Heading Home Part 2: Turkish Airlines July 15 Heroes of Democracy Lounge and Istanbul to New York-JFK Business Class

This is the 20th and concluding part of a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta.  You can read an overview of the trip here.

Turkish Airlines Flt. 11, Istanbul (IST) to New York-Kennedy (JFK)
Boeing 777-300, Business Class, 11h 15m

Arriving in the terminal at Istanbul Ataturk Airport

Perhaps the worst part of my routing home was that I had a 4-hour layover in Istanbul, as my outbound flight wasn’t scheduled to depart until 6:10pm local time. I have long heard raves about Turkish Airlines’ lounge at IST, though, so figured it would at least get me a chance to explore that – despite its propaganda name of “July 15 Heroes of Democracy Lounge.”  Upon reaching the terminal from the bus from my Malta flight, it was a pretty long walk to the lounge, and a bit confusing due to a lack of clear signage, but I made it, and scanned my boarding pass at an automated gate, and was into the lounge.  I had thought about asking about a nap room, which is available for passengers with layovers between 4 and 7 hours (more than 7 and you get a hotel room), but the lack of human interaction discouraged me from doing so.

Entrance to Turkish Airlines “Heroes of Democracy” Lounge

Entering the Turkish Airlines lounge at IST

Exploring the lounge

The bi-level lounge was a bit like a city. There were tons of beverage stations, random food stations everywhere, desserts on carts, desserts on stations – you will not go hungry.  There was a grill station with meats, a pasta station with freshly prepared pasta, Turkish bagels, Turkish sweets, a fruit table, a table of nuts, a Turkish ravioli station, salad bars, soup, a Chinese station, and stations with pide – a kind of Turkish flatbread/pizza.  The pide was definitely the highlight—the desserts/cakes looked nicer than they tasted.

Turkish sweets at Turkish Airlines lounge

Chinese station

Top: grill station and pasta goodies; soup, salads, and pide.
Bottom: Turkish ravioli; disappointing cakes

There was a wandering massage therapist who unfortunately I never got over to me. There was a putting green, a grand piano, player pianos, and a Playstation station. Seating styles varied greatly as well.  It was all a bit overwhelming; I didn’t really know where to go and just kept moving around.  It was also surprisingly difficult to find seating with outlets, as the lounge was fairly occupied. The scale meant it wasn’t a particularly relaxing lounge, but it was still nice.

More of the Turkish Airlines lounge

Around 30 minutes prior to scheduled boarding, I headed to the gate.  The monitors were already flashing “go to gate,” and between the walk and security, I knew it could take long.  As I approached, there was a bit of confusion, with several people on the business class line who weren’t business class, and 2 empty podiums. (Part of it was that this was the first week of the new enhanced security procedures at IST.) At that first stage, there was a check of passports and boarding passes, and I was asked some security questions.  (Which for me was just about my baggage, but for some non-Americans, it seemed more detailed).  Next, there was a second podium with computers, where passports and scanned and stickers were placed on boarding passes and passports.  Finally, everyone was directed into a gender-based line, where bags were checked and electronic devices swabbed by one guard, and a second guard did a patdown/swabdown of my body and shoes.  As a business class passenger, I went to the front of every line, but the staff was doing a good job moving it along quickly.

Turkish Airlines B777

The gate area filled up quickly, and was a bit of a mess.  There was one guy listening to loud music without headphones in gate area, lots of people complaining about the security arrangements, etc.  There were no announcements at the gate, but about 15 minutes after schedule, boarding silently began. As I’ve experienced on many other flights from the region, everyone over 60 had put themselves in the priority lane, regardless of whether they needed assistance.  Many were actually turned away.

Turkish Airlines Boeing 777 Business Class

The hard product on Turkish is a bit of a laggard on its long-haul flights.  The seats on the 777 are 2-3-2 in business class, which makes for not as private an experience as on newer designs.  (There are privacy shields that come up between the seats.)  The seats do each have a longer footprint, though, making the “bed” longer, good for tall people.  Indeed, if you’re traveling as a couple, it’s not that bad. Just avoid the middle seat in the middle section.  Business is divided into cabins – one of four rows and one of three, so not a substantial size difference.

Turkish Airlines B777-300 Business Class

On boarding, there was a back pillow and a wrapped blanket at the seat, as well as a shoe bag with slippers. Slippers are always funny for me, as they are not designed for men’s’ size 12 feet.  There was also a duvet in the overhead bin.  Business is split between two cabins, and I was in the smaller rear cabin. The seat has a decent amount of storage, with a small cubby next to the screen (too far to be very useful).  Under the ottoman, there was also both a larger storage space and a smaller one, along with a magazine pocket between the two ottomans.   Under the armrest, there was both USB and a standard universal power port, as well as an ethernet port and the headphone input.

At check-in the day before, the seat next to me was empty.  You may recall that I had a cat in front of me on my outbound flight.  Well, I don’t know what I did, but on this flight there, there was a dog in the seat next to me. (An animal in a carrier, not an ugly person.) The human, in Lululemon, was obsessed with taking pictures of the dog, who mostly just laid there.

Oh, hello dog

I slipped into the bathroom to change into my PJ pants for the 11-hour flight, and was shocked to find the nicest airplane bathroom I can recall.  It was huge, and smelled like vanilla, with fragrance sticks along with the Molton Brown toiletries.  The vanity was black “lacquer,” and there were green plants of some sort   It had a grab bar and handicap-accessible features, and there was room to stand either in front of the toilet or between the toilet and sink.  I don’t typically take lavatory pics, but couldn’t help myself.


Boarding took a while.  Mustafa, the Flight Attendant working my aisle came by with the same nonalcoholic welcome drinks as on my earlier flight (this time I went with raspberry), and introduced himself.  The dog-owner had earlier asked if she could switch to empty seats.  When he came by this time, he pointed out that the seats had filled up, but said she could use the privacy shield.  (At least, this is what I gathered form the Turkish.)  Mustafa was pretty young and his English didn’t seem as good as some of his colleagues, but he was responsive and friendly enough.

The in-flight entertainment system was workable from the ground (via remote, not touchscreen), and included the standard TV and movies, with a huge range of mostly American and Turkish programming.  Some of the TV was a bit old, though, like, for example, Rizzoli and Isles, and the horse-murdering notorious Luck.  More than enough to keep you occupied, though – especially since it was whole seasons.  Plus, there was “Live TV” which didn’t kick on until airborne.   Denon fancy noise-canceling headphones were distributed, along with newspapers and magazines.

As with Austrian, Turkish business class long-haul has an on-board chef, who came around with menus as boarding finished up.  There was an extensive non-alcoholic beverage menu – with a greater range of teas than I’ve ever seen before, in addition to a wine list.  Before we actually took off, he came back to take dinner orders. (Oddly, the menu said ISTORD ROT 4.)

Turkish Airlines IST-JFK Business Class menu

Amenity kits were then distributed.  The cases themselves were black leather by the Italian designer Furla. Inside, there was a small lotion and lip balm by Institut Karite, a comb/brush, earplugs, a dental kit, a shoehorn, socks, and eyemask. Nothing special on the inside but it was a nice case.

Turkish Airlines Business Class Amenity Kit

The passenger mix was pretty unusual. Turkish often has the cheapest flights between the US and Israel, so I assumed that accounted for the large number of Orthodox Jews in both cabins.  There was a child around 5 in the middle seat in the row in front of me who was very loud and needy, as were her mother and grandmother the whole flight. The flight attendant brought her a coloring book and a kids’ pack before take-off. While we were taxiing, she needed juice and a snack from the flight attendant apparently. And both mom and grandma got up during taxiing.

Taxiing at IST

The British captain made some announcements, and we finally pushed back at 6:30pm, about 20 minutes late.  I loaded “Hidden Figures,” and we were wheels up at 6:55pm.  Wi-fi started working shortly after take-off, which was free for business class on one device.  I definitely appreciated it on a flight where I’d be struggling to stay awake.   (My neighbor did as well, as she was instagramming and whatsapping the whole flight.  She also was a terrible sharer as she had her iPad and headphones taking up the shared armrest the whole flight.) Somewhat surprisingly, a lot of folks started asking for mattress pads and additional pillows and blankets as soon as we were in the air, but perhaps they were all connecting from Asia or parts east.

Flying over Istanbul

This delayed the hot towels, and drink order taking.  Combined with lots of turbulence, it was over an hour before drinks were served, along with a ramekin of nuts. The table was set for dinner about 90 minutes into flight, starting with a nice electric “candle” and a dish with condiments, including fresh red pepper flakes, followed by a bread basket. An appetizer cart then came down the aisle.  There was a choice of mezze or seafood; the seafood looked like salmon and stuff I don’t like, so I went with the mezze, which was okay, but nothing special.  I also tried the red pepper soup, which was the best item I ate on the whole flight, and a salad, which was mostly iceberg.

Appetizer and starters – Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to New York

For the main portion, I had the “steak and salad” which was extremely disappointing for a DO&Co. catered flight.  It looked disgusting, and was beyond well-done to the point of inedible.  The “salad” was a few pieces of lettuce and an overcooked tomato, with no other sides – so I was glad I had the soup.

Turkish Airlines “Steak and Salad” – Yuck

Dinner plates were cleared sometime over Poland, and I sipped some red wine as I waited for dessert.  At around 9:15pm, the dessert cart came down the aisle.  Lots of stuff looked delicious, and I went with a chocolate soufflé, covered with chocolate sauce – which was quite good.  It was served with coffee in a cool cup with gold embellishment.  (Note the cabin lights had been switched to a weird reddish light, hence the odd lighting/coloring in the remaining photos.)

Dessert cart

Turkish Airlines chocolate souffle

Dinner was followed by a second hot towel, followed by turning off all the cabin lights and shutting all window shades, which was frustrating for a flight that would land before bedtime in New York. I dozed about an hour.  My seatmate slept most of the time, but around Greenland woke, took the dog out of its carrier, and took him under her blanket to snuggle…and take selfies.  The dog was nonplussed. But she tried to hide the dog every time a flight attendant walked by.

I was surprised there was no reference to snacks or anything midflight, given how long the flight is (11 hours).  I popped in the galley to request a coffee and it took awhile for it to come.  The lav stayed clean and fresh though.

About 2.75 hrs out of NY, the red cabin lights came on. There was a service of hot towels, water and juice, followed by a light supper 15 minutes later.  The first tray had a sad caprese salad, a green salad, and the dessert pre-plated.  Instead of a regular drink service, coffee and tea were offered, along with two passes of the bread basket.  For the entrée, there was a choice of chicken or a Turkish mix plate.  I went with the chicken, which was tiny and basically a coach airplane meal on a nicer plate. That was followed by a fourth hot towel 75 minutes out of New York.  The Denon headphones were then collected about an hour before landing.

Supper, Turkish Airlines Business Class IST-JFK

We landed only a few minutes late, and were at the gate at 10:20pm at JFK’s T1.  Despite lots of Asian flights and Norwegian arriving, plus random Caribbean Airlines flights, there was no wait at Global Entry and a 15-minute wait for bags, then a bit of a wait at customs.  I was at the curb at 10:52pm, and over to my parents’ for a few days.

Given the fairly unique circumstances of this trip, Turkish was certainly a fine option—but I wouldn’t rush to fly them again.

And that’s a wrap on my between-jobs European adventure. And this week I’ll be off probation at the new gig!  Stay tuned for posts from my Labor Day adventure to Hamburg.

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