I like full circles. So 10 and a half years ago I took this photo:
This week I’m back:
And unlike 28 hours in its airport, I decided to spend 28 hours outside of it to see how my feelings of Istanbul may have changed. Nothing to sightsee; just be for once.
This city can take hold of you like that.
I did do one new thing; last time I was here, I totally had missed any of the 1600 year old cisterns. But not today.
And after 2 days gallivanting around Istanbul showing Rashidah around, I left knowing that so little and so much change can happen at the same time.
One of them that definitely changed was my opportunity to patronize the second iteration of Turkish Airlines business class lounge at the new IST Airport.
Those who remember, the old business class lounge at the prior Ataturk Istanbul International Airport had been once regarded as the best in the world, but also at times wobbled under the sheer number of people who were visiting daily. Indeed the last few times I had ventured there, finding a seat was impossible despite that lounge having multiple levels and rooms, including its own mini virtual golf course.
With the new airport, Turkish Airlines had a second chance to redo their business class lounge concept. And here I was getting that chance to experience it with my free onward business class flight home (using miles) requiring a layover in Brussels.
Unlike other airports where you find where the check-in counters are for your departing flight and then head to the “business class” line, you instead should head to a whole dedicated Area L for all flights at IST’s new airport.
And every business class check-in counter has couches for you to relax on.
After receiving your ticket and heading through the express lane of security and passports, turn left towards a seemingly abandoned area of the airport, show them a copy of your business class ticket, check-in at the lonely counter there, and head up the elevator.
Once the doors open, you’ll find an “open air” lounge concept that immediately differentiates it from the prior lounge, which had felt more private and insulated. This new lounge, while probably equally as huge and spread out, is essentially the balcony 2nd floor level of the main departures area.
While it is an impressive and a wonderful lounge in its own right, first world problems will have the design concept unfortunately struggling when compared to what the prior business class lounge had been like at Ataturk. Even as crowded as that one became, it was an architectural marvel and a nexus that captured the essence of Istanbul trying to market itself as the crossroads of the world.
This one in comparison, however, feels like a carbon copy of the Miles & Smiles lounge directly across on the other side of the departures hall, and the Priority Pass iGA Lounge a few meters down… let alone many other standard priority pass access “open air” lounges around the world. That unique feeling is gone, and if you’re okay with that, then this lounge still can hold a candle to claiming as one of the best in the world.
That said, my favorite part would be the “library” themed area off to the side, simply because this space was distinctive from the rest of the lounge.
If you want more of a private enclosure, there are also dedicated meeting rooms you can use:
Those who would want a quieter place to relax can find these little nooks right by the meeting rooms:
Other than its library area, there’s also a random art gallery in the center to pass your time. While impressive and obviously placed there as a “wow” factor to greet visitors, it added very little value when I thought about it. I even visited the gallery 3 more times during the hour to see if I could have been missing anything, but it felt very hollow; I mean it’s very cool, but why is it here?
I guess it’s because I knew there was also an art gallery and museum right next door on the other part of the departures hall by the iGA Lounge.
The bathrooms on the other hand, are very nicely taken care of. No complaints here:
Although the virtual mini golf course is no more, vestiges from the prior lounge remain including the “movie theater”:
The children play area:
And the best part of the past lounge (as well as this one): the countless food stations and bars all around the lounge to whet your appetite:
And just like the prior lounge, there are active chefs in multiple rooms and areas to prepare your food, made to order as fresh as it can be:
If you prefer to serve yourself, there is a large DIY station complete with single serving glass bowls and their plastic covers:
Finally, there are scattered drink fridges, as well as coffee and tea stations that offered either just coffee, just tea, or both. Some are self-service, and others were manned by baristas.
So I had EVERYTHING:
And with that, my opinion stands: while the shadow of its predecessor is sadly missed and difficult to live up to, Turkish Airlines still enjoys one of the best business class lounges in the world other than perhaps Qatar’s in Doha International Airport.
After 2 hours at the lounge I then flew onwards and enjoyed another layover at Brussels before finally returning home:
As with the cisterns that I had missed in Istanbul the first time I was there, I finally got around to visit the Atomium and symbol of Brussels:
Thank you Priyanka for catching up and driving me there!
Do you recognize her? I went to college with her, ran into her while crashing a wedding in Mumbai on one of my first international trips back in 2009 . . .
. . . and then again last March when she came for a routine COVID-19 testing at a random site I happened to be working, and now here in Brussels!
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- At time of posting in Istanbul, it was 11 °C - Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 26km/hr | Cloud Cover: rainy