Monday, July 2, 2012

Istanbul has one of the best airline lounges in the world

This is the lobby of the THY lounge in Istanbul
Delayed post. There was just too much stuff to write about, and I had to take some nice photos for this entry, which I did last night on the way back from Prague to Hong Kong via Istanbul.

June 19. This morning I was back at Istanbul airport for an early morning two-hour flight to Prague that took us over a little bit of the Black Sea and then over Romania and Bulgaria before crossing into the Czech Republic.

Before boarding our flight, we spent some time at the new Turkish Airlines lounge which opened earlier this year. The last time I was in Istanbul was almost one year ago on my way to Lisbon, and the THY lounge was still under construction so club passengers had to wait out their flights in a makeshift lounge at the basement.

THE WORLD'S BEST NEW AIRLINE LOUNGE



This wasn’t ideal, but as long as it had WiFi and lots of ice, frankly, I was happy. Well, today I finally saw the new THY lounge for myself, dubbed as just about the best airline lounge in the world by a lot of frequent fliers. My friends at THY are certainly very pleased with how their new lounge turned out.

I have to say that it’s really beautiful. It looks like a sleek Terrence Conran-designed hotel lobby with lots of toys for kids and adults -- and I'm not kidding, it has lots of toys.



“Wow,” one of my travel companions said. “I can so spend the day here.”

When I’m not traveling or eating, I’m working because that’s what a Travelife is all about – living a life of travel rather than traveling for business or for a holiday. So almost directly from the reception area, I walked across the main room and scanned the mammoth lounge for a quiet corner with a table and a couple of electric plugs to set up my “office” for a few hours until boarding.



I knew the old lounge and where all the plugs were very well, but this newly renovated lounge was new territory for me. Anyway, I resisted the temptation to explore the lounge and when I sat down, I worked straight for an hour without even standing up for a drink; but my two companions came back to our table every so often with plates of olives and cheese and impressive descriptions of what the THY lounge had to offer.

FACEBOOKING ACROSS THE ROOM



One of them even posted a Facebook status update from across the lounge, from an iPhone. “I’m so enjoying the Turkish Airlines lounge.” As we're connected via Facebook, the message popped up on my screen as I was working across the room because I got tagged in it.

So I commented back, still from across the room: “Wow. That was fast. Apple tea?”

There was a counter serving tea and coffee about two meters away from me.

Another message popped up in reply: “In a while.” I hurriedly typed back: “No worries. As you can see, I’m still on Facebook.”

But finally, when I was through answering emails, writing a blog entry and updating our Twitter and Facebook accounts, I stood up to explore the lounge and see what all the fuss was about. Scroll down to read more...




WHAT'S SO GOOD ABOUT IT



First, it’s a massive lounge, although I have to say that it does get pretty crowded at peak times nevertheless. It was perpetually full while we were there, but there are so many corners to set up your own private space so you won’t feel claustrophobic at all. At one end, there’s even a grand piano with a view of a runway.

Second, the design is so cool. After swiping your boarding pass to gain entry to the lounge, you find yourself face to face with a wood-paneled library filled with art and travel books and a billiards table. This was one of the things that made me think of a Terrence Conran-designed boutique hotel lobby.




Third, they have food and drink stations everywhere, and everything is very nicely arranged in an intelligent and user-friendly way that’s also easy on the eyes. The cold drinks are displayed in cases that look like a bookshelf, and there are coffee and tea stations as well as liquor stations in strategic locations. Meanwhile, the food stations are also evenly divided according to food type.



When we were there earlier, they were serving breakfast so there was a hot breakfast corner and a cold foods corner, as well as a proper bakery with hot breads. Here and there were narrow counters laden with bowls of different kinds of olives and bottles of olive oil – there were green olives with almonds, tiny and very salty black olives, and about four other kinds which I didn’t taste. This was when I really knew I was in Turkey because the Turks are just crazy about olives and eat these all day.

A LA HERMES



Fourth, the lounge is just full of the coolest gadgets – as in things I’ve never seen in lounges elsewhere. For instance, the luggage room is all plexiglass lockers with great lighting that makes you think of an Hermes store rather than an airline lounge locker room. Truly beautifully done.



And in one corner of this room are tiny lockers for recharging your iPhones! You put your iPhone into the locker and put in your combination, and then just come back when it’s recharged.

CINEMA PARADISO

That's the moviehouse...
Then there’s the rest and relaxation room, with very comfy club chairs and a nice movie on. It reminds me of an old-fashioned movie house – I would’ve liked to curl up here if only I ever had the time for such things.

KIDS WILL BE HAPPY

Near where we sat, too, were several Playstation corners. So, yes, you can while away the time with PS2 in case you’re bored. Next to it is a big kiddie play area.

Finally, the bathrooms here are the prettiest I’ve ever seen in an airline lounge. They’re beautiful and spacious. Whoever did this lounge certainly got a lot of things right.




I thought of a couple of friends from Manila also in this general vicinity of Turkey who’d flown into Istanbul on other airlines at about the same time. Why are so many people I know in this area all of a sudden? Anyway, they were on business class as well but they were never going to see or enjoy this showpiece of a lounge because they were flying on other airlines back to Asia.

So near yet so far, and yet another missed opportunity.

FROM AUSTRIA WITH LOVE

This morning we started in Istanbul and flew to Prague where we rented a car and drove into Austria towards the German border, to the prosperous and pretty city of Linz. That sounds like a lot of travel on top of the miles we’ve been doing in the past three or four days alone; but to us at Travelife, the Philippines’ leading travel and lifestyle publication, it’s just another day in a never-ending and never-endingly eventful Travelife.




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