Turkish Airlines is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. Like its counterparts in the region, the company aims to use its location between the east and the west to better connect the globe. The massive level of growth is clearly evident at Turkish’s hub at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, where the terminal is flooded with people, and boarding wide bodies via air-stairs is a common occurrence. However, no place is this more evident than at the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge.
The Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge at Istanbul Ataturk Airport is highly regarded and is often considered the best business class lounge in the world (voted #1 business class lounge in the world by airlinequality.com) and is operated by Turkish Airlines’ subsidiary Turkish Do&Co, the catering arm of Turkish Airlines which also provides the wonderful onboard service. The lounge is classified as an international departure lounge admitting passengers flying international business class on Turkish Airlines and Star Alliance Partners, all Star Alliance Gold members including Turkish Airlines’ Elite and Elite Plus cardholders, Turkish Airlines Corporate Card members, and paid membership cardholders (United Club & Air Canada maple leaf) traveling on a Star Alliance carrier. That means pretty much everybody and their mother has access to the lounge. Lets have a look shall we?
Upon clearing immigration, signs clearly direct you leftwards towards the “Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge”. It is a short hike that seems longer than it is as there is a sea of people one must make their way though, flanked by duty free shops on either end. But upon arriving at the entrance to the lounge, there is no missing it – a glass dividing wall with curtains creates an open but exclusive space from the main concourse.
There the lounge dragons check your credentials for entry. Unlike most lounges I have been to, in addition to the lounge greeters, there are “metro-style” gates that read your boarding pass so that you can skip the counter entirely. I saw a few people use this as my details were being taken down – guess they are frequent visitors that know about that shortcut. After a short wait, I was ushered into the lounge.
Immediately, I was overcome by an incredible indescribable feeling as this was one of the most beautiful lounges I have ever visited. There was an incredible attention to local design, and featured tasteful arches and curves to create a large but intimate space. The lounge is essentially divided by these archways, making individual rooms – each with their own purpose.
There was a library/billiards room upon entering the lounge, followed by tv viewing rooms, followed by a storage room, a prayer room, a business center, then a kid’s room, the list goes on.
Proceeding deep into the lounge, I had also come to realize that this was a little bit more than a lounge – I would almost call this a “premium concourse”. There were countless corridors, numerous refreshment stations (grocery store style open fridges), various seating arrangements.
And just when I thought I had reached the end of the lounge, there was a large atrium with a grand staircase that led downstairs. DOWNSTAIRS! Yes, this is a dual level premium
Located downstairs is the main kitchen and the main dining area. Again, there are several seating areas – a cafe are with dining tables and chairs, a living area with couches and coffee tables, and a piano lounge. Even though there were countless seating areas, there wasn’t much vacancy. As I said earlier, number of people with access to the lounge pretty much makes up for the size of the space. It was near impossible to find a pair of seats together.
Making my way around the lounge, I stumbles across the “fun area” with a golf simulator for the big kids, and a playstation-station and mini racetrack for the little kids.
I finally found a table near an airy part of the lounge with a beautiful “i don’t even know what its called”. I guess its another set of arcs that separates another functional area – looks like a combination of a Turkish lamp and a birds nest.
Naturally the next thing to do was to grab a drink and some food. The drinks part was easy as there are refreshment stations and liquor/wine carts all over.
But the food was a little more spread out – the reason being that the buffets were built around the main kitchen that serves the lounge. This was a really cool idea as all the food served was pretty much made right in front of you. Waiting in the line at the grill station, you can actually see into the kitchen!
It did feel a little strange however, as I definitely think it brings down the overall aesthetics of the lounge – but with so much that was right in terms of aesthetics, the appearance of the buffet was easy to overlook.
The buffet itself was set up like an actual buffet restaurant – separate stations for different types of food – grill station, pizza station, pasta station, carving table, desserts counter, you name it. This was certainly the most impressive food selection I have ever seen at any business class lounge. A personal favorite is the grill station, where in addition to freshly grilled meats, there is also a spice cart to add some flavor to the already delicious food. One of the major benefits of having your catering arm operate the lounge.
On a longer layover, for connecting passengers, there is a shower facility. Unfortunately as an originating passenger, I was not able to have a look – but from the looks of the rest of the lounge, it shouldn’t disappoint.
Was this the most intimate lounge? Definitely not. Was this the most relaxing lounge? Definitely not. But was this the most entertaining and interesting lounge? Absolutely yes. I would compare this to the Emirates A380. The product may not be the most intimate or refined, but it is certainly the most entertaining. I would say that it makes up almost half the experience of flying Turkish Airlines Business Class. The sheer size of the place definitely blew me away, I had compared it to the “billionaire’s bunker” in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Sitting down for a little bit and enjoying harvest from the buffet, I definitely saw the wear and dirt in the lounge. While the furnishings were impressive overall, there was definitely damage on the flooring, cabinetry, seating, and walls – just a result of the throughput and utilization of the lounge. There was also a bit of dirt in the corners – definitely a challenge for a lounge of this size. While I do enjoy a more intimate lounge, the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge at Istanbul Airport definitely did not disappoint. While there are many negatives, there are so many more positives. I was initially turned off by the amount of people in the lounge but, being primarily a business class lounge, this should be expected.