After a good night’s sleep in our Miami Airport Hotel, Steve (DOS) and I had relaxing day at the hotel before our 10:30pm flight to Istanbul. Like any major trip we always arrive the day prior to the departing airport or cruise port, just in case of delays or cancelations. We had taken the new Brightline Train from Orlando to Miami yesterday, and while we could have done a same day connection to our night time flight, it was much more relaxing and less stressful staying at the Residence Inn Miami airport the night prior to our international flight, in case of train delays.
We got a 4pm late checkout at the Residence Inn Miami due to my Marriott Platinum status, but as we didn’t leave for the airport until 6pm, we had the front desk store our luggage for a couple hours while we had an early dinner at Champion’s Sports Bar, conveniently located next door in the Marriott Courtyard Hotel. As the sports bar did not open until 4pm, we were the first customers of the day. DOS and I split a chicken quesadilla, and I had a couple brewskis, but (to my later regret) I didn’t have any other food, thinking the Turkish Airlines Lounge would have plenty of food to choose from based on all of the other International Business Class Lounges we’ve been too. Wrong-oh, as we would soon find out.
Walking from our Residence Hotel to the Courtyard Hotel along the pathways of this Marriott Hotel complex of properties in Miami.
We went back to our hotel after our stop at “Champion’s”, and took a couple evening photos as it was starting to get dark, and the Marriott complex of hotels was decorated in colorful lights.
We retrieved our luggage (which was fortunately still on the cart we had wheeled it to the front desk on), and were assisted by the Marriott shuttle driver for our ride to the airport. I felt bad for the driver lifting all of those heavy suitcases of ours as it was quite a huge step up to the van, but he said he was used to it, and we gave him a nice tip as well. Although the hotel is only a couple miles away from the airport, with traffic and 3 or 4 stops at the terminal prior to ours, it took about 15 minutes to get there.
We got to the Turkish Airlines Business Class check-in desk right at 6:30pm, when they opened for the 10:30pm flight. The check-in was quick and easy, and the agent checked our 4 bags all the way to Athens. While we were allowed 70 pound each for our checked luggage (all were just slightly under 50 pounds) I was a bit concerned when she weighed our 4 carry-on pieces (2 for each of us), as they were a bit heavy, definitely more than the 12 pound carry-on limit, but the agent just put a tag on each of them, with no comment on the 25 pounds or so weight.
This was our first flight on Turkish Airlines, so we were anxious to try their Business Class Lounge, as Turkish always gets raves about their in-flight food and service. They even have a chef on board! The Business Class lounge is located at Terminal area J, where we could see our gate J5 across the tarmac, perhaps a 7 minute walk. Unfortunately, we were both unimpressed and rather depressed with the amenities and lack there-of at Turkish Airlines Miami Lounge. (Jumping ahead a bit, the lounge at their gateway city of Istanbul, however, was immaculate, huge, and incredible in every way; the total opposite of the dumpy lounge in Miami. More on that in a moment.)
Although I am usually very positive in our travels and what I post, this however was an exception, and I can honestly say the Turkish Airlines Lounge in Miami has to be the worst International Business Class Lounge I have ever visited anywhere. The lounge was underwhelming in many ways (even compared to a regular US domestic airline club lounges): from its dreary and drab appearance, lack of cleanliness, lack of decent food and drink offerings, overwhelming crowded, not enough rest room facilities for the crowded lounge etc, etc, etc. The lounge allows all Star Alliance Airline partners access, and depending on your Elite status, you didn’t even have to be seated in Business Class to gain entrance. This was a major problem with the overcrowding and entire families entering the lounge, as one family could have status on one of the airlines (even flying internationally in Coach) and the whole family got in on their parent’s status. You could tell almost none of the people were flying Turkish Airlines, as our flight was the last to leave, and by 9:30pm, there were only a handful of people in the lounge and they seemed to have “black tickets” on their carry-on luggage or boarding passes, signifying Business Class.
American Airlines, United, Delta and others have a similar reciprocal setup with their respective partners, airlines, however American’s Flagship Lounges such as the ones located in Miami, Dallas, and Chicago at least are gigantic, are adequately staffed, and offer plenty of food and drink options, with plenty of restroom facilities.
When we walked in the Turkish Miami lounge, we could not find a clean table anywhere, so we sat at one that had several mostly finished drinks and uncleared plates on it, like the rest of the unoccupied tables in the lounge, and waited for someone to come and clean the table and sanitize it. There were no power outlets at or near each seat, so we ended up moving to another dirty table, again waiting on it to be cleared.
There was only one bartender who would sometimes disappear for a few minutes to get glasses or whatever, and all alcoholic drinks were served from the bar. Normally in International Business Class lounges, you can get beers from the fridge along with sodas and water, and usually large selections of wine available as well. Some even have self service liquor, although a bar for that at least is understandable.
The beer selection was a light beer (either Miller Light or Coors light, not sure which one it was), Yuengling, and Heineken, none of which I’m a fan of, but Heineken will do in a pitch. What little mostly Turkish food was on the food tables was mostly bare and if it was restocked, was quickly empty again. (I really regretted not having more food to eat at our earlier appetizer “dinner” at Champions Sports Bar at the hotel!)
Finally a huge gripe by everyone it seemed, was the lack of restroom facilities. At least for the men, there was only one urinal (which was out of order and had plastic wrapped around it!) and only two stalls which were always occupied with a waiting line by many of the male passengers in this jam-packed lounge. Not long before our flight I discovered someone had ripped all the plastic off the urinal, no doubt in desperation, and then the non-working urinal was overflowing onto the floor! Unbelievable! Ok, rant over, but shame on this travesty excuse for a Business Class lounge by Turkish Airlines. I’d be really surprised if the partner airlines, i.e. United, SAS, Lufthansa, and other passengers flying them weren’t upset about all this dump of a lounge as well and should complain with their respective airline.
Anyway, once we got to our gate J5, there were surprisingly few seats at the boarding area in this fairly modern terminal, so we stood and waited with others for Business Class to be called. After special assistance boarding, and then families with kids, Business Class was called, and we boarded our Boeing 787-900 aircraft to Istanbul.
Fortunately as bad as the Business Class lounge was bad, the Turkish Airlines aircraft, crew, and food were outstanding! The plane was immaculate, the flight attendants were many and outstanding, and the food and beverage choices were wonderful with a variety of cuisines available.
And yes they actually did have a Chef onboard, who passed out the two separate menus; one for the food options, and the other was an extensive wine and beverage menu. Here is DOS with the Chef prior to the flight departing.
Upon boarding we were quickly served a non-alcoholic selection of juices, including their signature berry drink (watermelon I think) with a strawberry floating in it. I had the signature berry drink, while DOS had an Orange juice.
I was seated in 4A, while DOS was in front of me in 3A. We had reserved 4A and 2A as the even seat numbers on the “A” side of the aircraft are a bit more private as they are against the window with an additional table surface to the right of your seat, while the odd number seats this is reversed, so the seat itself is closer to the aisle, but a family was traveling together and wanted to be across from each other, so we were moved a few days ahead of time; a bit irritating since we had reserved the seat a few months in advance, and they just moved us without asking us. Not a huge deal, but we do like the more private even number seats.
The flight itself was around 10 hours, and even though it departed nearly 1/2 hour late, we had a strong tailwind that made up for time in flight.
The meal was served as multi-courses, adorned with a fine presentation during each course. I especially liked the bread course setup with its olive oil, butter, bread linen miniature “chef hat”, and best of all ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of a mosque turret. DOS actually asked the Chef if he could buy a set online and he said no, but he could have his set. I wonder if DOS will remember these shakers when we get home or they’ll be in the storage closet with other “junk souvenirs” we have accumulated over the years! LOL!
I had the filet for my main course, along with the appetizers served as a separate course, and later dessert. I had two desserts actually, the chocolate cake, and also an assortment of cheeses. Dinner really was a treat, and Turkish Airlines really has a great and quality food, beverage, and service product.
The Chef even provided a mini LED “candle light” in a Turkish Airlines paper lantern-like shade, which provided a classy meal touch with the ambiance of a fine restaurant. I saved the “candle” after dinner and set it on my table-side storage area as a night light for the evening.
For entertainment, there were a ton of movies, TV shows, music channels, documentaries, etc, as well as the flight tracker which I always enjoy, showing our progress across the pond. I watched the movie “It’s a Beautiful Day in the neighborhood“, starring Tom Hanks, a heartwarming movie based on a true story of the interaction between an Esquire reporter and Mr. Rogers, the children’s TV host. I was surprised how well this movie was done, and it’s a wonderful story of self-acceptance, love, and forgiveness. The movie was released in 2019, and I highly recommend it for the story line and message. It’s not an animated movie, although they do show a few animated scenes as story scene changers with helps keep the movie in context of the storyline.
The 787 Business Class seat makes into a comfortable lie flat bed, and the Flight Attendants attached a soft padding to the back of the seat back before handing out large blankets and pillows. (There was a smaller blanket, pillow, and slippers in the footrest storage area upon boarding, but the sleeping blankets and pillows were larger and of much better quality.). The seat controls were easy to operate, and convenient located within arms reach to allow for different levels of recline, up to a full flat bed.
The Flight Attendants also passed out a nice quality Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit to all Business Class passengers.
I slept fairly well on this flight, and about two hours before landing, a hot breakfast was served in two courses: first a fruit plate, and second a choice of omelette or French Toast. DOS and I both had the French Toast which was delicious!
We landed in Istanbul (IST) International Airport almost on-time at 5:35pm, and had a fairly long taxi of 15 minutes or so to the gate. It was a bit odd seeing the sun setting prior to landing, as opposed to rising after the overnight flight, as most trans-Atlantic flights arrive in the early morning, and not evening. We actually enjoyed arriving in the evening, as it was a bit easier to adjust to jet lag this way as you could sleep upon arrival to the hotel, instead of being up all day the first day of the trip.
After thanking the flight attendants for the wonderful service, we departed the plane and exited to the international transfers area. Unlike American airports that don’t have an international transfers section, in Istanbul we did not have to go thru immigration nor get pre-screened for security again, and could head to our connecting gate, or stroll thru the GIGANTIC international terminal. The new ISP Airport terminal is unbelievable in size and amenities!
We had about an hour and a half for our connecting flight to Athens, so DOS and I went to the flagship Turkish Airline Lounge in IST.
As for the Istanbul Turkish Business Lounge , talk about night and day from the Miami Turkish Lounge – the one in IST (actually there are two identical lounges at opposite ends of the terminal) is off the charts awesome! In addition to the humongous size, there must have been at least a couple dozen different food areas for snacks, hot and cold food, coffee stations, popcorn, and multiple beverage stations with self service sodas, beers, and wines, and shower and large restroom facilities, all unlike Miami’s Lounge.
There was a TV news junkie area with several screens, a sport section displaying medals and memorabilia, multiple seating areas with different decor, including some overlooking the terminal itself, a model of cars driving around Istanbul, and even a golf teeing simulator!
We had a snack and I had a glass of wine while we waited for our connecting flight to Athens, which was only a bit more than an hour before boarding time, although it too was a half hour late departing.
Our connecting flight to Athens was on an Airbus 321 Neo, which had five rows of Business Class with a generous 40 inch or so pitch. (Seat Guru said 34 inch pitch, but it was at least 40 inch pitch, highly unusual for an intra Europe flight which many have the same pitch as Coach, but block out the middle seat.). This Neo aircraft had a nicer seat pitch and width than most US domestic airlines First Class; it was quite nice! An even though the flight was only an hour long, Turkish Airlines offered a full meal aboard, although minus the Chef from the long-haul international flight.
Again the service on this short flight was outstanding, and while the wine selection wasn’t that of the long-haul international flight, the Flight Attendants did offer wine in the single serving “Coach” type bottles.
We arrived in Athens around 8:30 pm, which was an hour earlier than Istanbul time, so we gained an hour’s time. Immigration and Customs was very quick at this late hour, and no long lines to deal with. We got 2 carts for our luggage; a bargain at only a Euro a cart, compared with some US airports than now charge $9 US dollars for one! We met our pre-arranged driver just outside of the international arrival area, and he assisted us to the waiting Mercedes Benz mini van. I joked on Facebook with the photo below: “How many people does it take to get The Steve’s luggage delivered from baggage claim to the ground transportation vehicle?” Answer: Three. Two to push the luggage carts, i.e. DOS and the Driver, and Three: Me Uno to photograph them pushing the carts! LOL!
The drive to our Grand Hyatt hotel was approximately 45 minutes, but the upside is it is closer to Piraeus, the port of Athens, for our cruise departure on Sunday, 4 days from now. We were initially assigned a corner room suite on the second floor, but wanted one on a higher floor for a better view of the Acropolis and Parthenon, not to mention less noisy due to the busy freeway in front of the hotel. (We were able to switch rooms the next day, with a move to the 7th floor corner room suite.)
We were both quite tired from the trip, but did stop by the 9th floor (top floor) lounge for a panoramic view of Athens, with the Parthenon lit ups in the distance. Quite a stunning site! We would switch to a room with an similar view the next day, and in a room just 2 floors below this lounge. I had a nightcap brewski, while DOS had a water, before we both headed to bed around 10:30pm.
Welcome to Athens!