Namaste! In mid-April, 18 months after the first visit (October 2014), we returned to Nepal, one of our favorite countries. We flew again with Turkish Airlines, a Star Alliance member, on-board an Airbus A330, this time in Business Class.
Our Nepali friends we've met back in October 2014 have invited us to spend New Year's Eve 2073 together with them, so we said "Yes" in less than two seconds. It's not like you're often celebrating two New Year's Eves in 12 months or traveling into the future! For those who don't know it, on April 13th 2016 Nepal ushered in year 2037 according to the BS (Bikram Sambat) calendar. Analyzing the flight schedules and layover times (the other options to fly to Kathmandu were flydubai via Dubai and Qatar Airways via Doha) we've chosen Turkish Airlines again. The fact that we were going to fly with a widebody aircraft, an Airbus A330-300, between Istanbul Ataturk and Kathmandu was also important. So we booked the ticket, packed and left!
We landed in Istanbul in the evening, after nightfall, to catch our connecting flight to Kathmandu. Despite the raindrops, we managed to take some cool shots of the city lights from above during the plane's descent to Ataturk International Airport. Alongside the rest of the Business Class passengers we were transferred to the airport with a dedicated minivan. Once there, we made our way to gate 504 to board the flight to Kathmandu. We would have liked to also experience Turkish Airlines' CIP Business Lounge, ranked amongst the best in the world, but there was no time to do this. "Next time!" we thought as we made our way through Ataturk airport.
Arriving at the gate, we had an unpleasant surprise from the TGS staff, responsible with the boarding procedures. We boarded the bus that were to take us to the apron where the Airbus A330 supposedly was, with the take-off scheduled for 01:20. After a very slow drive - the driver was in no hurry - which lasted 10-15 minutes, we finally reached that part of the airport. However, the aircraft was no there. Surprise! No sign of the A330, just an empty parking space. The driver calmly turned the bus around and, for another 10-15 minutes, we crawled our way back to the terminal. The second bus was still there. Obviously, some passengers from our bus got angry and started to question the TGS staff: "Why did we have to go all the way to the apron and back slower than a snail, losing half and hour or more? Didn't you know the aircraft was not going to be there?!" And they were right to be upset.
We were then told the flight to Kathmandu had a 30-minute delay. After 10 minutes or so, the TGS staff made a new announcement: "We are sorry to inform you that, due to operational reasons, the flight is delayed for two hours." "It happens", we said to ourselves. Although it was well past 01:30 AM, the passengers reacted more calmly than we expected, also taking into account the earlier useless bus drive to the apron and back. We got our boarding passes back and headed to the Turkish Airlines Business CIP Lounge we didn't have time to experience a few hours before.
Located next to gate 220, International Departures, the lounge covers an area of 3,000 square meters and has two levels. It can welcome up to 2,000 passengers in one day and offers - alongside a wide selection of cold snacks, hot dishes and drinks - private relaxation rooms, showers with special toiletry kits, a play room for children and a private infant room. Passengers may enjoy television and music system, daily local and foreign newspapers and magazines. CIP Lounge also includes a billiard hall, library and a Business Center complete with all necessary technical equipment including WLAN Internet. The lounge is available to First and Business Class passengers on all Star Alliance flights, Star Alliance Gold members and Miles and Smiles Elite members. Star Alliance Gold members and Miles and Smile Elite members may invite one guest. One hour and a half later we exited the lounge, heading to the Kathmandu boarding gate, agreeing that CIP Lounge ranks amongst the best Business Lounges we've tried so far worldwide. If you're transiting through Ataturk airport or departing from Istanbul, you definitely should experience it!
We don't know which were the operational reasons that lead to delaying the flight to Nepal, but once we arrived at the aircraft - this time it was there - we were in for a pleasant surprise. We were about to fly with the Airbus A330-300 (TC-JOH) painted just two days earlier in Euro 2016 livery. We're pretty sure we wouldn't have flown with this particular A330 to Kathmandu if it weren't for the operational delay. Speaking of special liveries, Turkish Airlines has four more A330s painted in different themes: TC-JNC "Kushimoto" retro livery, TC-LNB Star Alliance livery, TC-JIZ "Invest in Turkey" livery and TC-LNC "300th aircraft" livery.
Welcome on-board! On the IST-KTM leg we sat on the left side of the airplane (we knew from October 2014 that the Himalayas would be visible if the weather was clear) and on the return flight to Istanbul we chose a seat on the right side of the plane for the same reason. After boarding we were greeted with a choice of welcome drinks and the TK-made lemonade was the best lemonade we've sampled on an airline so far! Once on-board, we also got to know the Flying Chef, a young lady, always smiling. The Flying Chef concept was introduced by Turkish Airlines on its long-haul flights, in Business Class, back in July 2010. Trained by the renowned Do&Co Academy (Austria), the Flying Chefs assist the cabin crew in preparing and serving the dishes, also recommending the best wines to passengers depending on their choice of food. Moreover, these chefs see that the delicious dishes are cooked just as they should be: not too raw, not overdone. Turkish Airlines' CEO has repeatedly said the menus served on-board play an important role in the experience offered to TK's passengers above the clouds. A world-class experience we surely enjoyed.
Flying to Kathmandu took six hours, a smooth ride, the trip to Istanbul lasting seven hours and 40 minutes with slight turbulence above Iran. Both flights were full in Economy Class, while in Business the load factor was 60% to Nepal and 50% on the return flight. Although tired after a long day, we asked the cabin crew to wake us up at sunrise en-route to Kathmandu in order to take some cool photos. We love sunsets and sunrises - who doesn't? Due to the heat and the polluted air from Kathmandu - we found out it's the third most polluted city in the world - we didn't see the Himalayas before landing in Nepal, but we enjoyed seeing the snow-capped peaks on the way back to Istanbul while climbing out of Kathmandu to cruise level. Also on the return trip we had a closer look at the in-flight entertainment system (IFE), slept a bit and watched two movies. The graphic interface is modern and user friendly, with a prompt and smooth feedback, both on the remote control and on the touch screen integrated in the seatback.
The Planet digital system offers close to 350 films and short programs including Latest releases, Classics, Drama, Family, A-Z, International, Romantic, Comedy, Action, Turkish cinema and Children’s films as well as television series, dramas, documentaries, sports, travel, food, fashion and technology programs and cartoons; some 600 CD albums including Pop, 80’s, Pop & Rock, Jazz & Blues, Classical Latin, New Age, Oldies, World Music, Classical Turkish Music, Nostalgic Pop, Turkish Rock, Modern Folk, Turkish Spiritual, Traditional Turkish Folk, and Arabesque; and radio channels including Power XL Classical, Power XL Spiritual, Power XL Chillout, Power FM Popular Hits, Power XL Jazz & Blues, Power Turkish Hits, TRT Turkish Traditional Music and TRT Turkish Classical Music. An individual and multiple player Game channel, a Children’s channel and an Audio Book channel are also available.
In-flight connectivity enables passengers to send and receive text messages and e-mail. The news channel offers passengers world news, including economic, financial and celebrity news, as well as the weather report in text form. News is also given hourly and the weather report every four hours in an on-line broadcast. Connections enabling passengers to listen to, or watch on their individual screens, content on their personal iPods or USB devices are available on some B777 and A330 aircraft. Separate sections about Turkish Airlines’ fleet, Cargo and Frequent Flyer Program are also available along with a Destination Guide, a Turkey Info Guide, Airport Maps, Flight Maps and a Flight Camera. All passengers can watch the take-off and landing on two cameras mounted at the front of the aircraft and below. Music programs are available on Turkish Airlines long-haul and international flights. For those who want to stay connected above the clouds there's Wi-Fi and Live TV. The Business Class seats turn into 1,88 m fully flat beds at the touch of a button. A divider placed between seats assures the privacy when you need it. There is also a "Do not disturb" function. When activated, a red light is visible, letting cabin crew know that the respective passenger doesn't want to be disturbed.
We landed in Istanbul at sunset and, before reaching our parking position, we waited on the taxiway for 15-20 minutes as there weren't any available on the apron. A dedicated minivan took Business Class passengers to the terminal and we returned to the CIP Lounge to wait for our connecting flight back home, five hours later. There's one thing we're sure of: Turkish Airlines - which flies to more destinations than any other airline worldwide under the slogan "Widen Your World" - is growing rapidly. We see this in the continuous deliveries of brand-new aircrafts, in the lack of parking spaces at Ataturk International Airport and in the launched or announced routes. On a side note, there were 307 planes in Turkish Airlines' fleet. Six day later, when we returned, the number reached 311 aircraft. And counting! Teodor Stefan