18. GRU-IST on TK in J

18. GRU – IST on TK in J

Sao Paulo, Brazil – Istanbul, Turkey

TK 16

Departure Time: 3:00AM

Airbus 340-300

Business Class Seat 3K

Duration 12 hours, 50 minutes

We arrived in Sao Paulo airport around midnight, and came to the Turkish Airways check-in area.  The line for economy check-in was pretty long, and even the Business Class line had about 10-12 people ahead of us waiting to check-in.  It appeared that the Business Class cabin had multiple families who were traveling together.  I took a quick glance at www.flightstats.com for the flight loads, and it looked like Business Class would be full.  After waiting in line for about 25 minutes, we were issued our boarding passes, and directed to the Gol Smiles lounge just past immigration.

We were both looking forward to this long-haul business class experience.  Until recently, this flight was served by a 777 aircraft with horizontal, lay-flat seats.  On the last schedule change, Turkish swapped this plane to an older A340-300, with inclined, lay-flat seats.  I searched online for trip reports of the Turkish A340 business class, but didn’t find any with photos, or especially of the seats.  So I wanted to make sure I captured a good bit of the feel of this very long-haul flight.
The entrance to the Smiles Lounge, which serves Turkish Airways customers in Sao Paulo
Measley food selection in the Gol Smiles lounge
Drink station, including some complimentary booze
The look and feel of the Gol Smiles lounge.

Overall, we were very unimpressed with this lounge.  Just across the way was a TAM lounge, which we had access to by virtue of our US Airways Chairman Status giving us Star Alliance Gold Lounge access.  However, the TAM lounge, which is much nicer than the Gol Smiles lounge, closed at midnight, and we were stuck in the Gol lounge.  The Gol lounge was bland, spartan, and kind of dreary.  Was it better than waiting in the main terminal area?  Sure, free bottled water, booze, or some snacks are better than nothing.  But this is not the kind of place I would want to hang my hat for a while.  Boarding was to take place starting at 2:05AM, so we left the Gol lounge around 1:30AM, just to get a change of pace.
We were departing out of gate 27 at Sao Paulo Terminal 2.
The A340-300 to take us the 13 hour jaunt to Istanbul.  It had previously arrived from Buenos Aires (EZE), where it did a 5th freedom flight EZE – GRU.  All passengers from this flight were unloaded at GRU and had to reboard.
The crew marching to the gate, about 15 minutes before boarding.  They were looking fresh and ready for the challenge of a 13 hour, full flight.

Right at 2AM, they called for Business Class boarding, and we were amongst the first to board.  My initial impression of the interior cabin was that it was decent, and the seats looked comfortable enough.

View looking backwards from seat 3K
View looking forwards from seat 3K
The pillow and blanket provided.  While the blanket was comfortable, and somewhat “down”, it was not very long, and only covered part of my torso.  This did not end up being an issue while I slept, but I found it odd to adjust to.
A view of the “bar” staging area at the front of the cabin, where the crew prepared drinks they would serve throughout the flight.  You can also see the cupholders, and the excellent size of the TV screen.
We were served fresh mint lemonade upon boarding.
An amenity kit was passed out, with some decent goodies.  I had my own eye-shade and earplugs, but used the socks, and pocked the toothpaste, hand cream, and lip balm.  Newspapers were also passed out, and I went with the Wall Street Journal weekend edition.
A menu was passed out, with the name of each passenger written at the top.  There would be 2 meals on this 13 hour flight, a breakfast just after take-off, and a dinner about 2 hours before landing.  We were very tired for this 3AM departure, but decided to stay up and fill our bellies with the breakfast, and then go to sleep.  The breakfast sheet on the left was to be filled out with a pencil with our selections and turned in to the flight attendants.  The dinner choices would be verbally made later when they begun the dinner service.
A pretty solid breakfast, including some fresh fruit, a cheese plate, and some sliced ham and mushrooms.  Coffee and Orange Juice also came out as a default.
Here is the view of the seats, one fully flat, the other just in recline “chillax” mode.  We both agreed the seats in full flat were only marginally comfortable, and certainly not as comfortable as the full-flat LAN 787 or 767 we had taken a couple weeks prior.  For one, the seat around the legs/feet area would not stay up, and when pressure was applied by your feet, as if you are just laying in bed, the seat would “give” and lose its full-flat stature and put your feet towards the floor.  This was the main grievance about the seat, which otherwise were generally comfortable.

During breakfast, we each watched a movie from the relatively extensive in-flight movie selection.  I went with Jack Reacher since I had recently read my first Jack Reacher novel.  It was pretty entertaining, although Turkish Airlines censored some of the scenes for violence and language.

After eating, we put in on our eye-shades and ear-plugs, and went to sleep.  The seats were alright, although some tossing and turning was had.  I woke up after some-time, and after the tossing and turning figured I had only slept 2-3 hours, and was very surprised to find 5 hours of sleep had gone by!  Lady Toqueville had also gotten in 5 hours of sleep.

View of our progress 7 hours in, after 2 hours of meal/movie and 5 hours of sleep.  We were already over the Sahara desert, wow!
Grainy view of other passengers sleeping.

We woke up and watched a movie together, Identity Thief.  It was alright, and had some good laughs, but was premised on some ridiculous assumptions to make some of the scenes happen.  And the movie definitley quoted the song “my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard” about three times too many.

With about two hours to go, they started the dinner service.  Turkish Airways is very unique in that they have an in-flight “chef” in their business class cabin.  Yes this is a grown man, who wears a white chef’s costume and had, and is presumably the one preparing and helping to serve the food.  In reality, it just felt like he was another flight attendant.  He was very helpful, but we saw him in the aisles quite a bit, taking meal orders and delivering out courses as they came out of the galley.  I wouldn’t call having the chef a gimmick, but it wasn’t much different than an extra set of hands in the cabin.
The first course was a food trolley of awesome Turkish appetizers like Tabbouleh, Burek, Asparagus, Eggplant, and yogurst sauce.  You can also see the “chef” in the other aisle serving customers.
The next course was potato leek soup, with olive tapenade bruschetta.  The soup was delicious.
For the main course we had Turkish Airways hallmark dish, Shish-kebabs serviced with Potato Gnocchi in a mustard sauce.  Both were pretty solid, and a delicious treat at 35,000 feet in the air while reclined.  We also paired some Turkish rose and white wine to go with each of our courses.  Not a bad way to travel!
Dessert course one included more fresh fruit, and cheese.

Dessert course two was a Turkish sweet pastry, I forgot the name, but I think it was Phyllo roles.  They were also tasty, especially with the chopped pistachios on-top.

For a 13 hour flight, it went by pretty quickly.  We both felt like 5 hours of sleep was a good result, and the movies, meals, and chatting kept us entertained.  There wasn’t much turbulence, and the cabin crew did a solid job handling the full business class cabin.  I would say they weren’t 100% attentive, at least twice we had to ask for refills on water or wine.  Overall, this is the kind of first world problem I like to have, and felt comfortable on this flight.

We landed in Istanbul at 9PM the same day, almost 1 hour early.  After a quick taxi, we were at our gate and amongst the first passengers off the plane.  The line to purchase the Turkish $20 visa was empty, and with our business class boarding cards we could use the priority immigration line in Istanbul, which we were also through in seconds.  With only carry-on bags, we whisked by customs, and were out in the arrivals area from the plane in less than 10 minutes.  We had pre-arranged a taxi pick-up, and a driver coordinator was standing in the arrivals hall with a sign with our name on it.  While we were waiting on the driver, we went by the ATM to get some Turkish Lira, and by the time we were done we walked out with the driver coordinator to meet the driver outside on the curb.  He helped us with our bags, and minutes later we were on our way to Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district for a one-night stay.


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