Changes in store as Turk­ish air­line soars

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2013 - EU­GENE ABRAHAMS

WHEN last I vis­ited Turk­ish Air­ways’ In­ter­na­tional Lounge at Is­tan­bul’s Ataturk Air­port back in 2010, one look and I knew this “lounge” had no busi­ness be­ing called such.

It looked as if the world’s riff-raff had taken refuge there; peo­ple came and went as they pleased. I’m not sure many of them were even trav­ellers. It was dirty and it stank. The floor was sticky, there was no cof­fee or even juice at the juice bar, and a weary man car­ry­ing a tray of dirty glasses walked into a ta­ble. At one of the com­put­ers where I tried to send an e-mail, I strug­gled to find the “@” sign and there was no one around to as­sist me.

Fast-for­ward two-and-a-half years and it’s a new world. It’s moved to the other side of in­ter­na­tional de­par­tures, and is only avail­able to pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling busi­ness class, Elite Plus and who are elite mem­bers of the air­line’s Miles & Smiles fre­quent flyer pro­gramme, Star Al­liance gold card hold­ers and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers of com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in their cor­po­rate in­cen­tive pro­gramme.

Se­cu­rity is strict and ac­cess only via your board­ing pass. And don’t bother scan­ning that to open the glass doors; a staff mem­ber will come out from be­hind their desk to do it for you.

There are see-through lock­ers for lug­gage where you can set your pass­word be­fore you pro­ceed to have break­fast, lunch or sup­per. The lounge is open 24 hours, seven days a week. I was there at 5am, and the only thing that gave it away was the food and snacks on of­fer – all the va­ri­ety of a ho­tel’s break­fast buffet. Dif­fer­ent teas, from Twin­ings spe­cial­i­ties to Turk­ish flavoured and scented teas, to cof­fees.

There were leather couches, a wall fit­ted with six huge flatscreen TVs, news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, a play­room for chil­dren fit­ted with PlaySta­tion 3s, Xboxes and other toys, a room for in­fants, a li­brary, a snooker/billiard ta­ble, a concierge, as­sis­tants on hand, a prayer room, and a pri­vate lounge where con­certs are staged.

At the back of the lounge, which within 30 min­utes of my ar­rival was packed close to its 340 ca­pac­ity, were trav­ellers work­ing on their lap­tops or smart­phones. There were toi­lets and show­ers – one side for men, the other for women, with toi­letry kits.

There was one mi­nor hitch: you have to ask for the pass­word to use the wi- fi. Even in a hum­ble ho­tel in Prague where I stayed, or on the rail­jet train from Vi­enna to Salzburg, the wi-fi con­nected in the blink of an eye – no pass­word re­quired.

But al­ready, said Alp Alper, Turk­ish Air­lines’ gen­eral man­ager (Jo­han­nes­burg), the area can­not han­dle all the pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling busi­ness class. “Last year, TA han­dled 40 mil­lion pas­sen­gers, and that fig­ure is ex­pected to rise in 2013 and 2014. So we need to ex­pand, and that could come with the new air­port in Is­tan­bul.”

Is­tan­bul has two air­ports, the sec­ond, Sabiha Gokçen, on the Asian side. Ear­lier last month a con­sor­tium of Turk­ish com­pa­nies won the ten­der to build the city’s new air­port, which in­sid­ers say will play a key role if the city is awarded the rights to host the 2020 Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games.

The air­port, when com­plete in 2017, will be the big­gest in the world with six run­ways and ca­pac­ity for 150 mil­lion pas­sen­gers – and TA will have their own ter­mi­nal.

As for find­ing the “@” sign, there is a list of change com­mands next to the com­puter key­boards.

● Abrahams was flown to Is­tan­bul by Turk­ish Air­lines.

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