of the security screenings, flight delays and the horror of losing luggage. I had a few of those less than favorable experiences within the last 15 years that resulted in setting higher standards and expectations. I now never accept anything less than the best possible when I am on an expedition to discover some of the most desirable destinations the earth can offer.
If you are one of those high maintenance travelers and lifestyle explorers, we have a few things in common: comfort and non-stop flights. When it comes to flying, personally I would rather pay a few dollars more rather than make twice the stops. Call me spoiled if you want, but trust me, time is precious. Instead of wandering in airports and rushing to catch a connecting flight, I want to get to where I am going and invest my time into something more rewarding. This works for me, especially if I am mixing business and pleasure at the same time..

HE SAID: Who wants to stop through JFK if you’re flying from the West Coast? Actually, who wants to stop period? But the thought of flying thirteen hours without a break can be frightening; at least before I tried Turkish Airlines business class.

SHE SAID: Oh, I was happy to hear that Turkish Airlines now offers a non-stop from L.A. I was also pleased to learn that my team booked me into business class, hoping it would be an ideal time to relax and get some sleep after long few months of grinding out projects and development on some new areas of work.

HE SAID: Don’t you find the day before you fly extremely stressful? I do. No matter how much you plan, it always seems like I need to do 48 hours worth of things and you only have 12 hours…

SHE SAID: Well, as usual the evening before was a non-sleep night – setting up last minute strategies for my clients, finishing emails, organizing my schedule and calendar and trying to pack two weeks worth of clothes into two bags. This time I was under the weather and it made my prep window shut a little faster. However, the excitement of the trip kept me going with the expectations that I would be soothed back to normal in my more luxurious cabin.

HE SAID: Getting back to the Turkish Airlines experience, what is it that struck you that would appeal to the “high maintenance traveler” and “lifestyle explorers”? What are these two types anyway – I never heard of these this way? Can you be both at the same time? Do tell…

SHE SAID: In my opinion, service for the high maintenance traveler with welcoming hospitality should be the standard for every airline. We seem to forget the reason we travel and get annoyed by the hassles and budget of it getting out. Travel is an adventure all its own – from obtaining potential business, falling in love, seeing an old friend and/or family or just exploring a culture of the world. It is essential that the travel industry’s quality of service return to its glory as it was before. You should get that whether you travel in first class or economy. I do think that Turkish Airlines “gets it” at all levels.

HE SAID:  Certain airlines do “get it.” Here’s how I breakdown the TABCE or Turkish Airlines Business Class Experience:

Overall: A
What could be better than an airline that celebrates the humanity of the airline traveler?

Beauty Factor: B+
Surprise, surprise! Smart designers can turn normal materials and methods into art.

Seats/Lounger: B
I had a little difficulty maneuvering the first hour of the flight. I kept wanting the feet to have an independent control, but that was missing. Personally, I loved the seat when it was fully reclined. On the way to Turkey I had my most amazing sleep in flight ever. The long flight felt like a six hour flight to New York. The personal command center was easy to use and even when mine stalled, the flight attendants fixed it less than five minutes. You know, on second thought I give it an A-

Bathrooms: A+
They are kind of roomy! Functional! There were nice touches in the business class bathrooms, including some nicer towels and soaps. It was also obvious that the crew cleaned them during the flight.

Entertainment: A
Excellent. I now travel with an iPad and a regular book – this time The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli – and I never reached for them. There were at least 20 first run movies I wanted to see and I watched four of them on the way back. The games are fun and I was even able to get in a little cross talk with a friend in comfort class by sending an SMS directly to their seat.

Did you get the Royal Chef treatment on your flight? You know when the chef comes out in full uniform, including his puffy white chef’s hat, and shows you all of his wonderful selections of mezzas and main courses? I did and it was amazing. I felt a little guilty not engaging him a little bit more in conversation, but he spent [literally] 15 minutes with the couple behind me going over each dish, explaining the ingredients and the provinces of some of the “fresh and never frozen” dishes from the menu. This touch remains the most outstanding differentiator from any business class travel I have experienced…and you know, I’m a pretty high maintenance traveler!

How did yours compare?
And…what exactly is a lifestyle explorer?

SHE SAID:  These are some progressive ratings I must say; not a surprise for an airline to voted Europe’s best airline by Skytrax. Anyway, I look at airline’s excellence from a different perspective. As a business traveler and lifestyle explorer I demand upscale accommodations, whether flying or on-the-ground. I can tell you from personal experience that a relationship with an airline is very important. Also, loyalty and frequency incentives play a major difference. I highly recommend building relationship with travel agency or the airline itself because they come handy when you need them the most.

For Turkish Airlines, I give my own award of excellence to their management skills and willingness to make your flight superb. On my flight, the Chef receives the same award for being so wonderful and “appetite savvy”; the stewards for their professionalism and common sense not to wake me at inappropriate times during the flight. Speaking of

which, I felt as if I was sleeping in my own bed. Really I felt that way which I rarely feel in flight. When you add all that into the superlative VIP Lounge that Turkish Airlines runs in Istanbul, well, what more do you want?

The only drawback is their jingle. Did you hear it? “We are Turkish Airline, we are globally yours…” It plays over and over again in that strange Animé character voice. As a marketing and brand guru, I must say the jingle should not be that repetitive. The slogan is not bad, but the execution of it leaves me wishing that would let me show them the right way to do it.

HE SAID:  The European airlines really do kick tail on our domestic carriers. America invented flight and now we are so horrible at customer service, comfort and just treating passengers with a little class. That is one area where Turkish Airlines really excels. They make you feel good about wanting to get on their plane – from economy to business class I heard the same …it’s a pleasure to travel with them.

Very good point on making relationships. I never had my own travel agent. I always sent an email to corporate travel and they took care of it. Thinking back, if there was a problem, they really left you in the lurch. Building relationships is key to life I would assess, and with the current state of international travel in and out of the States, having a friend at the airlines is even more valuable. The folks at Turkish Airlines were the easier people to get along with and helped as much as they could. Now, if they could just lose that jingle like you said.

Getting back to the chef, what was your favorite dish you were served? Did the flight attendants fluff your pillow? And what kind of wine did you pair with your halibut?

SHE SAID:  You are funny with the fluff your pillow. That I doubt that will ever happen on an airline. The selection of food reminded me of a four or five star restaurant. Perhaps one day they will turn back the clocks so that first or business class passengers can sit a restaurant-style atmosphere. Who knows, maybe Turkish Airlines will be the first to make it happen again? Until then, I felt Turkish Airlines made eating a “lifestyle explorer” event.

It was an interesting flight though, our two hot male passengers two seats over were having a blast of a lifetime with the constant selection of alcohol as if they were in wine tasting competition. The steward was so patient and eloquent as she served their cabin. Now these two men? They were well above high maintenance.

HE SAID:  Not that I want to focus in on the alcohol, but I really enjoyed the international flavors of the extensive selection of liqueurs, whiskeys and wines. What caught my attention were the Turkish wines and beers. On my flight here were my category favorites (yes I tried them all): beer: Efes Pilsen; liqueur: tekel Ozel Uretim; red wine: 2006 Doluca Karma; and white wine: 2009 Kavaklidere Narince.

As far as food, my preferred meal was the ‘pan-fried halibut’. The smooth texture of the fish ranks with any seafood restaurant in Beverly Hills. The mezza included stuffed eggplant in olive oil, hummus, garden salad, spinach borek, hummus, cheese fatayer, and a slew of bread choices.

I also enjoyed the gourmet coffees with a choice of cappuccino, American coffee, hot chocolate, Turkish coffee and even fresh chai.

SHE SAID:  This was my first time in Istanbul before. I heard great stories of the country’s’ ecotourism, its richness and its recent economic strength. Turkish Airlines set the stage for a two week expedition that had few rivals.

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