The stage had been set our first family trip together to Europe had suddenly been finalised. While I and my wife had our passport our seven-year-old daughter did not have a passport, with some luck and quick thinking within five days we managed to get a Tatkal passport for her. Once the passport was sorted our next most important decision was to select the best budget airless while keeping in mind some comfort and good service.
Since there were no direct flights from Kolkata to Rome we had to decide upon Mumbai or New Delhi as our departure point. The best option from Mumbai was Turkish Airlines while from New Delhi it was Aeroflot. Somehow for me, Turkey had always been a land of mystery and even though at that point of time we did not plan to visit the city during our transit still I wanted to at least try to look out for Blue Mosque from the airplane window. While Istanbul airport is very near to the main Istanbul city centre the same cannot be said for Moscow airport. So chances of venturing out were very much possible in Istanbul while for Moscow it was near impossible.
So we finally booked our tickets for the sector Mumbai – Istanbul – Rome with Turkish Airlines. From Kolkata, we booked with Jet Airways as the timing was perfect considering our office schedule. We booked the ticket through an online travel portal and the transaction was smooth. What was missing was the option to select the seat. Since it was a long flight and with a kid on the team, I would always go for a window seat just to keep it as an entertainment factor.
A little research online and I found out that some passengers were able to reserve a seat by contacting the Turkish Airlines. Since Turkish Airlines had an office in Mumbai so I decided to try my luck and after a second reminder, I was able to get a confirmation email from them. Alternately you can always check in online twenty-four hours before your departure to secure a preferred seat.
The first set of the challenge was to reach Mumbai from Kolkata. This was a challenge for me and my daughter was booked in one flight whereas my wife had to take the next flight as she had some important work at her school which she had to complete before travelling. I simply did not want to change my ticket as the price difference would mean almost paying triple for the same tickets.
Mumbai to Istanbul
Our flight TK721 was scheduled to depart from Mumbai Terminal 2 at 6.20 AM (Indian Standard Time) on 31st of March 2017. We had reached the previous evening at around 10 PM since the flight was next day morning. We wanted to collect our boarding pass and check in so that we can catch some sleep in the waiting area but came to know that boarding pass would only be given after 3 AM this would mean actually no sleep. With no other option, we decided to wait near the counter. Rianna (daughter) was fast asleep in the chair but unfortunately for me, I had to stay awake.
Getting the Boarding Pass
At around 2.45 AM the counters opened and we queued up to get our boarding passes. Our first surprise came when we saw that even cabin baggage was being weighed. The limit was 8 Kilogramme per bag. We had only one Cabin luggage which was a camera backpack as we wanted to travel light but since I had multiple lens and other accessories it was around 10 Kilogrammes. The person at the counter refused to issue Cabin Baggage Stickers which is necessary as it was overweight. I tried to make him understand that we were three passengers travelling together so that would entitle us to 9 X 3 = 27 Kilogrammes of cabin baggage thus to let us take one instead. Since the discussion was leading to nowhere thus I decided to take the camera out of the backpack and hand it around my wife’s neck. Now the weight was below 8 Kilogramme and we were given the tags. Personally, I found this funny as it actually made no difference to the overall weight.
After immigration control and security clearance, we headed to the gate where we found some unoccupied chairs and settled down. While wife and daughter were sleeping I decided to take a look around the Mumbai Duty-Free.
The boarding call was announced at around 5 AM and we proceeded to board the Boeing 777-300. We were travelling economy thus were in the back of the aircraft. Turkish Airlines is some of the few airlines which have 3 – 4 – 3 seating configuration thus the economy class really looks crowded.
Our seat was behind the wings thus we had a good view of the outside from the window. I had specifically requested for this seat in my email as I wanted to film with my action camera and this gave a near perfect view. Also, the added advantage was that the toilet was just two rows ahead of us and the frequent trips by Rianna(daughter) did not seem that much bothering.
Due to the size of the aircraft, the boarding does take time and by 6 AM the boarding was complete. The sun by this time had come up beyond the horizon and Mumbai was starting to wake up.
All the seats had touch enabled screen for personal in-flight entertainment. The choice of music, movies were just perfect. What was a life saver was the Kid’s mode which had cartoons and various games, this kept Rianna busy throughout the flight. For me, the live television news was the best since after a while I got bored with the movies.
What can improve is the headphone qualities, they were pathetic beyond description. I always carry my JBL on ear headphones thus this was not that a problem for me.
The safety information video was one of the best that I saw and would appeal to age group since the video was featuring Zach King who if you don’t know is a magician and the video intelligently featured him and his magic along with safety instructions.
Internet is available for (limited) free during the flight for Business Class but for Economy, it needs to be purchased.
Amenity kit was provided which included a lip balm, toothpaste, toothbrush, socks, slippers, and ear plugs. My daughter got a special Kids Pouch which had a miniature Turkish Airlines foam plane, a digital watch and an inflatable Turkish Airlines plane. It is to be noted that during our whole trip we took four different Turkish Airlines flights and it is only for the Mumbai – Istanbul sector did Rianna get this pouch.
The seats were comfortable and clean, there was even a power outlet located below the seat. So if you are travelling with power hungry devices then you can charge them up.
The toilets were clean and since I was seated just two rows behind the toilet I could see the attendants regularly checking it.
I had really high hopes for Turkish Airlines food but this proved wrong. I had seen many videos on YouTube that Turkish Delights were given on boarding the flight and I was desperately expecting this but I guess this has now stopped. Due to the size of the economy class, the food takes forever to come if you are at the wrong end. Without giving us a choice the flight attendant handed three of us Vegetarian Meals. Surprised I informed the flight attendant that we would like to have a non-vegetarian meal to which we were informed that the team has run out of the non-vegetarian meal. Surprisingly the team distributing food to the parallel alley were still distributing non-vegetarian meal. Since we had no choice we had to agree.
What came next was a real eye opener for me as the flight attendant moved to the row in front and handed them a vegetarian meal the passengers in front bluntly refused and demanded a non-vegetarian meal, out of nowhere the flight attendant took out two sets of the non-vegetarian meal and handed them. This same flight attendant had informed us that there were no non-vegetarian meals left.
The food was below average, it may be because I was forced to eat a vegetarian meal so the mental block might be the reason for this review but honestly, it was nothing great. The veg meal consisted of sooji upma, veg kofta and a paneer gravy along with bread, butter, sour cherry jam, salad (cucumber, olives, cheese), some sort of muslee yoghurt and a choice of drink.
An hour before reaching Istanbul snacks and drinks were distributed with the option of cake or sandwich. We took two cakes and a sandwich. The sandwich (veg) was just a bland cheese which tasted like raw paneer and the cake was a fruit cake with a berry jam toppings. The cake was chilling cold something I had never tasted before but at least better than the sandwich.
Ironically on the return trip, it was the same story, we were forced to have vegetarian meals as non-vegetarian meals were exhausted.
Overall minus the food, it was a good experience, we landed at Istanbul Ataturk Airport without any delay, with the absence of ramps we had to take the bus back to the terminal. I was not expecting Istanbul to be that cold, no sooner did we step out of the aircraft we could feel the chilling wind blast onto our face. Coming from Kolkata which had temperatures well above the mid-thirties this was like reliving winter season.
For the very first time, I have tried documenting a flight travel with an Action Camera and I have pieced together an edited video of the entire flight. From now on I am going to add video documentation for all my future travels. Hope you enjoy it.
We were scheduled for a stopover at Istanbul for nearly seven hours and I did not want to waste this opportunity staying inside the airport. If you are flying with Turkish Airlines then you can enjoy touring around Istanbul as a part of Touristanbul project, more about that in my next blog. Till then happy flying.