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I don’t get it. Why do people like the Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul?

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Some people felt I was a bit unfair to Turkish Airlines when I reviewed their Boeing 777 business class service last week.

If you thought I was too critical, you are unlikely to be keen on my review of the Turkish Airlines CIP business class lounge in Istanbul.  I’d move on now.

The Turkish Airlines lounge has a buzz, a reputation, to it – it became part of the reason I wanted to go down to Istanbul.  It won the Skytrax ‘Best Business Class Lounge’ in 2015, for example.

The tagline is ‘bigger than some airports’.  This is actually true – the lounge is bigger than the departure area of Salzburg Airport, where I was 24 hours later, and bigger than Ras Al Khaimah’s entire departure terminal (where I type this) – but bigger does not mean better ….

I take some comfort in my views from my US equivalent Gary Leff who in this article on the top 10 airport lounges in February said:

“But any best list ….. [which] includes lounges like the Turkish CIP lounge in Istanbul, anything in the U.S., South America, or Africa, or any British Airways lounge among the top 10 is clearly missing the boat.”

The Turkish Airways lounge in Istanbul starts very nicely, with this English-style library complete with billiard table:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There is also a bank of lockers so you can leave your hand baggage, which is helpful.  Then it just ‘goes wrong’!

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

This photo below sums it up.  We have lots of people crowded together, sitting on dull furniture, in a dull looking area.

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

No flair, no style.  Once you get past the billiard table it runs out of ideas.  I am actually one of the biggest supporters of the BA lounges at Heathrow (Concorde Room aside) because they do have style, they have ideas.  Even if those ideas do involve 6-foot high horses with lampshades on their heads.

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There are some things to do in the lounge which you rarely see, which I think is why some people like it.  There is a golf simulator, but I don’t play:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There are a couple of football video games, but that’s not really my thing:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There is a car racing track, but I am a bit old for that:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

There is a good kids room, but my kids were back in London:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

What you DON’T get is somewhere where you can sit, quietly, in a nicely designed area and have some decent quality food.

What Turkish has done is effectively recreate the same lounge multiple times!  As you walk around the two levels, you realise that the same food and drink items are available from identical outlets in different corners.  There is no attempt to break the space down into a series of different areas.

I keep coming back to the picture I ran at the top:

Review Turkish Airlines business class CIP lounge Istanbul

The lounge, to me, was about as exciting as that picture implies.  The rest of the airport, however, is not exactly an improvement.  If you’re in Ataturk, do go into the lounge.  You don’t need to spend two hours there as I did.

Whatever you do, don’t book yourself onto Turkish Airlines via Istanbul purely because you wanted to visit.  There are a few lounges where you can justify that but this is not one of them.

Comments (79)

  • Enigma368 says:

    I am actually flying from Istanbul in May and was wondering whether to book Turkish for this lounge. I have to admit that despite all the rave reviews about it, when I previously looked at photos and videos of the lounge, I was finding it hard to understand why it was so well reviewed. It is interesting to have a review from you to back up my impression.

    You don’t mention food but the one thing I have seen previously in pictures and reviews that did look quite nice is the dessert bar. They do look to have a nice selection of high quality cakes. Otherwise the rest just seems like a regular lounge, except much bigger and with a couple of *mildly* interesting touches like a billiard table.

    • Raffles says:

      I have a photo of the cakes but didn’t use it. It’s cakes. Etihad does a better job of a cake bar in its Abu Dhabi lounge.

      • Ryan says:

        Hi Raffles, I agree with your sentiment that it can feel like a circus, and it takes a bit of effort to find somewhere quiet and cosy if you need to work. But that’s not unique to IST.

        On the food – I do think you could have said a bit more. I saw a good variety of hot and cold savoury options – if memory serves me, there are a couple of kebab stations (which I haven’t tried)? On my post-red eye flight back to London from TPE, I had a perfectly fine English breakfast at an ungodly hour, washed down with a strong Turkish coffee. And, when was the last time you saw an airport lounge olive bar with about 16 varieties??

        I have not yet had the fortune to experience an ME lounge, but the variety available at IST beats the socks off any usual European and the few Asian lounges I’ve been to. Fair enough much of it is Turkish, but as I recall it still has a handful of non-Turkish options. (You can even have a cappuccino if)

        On the design, I actually rather liked the white/gold/black color scheme and the circular motif. I do agree it gets repetitive but at least it all looks consistent and tasteful. Again I’ll gladly take IST than your usual sterile European lounge.

  • Peaceful Waters says:

    Car racing track?

    I’m in!

  • Michael says:

    I have to agree with you on your summing up of the TK Lounge in Istanbul. It’s nothing to write home about and often very crowded. However, anything has to be better than having to spend time meandering round the departure area of Ataturk. Nowhere to sit and relax and extremely overcrowded. I usually pop into the lounge for a coffee and a snack but that’s about it. It’s overrated.

  • ehches says:

    Unfortunately the lounge, as with the terminal itself, has become incredibly busy over the last couple of years…wasn’t always this congested.

    Rob please do something about your photos. Size (why not have them fill the whole column?), quality and composition leave SO MUCH to be desired.

    • John says:

      Agree, I keep clicking the photos thinking they will get bigger!

    • Mike says:

      Rob, I like your photos – they are real world. I have certainly have no desire to complain about something of real usefulness that is provided free of charge. Keep up the great work.

    • Raffles says:

      There is a technical issue which impacts the emails. The bigger the photos, the smaller the text gets if you read the emails on a mobile. That is part of it.

      Next review will feature pics from my wife’s Blackberry which could be fun, then Anika will do a few shot on an iPhone 4! All downhill 🙂

      • Waribai says:

        “Next review will feature pics from my wife’s Blackberry which could be fun, then Anika will do a few shot on an iPhone 4! All downhill”

        Definitely had me chortling there!

      • Susan says:

        And I thought my OH was the last person on the planet glued to a Blackberry. But as you say, could be worse, could be an i-thingy.

  • Dave says:

    I have the fortune/misfortune to transit through IST twice a month with Turkish and I happen to quite like the lounge although I’d agree with your points about it being quite similar in a number of places and often very crowded. However I do think the DO&CO catering is excellent and something that makes the lounge attractive, as long as you like Turkish food – their range of patisserie in general is very good and the desserts are excellent. For me in terms of food options it’s a huge improvement on any BA Galleries or GF lounge, although I’ve never been in CCR.

    My suggestion is to immediately head downstairs which will be less crowded and there is also a tea bar under the globe, where you can grab coffee and a cake. A Turkish coffee is good if that’s to your tastes. The lounge is so much better than the rest of the airport but I’d not suggest a visit to IST just for the lounge, although I do think it is a good lounge overall.

  • James says:

    I’m curious which lounges you feel are worth going out of your way for Raffles?

    • Brian says:

      He likes the cavernous soulless spaces in Qatar…

      • Rob says:

        Doha is new and shiny and generally quiet, with excellent food and a huge budget spent on decor and furnishing.

  • Matt says:

    One benefit of the lounge is that Turkish Elite members can bring in their entire family – which is very useful when I have four kids and only travel economy! I find it more personable and less soulless than, say, the Qatar lounge in Doha – but yes, it’s not the greatest place in the world and the praise it receives is somewhat exaggerated.

    • flibbly says:

      That’s obviously a huge benefit for those travelling with lots of kids, but in turn a lounge full of kids will make it a huge detriment for others.

  • Jason says:

    Rob, I agree with your review of the lounge FWIW, your flight review was unfair because you were doing a SH run and seemed to be comparing to the ‘big three’ LH.

    One thing I have to say though is when you compared the BA lounge to the No.1 lounge at Gatwick, you thought a fussball table and a cinema room was a plus point for the No.1 lounge, TK provide games (golf simulator, playstation, car racing track) but yet you are critical of those things.

    Just be consistent.

    • Michael says:

      Anyone who’s ever been in the BA-offered lounge in IST will appreciate the TK one like a palace!

    • Raffles says:

      I think it is consistent …… as I say, I can see why some people would like the lounge because of these facilities. They are the only redeeming feature actually.

      No 1 also integrates better – the MyLoynge fussball table is in a dedicated warehouse-style corner for example. Apart from the billiard table TK just plonks things down.