Changes in store as Turkish airline soars
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.