Air Berlin Business Class A330 Review TXL-MIA (And Lounge at TXL Airport)

This entry is part of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

Air France / Air Berlin / British Airways Lounge at Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL)

After spending our overnight connection at a nearby Holiday Inn, we arrived at Berlin’s Tegel airport bright and early for 9:20AM flight from Berlin to Miami. After two weeks abroad spanning many hotels and cities, we were anxious to get home!

Air Berlin Business Class passengers share a lounge with Air France and British Airways business and first class customers. When we arrived at the lounge, it was quite empty. I think it was just Ken and I plus one or two other guests. However, by the time our flight was ready to board, it had really filled up.

There was a decent amount of seating, but if the lounge got much more crowded, I’m not sure if there would be enough for all the guests!

Air Berlin Lounge at TXL - Berlin Tegel Airport | Shared with Air France Lounge Air Berlin Lounge at TXL - Berlin Tegel Airport | Shared with Air France Lounge Air Berlin Lounge at TXL - Berlin Tegel Airport | Shared with Air France Lounge Air Berlin Lounge at TXL - Berlin Tegel Airport | Shared with Air France Lounge Air Berlin Lounge at TXL - Berlin Tegel Airport | Shared with Air France Lounge

There were light snacks available, plus self-serve beverages, including beer and wine.

Drinks and Snacks at Air Berlin Lounge at TXL Drinks and Snacks at Air Berlin Lounge at TXL Drinks and Snacks at Air Berlin Lounge at TXL Drinks and Snacks at Air Berlin Lounge at TXL

When we checked into the lounge, the receptionist said she would announce boarding for our flight. When 9:00AM came and went, we decided to ask if they had started boarding, or perhaps there was a delay. She said, “Yes, they’re boarding now.”

Umm, thanks for the heads up!

We rushed to the gate, where we transited security (security was done at each gate, not at a central location), and got on board.

Air Berlin Business Class A330 Review TXL-MIA

When we boarded, the business class cabin was already quite full.

Air Berlin A330 Business class cabin

We took our seats in 1E and 1F. And while it was infinitely better than what coach would’ve been, I couldn’t help but think that our seats looked pretty squishy.

Air Berlin Business class seats

We were promptly offered drinks, and we both opted for orange juice.

Pre departure drink service on Air Berlin

We had plenty of legroom, and enjoyed streching out our legs.

Legroom on Air Berlin Business Class A330 Legroom on Air Berlin Business Class A330

But, I will say one thing. The seats were WAY too close together. I love my husband and all, but if we both had our arms on the armrests, our elbows always touched. And during the course of a 10 hour flight, that is really REALLY annoying.

It also didn’t help that the plane was swelteringly hot, so sharing body heat just worsened matters. I definitely would not recommend the E and F seats on rows 1, 3, and 5 on Air Berlin’s business class product, especially if you are traveling by yourself. It was bad enough touching elbows with my husband. You wouldn’t want that around a stranger. The seats A, D, G, and K have more privacy. (Check the seat map here).

Headphones were provided, and they worked well for the inflight entertainment. Seat controls were on my left hand side.

Air Berlin Business Class headphones Air Berlin Business class seat controls

There was this dire-sounding warning next to our seats:

Seat warning on Air Berlin

And there was a task light if needed.

Lighting on Air Berlin business class seat

The opening to get into your seat was really tiny. I know that Ken and I can stand to lose a few pounds, but it was a really tight squeeze.

Opening to get to Seats XX

We were served lunch, which I actually thought was quite tasty. (My apologies, I did not get a photo of the menu, and I’m not sure what these dishes were).

Meal service on Air Berlin Business Class - appetizer Meal service on Air Berlin Business Class - appetizer Meal service on Air Berlin Business Class - main course

And even though the dessert looked slightly off-putting, it was great!

Air Berlin dessert

And with that, we were full!

Air Berlin Business Class meal service

After lunch, we settled in for the long haul. However, thanks to the morning flight time, a good night’s sleep the night before, and traveling 10 hours all during daylight, we weren’t that tired. So sleeping to pass the time wasn’t really an option.

I watched three full movies: Behind the Candelabra, The Butler, and No Country for Old Men. (I had actually seen No Country for Old Men in the theaters, but I thought it was worth re-watching!)

At some point, Ken’s screen started acting up, and the flight attendant restarted it over and over until it started working again.

Inflight entertainment system on Air Berlin

And finally, after what seemed like a painfully long flight, we started our descent into Miami.

Air show on Air Berlin

The Service

I thought the service onboard our flight was impeccable. We had three male flight attendants, and each one was polite and attentive. They always made sure my wine glass was full, and always remembered which wine selection I had made. Even when Ken was having trouble with his TV screen, the flight attendants kept working on it until it was fixed.

Bottom Line

Although I definitely enjoyed having the extra space compared to coach, Air Berlin Business Class seats were quite small and way too close to neighboring seats. But, given how easy it was to redeem AAdvantage miles on Air Berlin with low fees, I’d definitely take Air Berlin again if that was the best option.


We’re Back from Russia! (A Quick Recap)

This entry is part 1 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

We’re back from Russia!  We’ve actually been back for about five days now, and I think I’m finally getting over the jetlag.  Our first three nights home I was in bed by 8PM each night.  Yikes!

So, what was the consensus?  We had a GREAT trip.  All of my fears and fitful sleep in the weeks leading up to the trip now seems so silly.  As soon as we arrived in Sochi, I instantly relaxed.  The entire city was like a fortress, and I didn’t have a worry in the world.  I cheered my heart out for Team USA and applauded the other teams.  It was a true sportsmanlike atmosphere.

Moscow and St. Petersburg were unlike anything I expected.  Both cities were very modern, and I never even saw any dashboard-cam worthy footage.  I guess I should be happy about that and not bummed!

We took nearly 3500 photographs during our two week trip, and I’m still sorting through them.  I need to curate them, edit them, caption them, post them to Facebook for my friends to see, post them here on the blog, and even eventually make a print album.

So, since I don’t have any pictures ready just yet, I thought I’d share with you my “Random Thoughts on Russia” to keep you entertained.  Photos (many, many photos) will be forthcoming.

Random Thoughts on Russia

Apparently Ken and I look Russian.  Everywhere we went, people spoke Russian to us.  If, for example,  an Olympics volunteer was giving guidance for where to go at an Olympic event, they’d tell us in Russian.  When we would say “We don’t speak Russian,” they’d easily skip to English and explain it to us that way.  This also happened in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Waiters and waitresses, museum ticket offices, and random strangers would always speak to us in Russian first.  We mentioned this to a tour guide we had one evening in Moscow.  He told us that there is no such thing as a stereotypical looking Russian.  So if you are white, then it is presumed you are Russian.  I told our guide that I thought I looked so stereotypically American.  I wasn’t wearing stylish clothes, I wore hiking boots instead of heels, and I carried around an SLR camera everywhere.  He said that didn’t matter.  There are many Russian speaking tourists, either from smaller Russian cities or former Soviet republics that come to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

That “Soviet Era” visual you may have of Russia is all wrong.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was expecting Russia to be a borderline third world country.  And, even though the Soviet Union fell 25 years ago, I was expecting supermarkets to be ill-stocked and clothing stores to sell basic, utilitarian items.  I was expecting traffic to be horrible and unsafe (thanks to watching all those Russian dashboard cam videos).  None of my preconceived notions was correct.  Moscow had three Cartier and Burberry stores in a three block radius.  We saw some beautifully stocked and arranged supermarkets.  The only “less developed” element I noticed was the air pollution.  Cars are filthy because when it rains or snows, there is basically soot in the rain that covers vehicles.

Streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg are VERY wide.  This seems like such a strange thing to point out, but it just stood out to us so much.  In so many large American cities, city streets are usually no more than two lanes each way.  Streets in Moscow and St. Petersburg were easily three or four lanes each way, making each street six or eight lanes wide!  There were a couple of explanations provided to us about this.  In Moscow, guides told us that 1) Stalin loved his parades, and therefore wanted nice wide streets to accommodate the parades.  He even tore down a 17th century structure in Red Square to make it wider.  And 2) St. Petersburg, founded in 1703, is a much “newer” city by European comparisons. When Peter the Great founded the city, he told the architects and designers to take advantage of the vast space, so buildings were not erected close together.  I’m not sure how I feel about that second explanation.  After all, there are many cities in the United States that are newer than 1703 yet still have much narrower city streets!  In Moscow, because of these wide streets, there were convenient underground walkways so that pedestrians did not have to cross the streets and affect traffic flow.

We never saw any dashboard-cam worth traffic incidents.  I’m not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed about this.  The traffic we saw was typically very orderly.  I was expecting to see Russians completely ignore stoplights and traffic laws, much like I saw when I lived in Egypt.  However, drivers yielded to pedestrians, obeyed traffic signals, and we even witnessed first hand that police enforce traffic laws.  We hired a tour guide and driver one evening in Moscow, and the driver got pulled over for making a right turn on red!  We were a bit nervous because we didn’t know what was going on, especially after the police officer made the driver get out of the car.  However, she was let off with a warning.  After the incident, our guide told us that corruption among police officers is decreasing in Moscow.  In the past, a police officer might have asked for a bribe, but with the increasing popularity of dashboard cameras, police officers do not want to be caught asking for bribes.

As they said on the news, security in Sochi was tight.  The city was a fortress.  During one of our bus rides from the coastal area to the mountains, I commented to Ken that there was virtually no traffic in the city, something I was not expecting.  Then we realized that the “ring of steel” that the Russians kept referring to, really was in effect.   I guess they weren’t letting hardly any vehicles on the roads.

The Olympic experience was amazing, Period.  Many people keep asking us, “So was Sochi ready?  Was it as bad as they said on the news?”  We thought Olympic Park was beautiful.  It was HUGE.  Transportation was very efficient and well organized.  Multilingual Olympic volunteers wearing those trademark colorful jackets were so numerous, you were never more than a few feet away from help.  As mentioned above, security was impressive.  But, since people are constantly asking us if anything was “wrong” in Sochi, I thought I’d point out a few (very petty) things I noted.

  • There were several landscaped areas with trees in Olympic park that seemed to be unfinished.  In one area, there were trees planted in the dirt, but only a single row of sod.  So it appeared that they wanted to sod some areas but either ran out of time or resources.

  • There was an ugly elevated scaffolding walkway featured prominently by the medals area.  It looked like it was probably intended to be some sort of finished, constructed walkway but that they ran out of time and built it with scaffolding instead.

  • The wait to get in the Olympics souvenir “superstore” was routinely 3+ hours long.  There were a few smaller “kiosk”-like souvenir stores in the arenas and venues, but those also had 30+ minute long waits. To make matters worse, the kiosks closed as soon as the events were over. Because of that, I almost didn’t buy any Olympic souvenirs.  But, after the speed skating event, I begged the kiosk store employees to let me in, saying I knew exactly what I wanted to buy.  They were kind enough to let me in.  Luckily, there was another large Olympics store in Moscow, so we bought most of our souvenirs there.  It was only a two hour flight from Sochi to Moscow, so we joked that you could fly to Moscow to buy your souvenirs in a shorter amount of time than it would’ve taken to stand in line at the superstore in Olympic Park.

  • The food selection was really awful in Olympic Park.  I’m not terribly picky when it comes to food.  I like trying new foods when I travel.  Ken is fairly picky, but enjoys fast food and other vendor-like foods.  But we both thought the food was awful.  And we weren’t the only ones to think that.  There was a woman who we met at a Moscow restaurant and she asked us if we liked the food at the restaurant.  It was kind of random (she had started to put her coat on Ken’s chair while he was up getting food and I tried to motion for her not to put it there.  She, of course, spoke Russian to me, but when she realized I spoke English, she quickly switched to English).  A few minutes of conversation ensued, and we mentioned how we had been in Sochi a few days earlier and the food was not good.  And she heartily concurred, “No, food in Sochi very, very terrible.”  On the upside, food was very reasonably priced.  Definitely not the exorbitant prices you would pay at a sporting event like a Major League baseball game or NFL game.

  • Olympic Park was almost TOO big.  Walking from the entrance of the park to the arenas area took nearly 30 minutes (and that’s only if you didn’t stop anywhere along the way.)  And, there was only one way in and out of the park, so when your event ended in one of the arenas, you had to walk ALL the way back to the way you came in.  Obviously this was my first Olympics, so that might be normal.  But I did visit Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta back in 2008, and I was kind of expecting something more compact like that.

Russians seem to have a low tolerance for cold.  As you probably heard on the news, Sochi was quite warm.  The same day that 12 inches of snow shut down DC while we were away, it was 63 degrees in Sochi.  But Russians continued to wear their heavy parkas and gloves all around the park!  I was totally perplexed.  It was definitely colder in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but nothing worse than the cold we have had in DC this winter.  (I would like to thank the Polar Vortex for making the Russian winter seem downright balmy).  But any time we would briefly walk with our coats unzipped or gloves off, people were immediately concerned that we would freeze to death.

 


Russia Trip Planning (Russia 2014 Trip Report)

This entry is part 2 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

This trip to our first Olympics events ever started with one task … buying the Olympic Event tickets.

This took place in early February 2013. The Olympics, obviously, were not taking place until February 2014. That meant that we had to buy our Olympic tickets about 380 days prior to when the Olympics would start. And that presents a few minor problems. Since you can’t book airfare until 330 days from your intended departure, that meant that we had to buy Olympic Event tickets before knowing if there would be points options to get us to Sochi, or how much airfare would cost.

Also, most hotels also don’t allow booking until 365 days prior to your arrival. Which meant that we had no idea how much hotels would cost in Sochi during the Olympics!

Sure, we could estimate by checking airfares and hotel rates for December 2013 and January 2014, but there was no guarantee that they wouldn’t jack up the costs for the Olympics or pull award space.

So, it was quite the leap of faith. We spent $700 on Olympic event tickets well before we knew how much it would cost to actually travel to Sochi and stay there!

Prior to the 330 day window, it looked like Turkish Airlines would be our best bet for getting to Sochi. I definitely wanted to try Turkish Airlines’ long haul Business Class product, and it would cost us 50,000 United Miles each for our Business class tickets all the way to Sochi. I had plenty of miles sitting in my Chase Ultimate Rewards account that could be transferred to United, so that was no problem.

We’d have fly from Washington Dulles Airport to Istanbul, have about an eight hour layover, and then take a short, 1.5 hour flight from Istanbul to Sochi. The flights from Istanbul to Sochi only operated on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so that limited our options a bit. To arrive in Sochi on Wednesday February 12 for our first event, we’d have to depart Washington on Monday the 10th. So our itinerary would go like this:

Monday January 10 at 10:40PM: Depart Washington for Istanbul
Tuesday January 11 at 4:30PM: Arrive Istanbul
Wednesday January 12 at 12:05AM: Depart Istanbul for Sochi
Thursday January 12 at 4:05AM: Arrive in Sochi.

We also decided that, since we were already in Russia, we’d visit Moscow and St. Petersburg for three days each after Sochi.

Booking the Flights

The Flights to Sochi. All of March I kept stalking United Airlines’ website for award space on Turkish Airlines. As each day approached 330 days in advance, award tickets were still available.

Then it became 330 days prior to the Olympics start date. Award availability vanished. There were still plenty of award tickets for the Washington > Istanbul leg, but not for the Istanbul > Sochi leg. I checked Turkish Airlines website, and they were selling the Istanbul > Sochi leg that we needed for about $175 each in coach. I decided to wait a few days. There was some award availability that opened for Olympics time period for like the 17th and 19th of February, but those dates wouldn’t work for us.

I decided to book the Washington > Istanbul leg to guarantee our choice for Business class seats on Turkish Airlines for the long haul portion of our trip. And I figured I’d wait it out to see if award space ever showed up for the Istanbul > Sochi segment, and then I’d just pay a small fee to United for changing our destination on the award ticket.

There is something so satisfying about booking business class seats on a 10 hour flight for just $2.50 each

But alas, two months went by and award space never opened up on Turkish for the Istanbul > Sochi segment. So, I finally decided to pay for the Turkish Airlines coach seats, but by the time I booked them about two months later, the price skyrocketed from $175 each to over $400 each! I was so, so mad at myself for not booking the tickets when they were so much cheaper.

I researched some alternate itineraries on American Airlines that have us starting in Moscow or St. Petersburg instead of ending there like our original plans, but award space from Sochi was just as nonexistent (or incompatible with our dates) as the award space going to Sochi.

So, I bit the bullet and purchased the very expensive Turkish airlines tickets for Istanbul > Sochi. One good thing about that inflated price was that they were refundable tickets. So, if award space ever DID open up on that leg, I could cancel my paid ticket and get a refund.

With those segments of our trip in place, I started planning the rest of our itinerary. From Sochi, we’d fly to Moscow. From Moscow, we’d take the train to St. Petersburg. And we’d fly back to the United States from St. Petersburg.

(Spoiler alert: I checked. And checked. All the way up until the day before our departure. Award availability for the Istanbul > Sochi segment never opened, so we were stuck paying that inflated fare for just a 1.5 hour flight. )

Flights to Moscow. S7 airlines, a Oneworld partner, was going to be our best bet for getting from Sochi to Moscow. It is a short hop flight from Sochi to Moscow, so I was hoping that this would be a good value to use some British Airways miles I’ve had sitting around. But, it appeared that S7 had removed all award availability during the Olympics. Double bummer! But, those tickets were very reasonably priced, and again, refundable. So I bought them.

Flights Back to the United States. Our trip home from St. Petersburg was actually the easiest leg to book. Air Berlin, another OneWorld Partner, offered a daily flight from St. Petersburg to Berlin. From Berlin, we would fly AirBerlin from Berlin to Miami, and then American Airlines from Miami to Washington Reagan National Airport. No paid segments necessary. Award availability was plentiful and easy to book all right on aa.com. For two business class seats, we used 100,000 AAdvantage miles for the entire leg. (However, the St. Petersburg > Berlin segment would be a single class aircraft, so no business class would be available.)

Booking the Hotels

I then proceeded to book hotels for Moscow and St. Petersburg. (The hotel situation for Sochi was still looking dreadful). It was pretty much a no brainer that I wanted to stay at the Ararat Park Hyatt in Moscow. It would cost 22,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night (pre-devaluation). For our three night stay, I transferred 66,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to my Hyatt Gold Passport account and made the reservation. Done and Done.

I spent a little more time selecting our hotels for St. Petersburg, but ultimately decided on the W St. Petersburg, a Starwood property. Award redemptions were 12,000 SPG points per night. Only I had very few SPG points. So, back in August when SPG had an increased sign-up bonus, I signed up Ken for the SPG card in his first ever App-o-Rama! The 30,000 bonus points + 5000 minimum spend equaled 35,000 SPG points, meaning we only had to spend a bit more on the card to reach the 36,000 points required for our three night stay at the W. By November, I booked our stay.

The woes for getting a hotel in Sochi were seemingly neverending. I searched for hotel availability (and not just award stays, I mean ANY availability) for any hotel multiple times PER DAY for months. I talked about these problems at length previously, so I won’t rehash it all here, but we ended up booking one of the many cruise ships that the Russian government chartered to serve as extra hotel rooms during the Olympics. We booked the Grand Holiday. It was much more expensive than I had ever hoped to spend, $1500 for four nights for two people, but at least it included all meals and it would be in a very safe location. Plus, the location was fantastic.

Getting a Russian Visa

After we booked our hotels, we had to request our “Visa Support Letters” from our hotels. This meant we had to send the hotels some information, including our passport information, and then they would e-mail us back a letter on hotel letterhead specifying the details of our stay. Their letter includes their special designated code number that you have to include on your Russian Visa application. I am happy to report that requesting the Visa support letters from the Hyatt, W, and Grand Holiday cruise ship was very straightforward.

Now that we had the Visa support letters, we had to apply for our Russian Visa.

If you hear folks talk about getting a Russian Visa, it kind of falls in the category of things like root canals, flat tires, and fights with health insurance companies. I won’t go into all of the requirements here (You can read all about the requirements on the State Department’s website), but I will say that most people recommend that you use a Russian tourist visa agency to process your paperwork.

But we live right here in the Washington, DC area, and any time I have needed a visa for a foreign country, I just go to that country’s embassy. Well, perhaps they were just shills for the visa agencies, but I read on many internet forums that applying for the visa in person at the Russian embassy is a huge pain. That they’ll reject your application for any minor reason, and then you have to pay another application fee to have it processed again. For instance, I came across this advice on the TripAdvisor forums for Sochi.

“The Russian consulate is incredibly pickly and will reject applications for the most trivial of reasons. The visa agents have been through all this and will check your application before submitting it to ensure all info will pass muster. Going in person yourself can be very time-consuming and not always successful. On no account should you send your passport via a courier service direct to the consulate. If you can’t go in person, definitely use an agent.”

I have no idea if there was any truth to these rumors, but it was enough to convince me to use a Russian Visa Agency. We used Travisa. They do have offices right here in the DC area, so at least we didn’t have to pay for the outrageous shipping fees ($35 per passport) that non-locals have to pay.

We filled out the online application for a Russian Visa. That took about three hours total for my application alone. They required employment history, education, foreign travel, etc. going back a decade. So it took me some time to look up the required information, like my boss’s phone number from two jobs ago and the address of my university.

So one day in December, Ken and I went to the Travisa office with all of our paperwork (printed copies of our completed application, our visa support letters, copies of our airfare and hotel reservations, copies of our Olympic tickets voucher, etc.). We were there about a total of 45 minutes. A person reviews your application line-by-line, making sure there were no mistakes, typos, etc. Somehow Ken had managed to leave the line blank for his “current employer,” so the representative made him fill that out. The application then had to be reprinted, which took some time.

Combined, we spent $370 for our Russian visas.

However, make sure if you ever need a Russian Visa that you triple check all your paperwork that you bring with you. My brother-in-law’s visa support letter from the hotel had two digits of his passport number transposed. He couldn’t get a hold of the hotel visa support office since it was already late in the evening in Russia, so there was no one available to fix the letter. So Travisa turned him away and he had to come all the way back to have his visa processed another day.

About two weeks later I went back and picked up my passport and Ken’s, and verified that all of the information on the visas was correct, and that was it. All of the critical logistical elements of our trip were complete, and we would be on our way to Russia in just a little over six weeks!

Have you ever had to fill out a very detailed visa application form for Russia or another country?


Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse – Washington Dulles Airport

This entry is part 3 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

We were flying Turkish Airlines from Washington, DC Dulles Airport to Istanbul, Turkey. Turkish Airlines does not have a lounge at Dulles, but I had read online that business class passengers are allowed to use the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 11:30PM, so I wasn’t even sure the lounge would be open. But I found this thread on FlyerTalk that said it would almost certainly be open.

Sure enough, when we checked in at the Turkish Airlines ticket counter, the ticket agent told us we could use the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse. After transiting security, we made our way to the gate area first and sat there for a few minutes before making our way to the lounge.

Once we got to the lounge, we were so thankful for the quiet atmosphere. Right next to our gate there was a Qatar Airways flight departing for Doha. The gate area was pandemonium with all the announcements and passengers lining up to board.

In the lounge, we settled in a cozy sofa area in the corner.

The lounge had plenty of seating, and I really enjoyed the lighting scheme. I thought it was very calming.

There was an upstairs area, but it was closed for the evening.

And it had a small business area with desk chairs, pens and paper, task lighting, and easily accessible outlets.

Every lounge I’ve ever been to at a US airport has had pretty lousy food options (usually just some crackers, yogurt, and drinks, etc.), so I had actually grabbed a sandwich from Potbelly and ate it in the gate area before we went to the lounge. So I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse had a small menu to order from! Ken ordered the Clubhouse Burger, which he said was pretty good.

The menu also contained information for logging in to the lounge’s free WiFi.

I should point out that I was a nervous wreck. I had been so worried about going to Sochi, and now here we were, about to board the first leg of our trip that would take us there. Plus, despite flying regularly my entire life, I still get a little nervous before getting on planes. My stomach was doing flip flops!

About 50 minutes prior to flight departure, the lounge receptionist announced that the flight had started boarding. So we gathered up our things and headed back to the gate.

But the flight had not, in fact, started boarding. And since the gate area was so crowded, we didn’t have a place to sit down until the boarding actually started about 5–10 minutes later.

Business class passengers had a dedicated line, so once boarding was announced, we were on our way!


Turkish Airlines Business Class (IAD-IST)

This entry is part 4 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

Flight Details

Flight TK8
WASHINGTON, DC (IAD – Dulles) – Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
Depart: 11:30 PM EST, Monday, February 10, 2014
Arrive: 4:45 PM EET, Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Seats: 4A and 4B

Date Booked: May 8, 2013
Total Out of Pocket Cost for Two Adult Passengers: $5.00

I was really excited to be trying out Turkish Airlines’ Business Class. Turkish Airlines has updated all their A330–300 aircraft with new lie-flat business class seats. But they have not upgraded their A340–300 aircrafts, so they still have the older, angle-flat seats. So, when I booked this ticket back in May, I was bummed to see that our flight would be an A340.

But then I read that Turkish Airlines is known for changing out their aircraft on a whim. So I wished and hoped that we’d end up flying over on an A330–300 instead. In the weeks leading up to our flight, I stalked FlightAware’s information for Turkish Airlines Flight 8. It seemed that nearly every day, the flight was scheduled to be a A340. But when the flight actually departed, it was an A330. So I held hope! My sister and her family, who were also going to Sochi via Istanbul on that same flight, but two days earlier than me and Ken, reported that her flight was also an A330 despite being scheduled as an A340. The morning of our flight, I saw that the Turkish Airlines flight that had departed Istanbul for Washington Dulles (which is the same plane they turn around and fly back to Istanbul), was an A330. Score!

As we boarded, the business class cabin was already almost entirely full. Ken and I took our seats in row 4, and I started snapping some photographs. As

The business class cabin is arranged in a 2–2–2 configuration with five rows.

Ken’s legroom shot, stretching his legs from the seated position all the way to the bench in front of him. There was a small cubby in the bench to store small carry-on items. There was a second, very narrow cubby intended to hold your shoes.

The in-flight entertainment system was available to use immediately, even before takeoff, which I had never seen before. Below the IFE screen were the blankets and pillows provided.  In between the IFE screens were two smaller cubbies that were used to hold headphones or other small items.

We were offered beverages as soon as we got comfortable in our seats. One thing that threw me for a loop was their cell phone policy while still at the gate. I always call my dad very briefly to let him know when I am onboard a flight. I called my dad, and Ken called his dad as well. But the flight attendant came up to us and told us that we could not use our cell phones. The cabin doors were still open, so I guess Turkish Airlines just has a different policy than domestic airlines.  But it kind of bothered us because the flight attendant was really rude about it. Surely she knows that cell phones are allowed while cabin doors are open on US domestic flights?

Turkish Airlines did not provide pajamas, but I had worn pajama-type lounge pants under my jeans. After takeoff, I took off my jeans and got comfortable just wearing my pajama pants.

Ken had fun trying out the seat recliner controls shortly after takeoff.

For reference, he is 6’2″ tall, and he did not feel cramped at all in the lie-flat position.

Considering our 11:40PM departure, dinner was served almost immediately. These were the menus provided.

The wine list and other drinks.

I was not impressed with the food, which was really disappointing because I had heard so much hype. There was a cold salad served with the main dish (in the top right corner of the picture) that was so terrible I spit it out in my napkin. I’m pretty sure it was the Leeks in Olive Oil salad listed on the menu.

Please forgive the absolute blurriness of the food photos. For this trip, I had asked my doctor to prescribe something that would help me sleep on the flight, especially considering my nervousness about going to Sochi. I took the medication as soon as we got on board the flight. By the main course, I literally almost fell asleep in my tray of food. Ken called for the flight attendant to take my tray, and I missed dessert. So I was pretty out of it while taking these photos!

After they took away my tray, I reclined my seat into the flat position, arranged my pillow and blanket, and fell asleep.

Ken snapped this photo of me while I was sleeping. I look pretty cozy! I liked the little electric tealights that the flight attendants had distributed. It added a neat little ambiance.

When I woke up, I didn’t look at my phone to see what time it was. I figured we were probably about halfway over the Atlantic. I turned on the Air Show on the in-flight entertainment system to find that we were over Germany! I had slept for six uninterrupted hours, which is insanity. No matter how tired I am on a flight, I’m usually too nervous to sleep. And when I do sleep, I’m woken up by even the slightest jolt of turbulence. So I guess getting that prescription was a good call!

Within about an hour of waking up, flight attendants started serving breakfast. They had provided breakfast menus when we departed so that we could fill them out in advance and wouldn’t have to be woken up to make our selections.

The breakfast was much better than the dinner, but still mediocre.

Funny how messy seating areas get on such a long flight. (Note the Turkish Airlines slippers they provided).

Considering my long sleep, I didn’t have time to enjoy any of the movies or TV shows that ran on-demand. But they did have a HUGE selection, and the system was easy to navigate with the remote control next to the seat.

The flight attendants then came around and gave Valentine’s Day chocolates.

I was pretty disappointed with the service on Turkish Airlines. We asked a flight attendant, the same one that had yelled at us for using our cell phones at the gate, if she would take our picture. She said no! I was really appalled. Luckily a different flight attendant we asked later happily took our photograph.

I was also disappointed with how early they stopped service and started cleaning up the cabin. About 45 minutes prior to our arrival in Istanbul, I asked the flight attendants for another glass of red wine, and they said no, that it had already been put away. We hadn’t even started our descent yet! Then the flight attendants came through the cabin like tornadoes, grabbing up blankets, pillows, trash, and other items and shoving them into overhead bins.

There were also major language barriers with the flight attendants. No one seemed to have a strong command of the English language. Simple requests for things like “orange juice,” “merlot,” and “extra fork,” were met with blank stares.

As we started our descent, I was amazed by how dense the city of Istanbul was. The city seemed to sprawl for miles and the buildings were so close together!

We had a nice gentle landing, which I loved watching on the IFE system!

Despite my complaints with the food, the less-than-pleasant flight attendants, and the too-early cleanup, I would definitely travel Turkish Business Class again! The seats were amazingly comfortable and well worth our $5.00 + 100,000 United MileagePlus points!