An oasis for the travel-weary AvGeek – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
If you track the lists of the world’s best airport lounges, you’re probably aware of Turkish Airlines’ flagship lounge at its Istanbul hub. It’s pretty legendary among AvGeeks and the frequent flyer elite. So when we planned an around-the-world tour of Star Alliance carriers, we had to travel through Istanbul to see if the lounge could match the hype.
So what makes this place so great? Sure, we found all the essentials that a lounge should have, like snacks, drinks, and comfy seats. There were plenty of bonus features beyond the basics, like showers, luggage lockers, and freshly-made hot meals. And then there were some features that were just downright zany, and left us wondering “who came up with the idea to have this in a lounge?!”
Read on as we take you on a whirlwind photo tour of everything going on in Turkish Airlines’ CIP Lounge.
Yup, you can race slot cars here – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Beginning with the basics
Turkish Airlines’ flagship Istanbul lounge checks all the boxes for lounge necessities. Sprawling across two levels, it provides no shortage of seating space. The place is seriously enormous.
Garden-style seating on the upper level – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Plenty more seating downstairs – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
A look down from the grand central staircase – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
There’s plenty of self-serve food, including Turkish specialties like pide (pronounced pea-day) flatbread and salads for the health-conscious.
Salad bar – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Fresh pide flatbread – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Scattered throughout the lounge are a variety of DIY drink stations. There aren’t any staffed bars, consistent with the airline’s attitude of providing — but not pushing — alcoholic drinks.
Fix yourself a cocktail at one of the many drink counters – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Kicking things up a notch
We’ve established that the lounge addresses all the necessities. But what qualifies it as one of the best in the world?
Turkish Airlines really goes above and beyond with food, thanks in part to its partnership with the renowned Austrian catering company DO&CO. To celebrate that partnership, the airline converted part of its lounge into a mock-up of a Viennese cafe, complete with coffee and some truly delicious cakes.
The lounge’s Viennese cafe, celebrating Turkish Airlines’ partnership with DO&CO – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
No Viennese cafe would be complete without cake and coffee – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
If you’re in the mood for something heartier, the lounge has much more to offer than salads, flatbread, coffee, and cakes. You can grab some meat and veggies fresh off the grill:
Fresh off the grill – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
And once you’re done with that, how about some decadent Turkish dessert?
In a word: YUM – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
I always appreciate it when lounges have showers, and Turkish had me covered.
One of many shower rooms – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Here’s where things get crazy
All that we’ve covered so far is stuff that you could reasonably expect out of a lounge. But there were a few lounge features that blew our minds — and sometimes left us scratching our heads.
For starters, how about a golf swing simulator? You hit the ball into a cloth screen, and a motion tracker translates the motion into a virtual ball streaking down the green.
Why work on your laptop when you could work on your swing? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Once you’re bored with golf, how about some video games? Just make sure you don’t get so sucked in that you miss your flight.
I think this guy’s flight left a few hours ago – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
If you’re more old-school, race your travel companion on a slot car track:
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Or if you’re really old-school-cool, chill with a scotch in the library, complete with a pool table:
Not every day that you can play pool in a lounge – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Finally, there’s a full-size screening room, complete with a popcorn machine. To avoid having to play favorites with movie languages, they were just blasting Andrea Bocelli in there. Which was kind of a bummer, since it would have been a good place to sleep if it was quieter.
The screening room – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
The final verdict
This lounge was a ton of fun, especially if you’re willing to embrace its over-the-top-ness. But is it one of the best in the world? Excluding lounges that are limited to first class passengers, I’d say it’s in the top five for sure — for the spectacle and scale, if nothing else.
I will say that everything wasn’t perfect in this AvGeek paradise. Some of my gripes include:
There weren’t any good tarmac views that I could find.
Even though it’s massive, parts of the lounge closest to the entrance still get crowded before the busy morning and evening banks of departures.
I really wish there was a better place for the average lounge visitor to get some sleep. Turkish does offer reservable nap rooms, but only for people with connections between four and seven hours long. If you have a longer layover, you may qualify for a hotel stay on the airline’s dime, but not if there is a shorter connection available than the one you’re on. Plus you have to pass through immigration to access the transit hotel. The screening room in the lounge would work well as a nap zone if not for the loud music they play in there.
Despite there being some room for improvement, I’d absolutely recommend Turkish Airlines’ flagship lounge. Plus, tickets on Turkish can be fairly affordable, and award availability is often good. Even if you’re not flying Business Class, you can access the lounge on international itineraries if you have Star Alliance gold status.
Stay tuned for more from our Star Alliance world tour!
Have you been to Turkish Airlines’ lounge in Istanbul? If so, what did you think? If not, what’s your all-time favorite lounge? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.