28. LED-IST-SGN on TK in J

28. LED-IST-SGN on TK in J

St. Petersburg – Istanbul

TK 402

Departure Time: 6:45PM (Actual 7:15PM)

Airbus A321

Business Class Seat 4C

Duration 3.5 hours

After a great time in Russia, we arrived at the St. Petersburg Airport (LED) Terminal 2. You had to scan your bags through an x-ray when you came in.  Departures check-in is upstairs and as soon as we got up there we saw chaos.  The Departures Terminal was tiny and loaded with people in chaotic lines.  We looked on the Departures board and saw the flight to Istanbul on Turkish Airways used check-in desks 6-9.  However, we got to check-in desks 6-9 and saw it was an empty line for a Lufthansa flight to Munich.  I figured Turkish outsources its check-in at St. Petersburg to Star Alliance partner Lufthansa.  Nevertheless, I asked the Lufthansa check-in lady if this was check-in for Turkish.  She said it was but check-in does not start until 2 hours before the flight which wasn’t schedule to depart until 6:45PM.  We were there at 4:30PM, so we waited at the front of the line until Turkish staff pulled up and swapped out the Lufthansa signage with Turkish signage.  Right at 4:45PM we were called up to the check-in counter.

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The Lufthansa check-in counter for Munich.

The Turkish agent was friendly and gave us boarding passes all the way to our final destination, Ho Chi Minh City (A.K.A Saigon).  We would arrive in Istanbul, have a 3 hour layover, and then fly to Bangkok, stay on the same plane, and eventually get to Saigon.  I was very excited about all of these flights.  I knew that Turkish was flying an A321 from St. Petersburg to Istanbul.  Their business class on this place is amongst the most comfortable in Europe.  It is like USA First Class seats but better.  Big cushy seats that recline way more, personal TV screens, and better service.  Then, from Istanbul to Bangkok and Saigon, I knew Turkish Airways was flying the 777 they are wet leasing from Jet Airways.  Basically this means the plane is owned by Jet Airways, an Indian airline, repainted with Turkish Airways, and leased to Turkish while being operated by a Turkish crew.  This 777 has 3 cabins; First, Business, and Economy.  Turkish Airways only sells Business and Economy.  Therefore Turkish let’s Business Class travelers sit in the two rows which would normally be First Class, which means upgraded seats from even the comfortable lay-flat horizontal Business Class seats.  I had tried for weeks to snag row 1 or row 2 so we could sit in these amazing Jet Airways First Class seats.  However, it was always blocked off when I called the Turkish call center in New York City.  Worse, when doing on-line check-in for these flights, rows 1 and 2 were blocked off and shown as totally full.  Nevertheless, I thought I would at least ask at check-in here in St. Petersburg if they could make it happen.  And sure enough, they did!  The agent noted seats 1G and 1K were available which were next to each other.  Within a couple minutes, she spat out our new boarding passes with our new seat assignments.  Awesome!  First Class Suites time!

After check-in we cleared customs and immigration and went to the contract Business Class lounge most airlines use in St. Petersburg.  I didn’t expect much given Contract Lounges are usually pretty shabby.  This one was decent with alright food, plenty of drinks, strong internet, and boarding announcements for all outgoing flights.

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St. Petersburg Business Class Contract Lounge Entrance.

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They were changing out the food spread and had plenty of drinks around.

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The seating was moderately comfortable and on the better side for a contract lounge.

We cooled our heels at this lounge for about 90 minutes until time for boarding.  Boarding was hectic.  We had to clear security just for our gate and wate in a penned-in gate which was extremely hot from the setting sun turning it into a greenhouse.  It was packed.  Luckily we were standing next to a marble pillar which was excellent at absorbing our body heat and keeping us cool.  Only in Russia do you have a shabby, run-down airport with marble columns.

Anyway, we boarded the A321 and were welcomed to the new, functional, and comfortable seats in a cabin that was about 75% full.

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Big cushy seat a la US Airways new A321s.  Except these seats had more pitch, recline, and even a firmness adjustment.

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Oodles of leg-room.

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The flight attendant passed out some fresh mint lemonades during boarding.

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Menus were passed out.  We both went with the Eggplant Moussaka which was delicious.

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The Eggplant Moussaka hitting the spot on our flight from St. Petersburg to Istanbul.

The flight was very comfortable.  We watched the movie The Interns with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson which had just audibly cracking up.

We landed in Istanbul about 30 minutes late due to a late push-back in St. Petersburg.  We headed down the same hallway we had traversed two weeks ago on our Sao Paulo – Istanbul flight.  Instead of entering Turkey, we followed the signs for connecting flights.  We went through security and were quickly in the Istanbul Airport massive departures hall.  We headed back to the Turkish Airways Business Class lounge which we previously thoroughly enjoyed.

We were stuffed from the food on our flight so we only nibbled a bit in the lounge.  Since we had about 2.5 hours to kill I decided to take a shower before our overnight flight.  I went to the lounge Concierge(!) and requested a shower.  She took my boarding pass and put me on the list.  They called me about 5 minutes later to say the shower stall was now available. Man, was I impressed!  Brand new sparkling clean marble greeted me.  There were about 6-8 shower stalls like this one in the lounge.  I couldn’t help myself but blast some country music from my phone while undressing and getting ready to shower.  Cole Swindell was makin’ it happen for me.  I was just “chillin’ it”.

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A view of the shower room at the Istanbul Airport Turkish Airways Business Class lounge.  The water pressure was excellent.

After the shower, I felt refreshed.  We killed another hour in the lounge and then headed to our gate.  The boarding area was somewhat crowded and there was no separate line for Business Class from Economy.  They called boarding all at once and it was a bum rush to the gate agents for boarding pass scanning.  We were amongst the first few on and once on the plane were greeted by a big beautiful business class cabin.  Normally this would be where we would be, but as I mentioned before we were able to lock down the First Class Suites instead.  So we turned left and headed into First Class.

Istanbul – Bangkok

TK 68

Departure Time: 12:40AM

Boeing 777-300

First Class Suite (with Business Class Service) Seat 1G

Duration 9 hours

As soon as we got there we were both blown away.  The seats were full Suites with doors on either side that close and give you your own private cabana.  They were huge.  There were two rows of four suites each.  Lady Tocqueville had the Row One right side window, and I had the Row One right aisle Suite.  Eventually all but the one next to me, the Row One left aisle Suite would be occupied.  The other passengers also seemed excited to be in this First Class Suites cabin.  I suspect at least a couple were Turkish Airways employees.

There were no overhead bins to make it feel more spacious.  Our bags would either go in a coat closet or the business class overhead bins.

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A view of the Row One left side suite.

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A view of my seat from the ottomon on the far side of my seat.  The ottomon also had a seat belt so you could dine with fellow-passengers.  The table that pulled out into the middle is huge.

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Ridiculous seat controls, including: moving the seat closer to the ottoman or farther away; head-rest up-down; neck tilt; torso tilt; butt up-down; foot-rest; massage; the whole nine-yards.

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I had to take a sneak peak at business class.  Those lay-flat horizontal seats are pretty nice too, but I was very happy with our result.  That is my Eagle Creek Hovercraft 22″  in that overhead bin on the right.  It wouldn’t fit in a coat closet.

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A view of how large the in-seat TV Screen was.  I want to say it was like 22″.

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Turkish Airways passed out amenity kits in a nice Porsche Design case.  Since we were traveling light, we scavenged these with much needed items like lip balm and toothpaste and discarded the rest.

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A view of Lady Tocqueville’s suite with her doors closed for privacy.  We slept with these doors closed.

This 9 hour red-eye had two meal services, a dinner and a breakfast.  Dinner was first and menus with each passenger’s name on it were passed out.  Lady Tocqueville and I both went with the Spinach Ravioli.

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The Turkish Airways Istanbul – Bangkok menu.

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Some mezze to get the meal started.

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First course salad with Turkish sides on the left.  Yum!!!

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The spinach ravioli in all its glory.

We munched on our multi-course meal while watching The Great Gatsby on the movie system.  It was alright, although I never liked the book when I was forced to read it in high school.  The special effects and wardrobe were pretty cool though.

After our meal and movie, about 2 hours after take-off we went to sleep.  We both reclined the Suite seats all the way.  I am 6′ 4″ and had so much room it was ridiculous.  The seat slid out until it reached the ottoman.  I still probably had another 6″ of head clearance once I was fully flat.  I closed up the Suite doors, downed some Melatonin, and conked out.

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A view of the seat from the fully laying down view.  What a way to travel!

I got about 5 hours of sleep and when I woke we still had about 2 hours to go until Bangkok.  They served breakfast about 1 hour before I awoke.  I didn’t care as I was still full from the yummy spinach ravioli.

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View from the “Flight Navigator” of our flight with about two hours to go.  I slept from Turkey until Bangladesh.

We landed in Bangkok on-time.  When we arrived, most of the plane, including everyone else in the First Class Suites cabin deplaned.  Passengers continuing to Saigon were told to stay on.  So we stayed on and watched some more movies.  The crew changed to another crew, and after about 2 hours on the ground the new passengers arrived and we pushed back from the gate.

Bangkok – Saigon

Continuation of TK 68

Departure Time: 3:35PM

Boeing 777-300

First Class Suite (with Business Class Service) Seat 1G

Duration 1.5 hours

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A view of the empty First Class Suites cabin.  From Bangkok to Istanbul we had the entire cabin to ourselves.  It felt so exclusive and luxurious.  What a treat!

I went back to the rest of the plane and saw only 3-4 people in all of Business Class, and maybe a 25% load in Economy.  This was an empty flight!  Shortly after take-off the Flight Attendant passed out pre-packaged chicken sandwiches and offered us a drink.  The sandwich was pretty weak, but Lady Tocqueville and I enjoyed having our meal service together in her seat.

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What a hoot, private cabin meal service at 40,000 feet over the skies of Asia.

The flight was short and sweet and we landed in Saigon about 20 minutes early.  Lady Tocqueville and I had pre-arranged our visas on arrival in Vietnam.  We were the first off the plane and headed for the “Landing Visa” desk.

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A view of the “Landing Visa” desk.  You basically give them your passports, some paperwork, and passport photos.  30 minutes later they call your name and you bring them $45 per person for a one-time visa and they give you your passport back with your visa.  After getting our visas, we went through the short immigration line and were in the Saigon Airport Arrivals Hall.  After hitting the ATM, we went outside to the taxi line and negotiated with a taxi a 240,000 Vietnamese Dong (yes, the Dong) rate for a taxi to our hotel, the Park Hyatt.  This $12 ride took about 30 minutes.  We were at the hotel by about 7PM Saigon time.

It had been a long trip from St. Petersburg but incredibly comfortable.  Turkish Airways offers an exceptional long-haul product, and the First Class Suite was just the icing on the cake.