I am generally of the view that when it comes to airline lounges, bigger is not always better. So, when I saw a Turkish Airlines’ advert claiming that their Istanbul (Ataturk) lounge is “bigger than some airports” (and at nearly 5000 sq metres, it is), I decided to reserve judgment.
Space does of course give you plenty of opportunity to include all sorts of options and extras, but it also has the danger of making the lounge entirely soulless. For evidence of that, you need look no further than the Emirates lounge in Dubai, which feels substantially more like a school canteen than a premium traveller lounge.
However, Turkish Airlines have done a truly fantastic job on the Istanbul lounge: balancing the wealth of space with a genuinely premium feel that pervades the entire area.
Who has access?
The lounge can be accessed by first and business class ticket holders on all Star Alliance flights, Star Alliance Gold members and Miles&Smiles elite members. In addition, Star Alliance Gold members and Miles&Smiles elite members can bring in one guest.
The design and layout
As is instantly apparent, the lounge has a premium feel which it maintains throughout. Situated just off from the entrance is an elegantly put-together library area, complete with pool table.
Venture further in and, as you pass various food and drink stations, loaded with options, you’ll come to the balcony to the lower floor.
The various areas of the lounge are neatly framed by bold dome-shaped entrances. This is clever in that it maintains the space – you are not subject to a series of shut-off rooms – while also giving an authentic feel of Turkish-style grandeur to each distinctly separate section. Perhaps most importantly, it also helps to avoid the “vast uninterrupted expanse” problem that so many super-lounges of this size suffer from.
A long-standing complaint in relation to the previous incarnation of this lounge was just how crowded it got. Turkish’s response was fairly simple: increase capacity by 2500 square metres by creating a new downstairs area.
The intricate staircase to the newer lower level is neatly complemented by some beautiful traditional Turkish and modern sculpturing, and background design. It really is a genuinely impressive looking piece, that manages to appear ornate and grand without being overly showy. It may only be an airline lounge, but this really is an elegant space in parts, and some obvious effort has gone into the design.
We have already noted the rather wonderful library and pool room. However, in addition to the expected (and less-expected) food stations, buffets and drinks cabinets, you can find:
- private relaxation rooms and showers (toiletry kits provided)
- a business centre with wifi.
- a play room for children and private infant room (more on that below)
- a miniature car race track
- numerous games consoles
- a golf simulator
- a cinema
- various news and information screens throughout
We made good use of the wifi, and had no issues with speed or connection. We also put our boys in “Curio City”, the kids area, and were delighted to find a fully stocked baby-changing unit adjacent to it. Without going into too much detail here, it was complete with all the necessary accompaniments (although the baby was ours).
The food and drink
Everywhere you looked in the lounge you could find international and Turkish food options. If you didn’t fancy the availability at the buffet, dedicated chefs could pull you something together.
I indulged in a classic Turkish grilled chicken and vegetable dish, which was absolutely fantastic. Cooked to perfection and beautifully seasoned.
It wasn’t simply a case of the old classics however, although there were plenty to choose from:
The genius to the food arrangement in the lounge was to mix classics, staples and local gourmet with some really novel concepts. The olive station, for example, may not be everybody’s idea of heaven, but my wife had to eventually drag me away from it. If you arrive at this lounge fully fed, but in need of some interesting nibbles, it’s perfect.
I’m also reliably informed that the freshly prepared pastries in the lounge come from from Vienna’s renowned pastry shop, Demel.
Needless to say, if alcohol is your thing, you won’t be disappointed. However, in addition to the wide range of wines, beers and spirits, there’s a healthy assortment of soft drinks, including fruit juices.
Was it overcrowded?
We arrived at 7pm on a Saturday night. While it was far from peak time, we had absolutely no issue with the occupancy, with plenty of available seats, little or no queues for food and a general air of relaxation to the place (which, given it’s size, is an impressive feat).
A slightly niche complaint, and it was heavily tempered by just how fantastic the changing room facilities for our baby were, but I was (and, perhaps more pertinently, my children were) disappointed with the childrens’ play area. Given the enormous size of the lounge, you would expect this facility to be pretty impressive. In reality, it was just a small room with a slightly motley assortment of tables, chairs and television screens. A padded play area could easily have been fitted into this lounge, and would have been substantially better received by my boys.
All in all though, fantastic. You will do very well to find a better Business Class lounge anywhere, and we were genuinely sorry to leave (and bear in mind this was on the way to our holiday!). If you get the opportunity to visit, we strongly recommend you do so.
A long layover in Istanbul would, in my view at least, be entirely painless with access to this lounge. You could get merrily drunk, handsomely fed and… better at golf.