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# Monday, June 19, 2006

As I mentioned in my previous post, my previous travel experience is somewhat limited. The one aspect of this trip I had absolutely no way of preparing for was the hours I was about to spend in airports and airborne. The travel arragements included a short (1.5 hours or so) flight to the TAV Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul and a connection flight to Beijing Airport, both by Turkish Airlines. Unlike my previous trip to Turkey, this time the flight was far longer (the connection flight to Beijing takes 9-10 hours); also, in stark contract with the previous trip's charter flight, this time I was to fly business class. Proper food? Legroom? What a concept!

I arrived with my gear at Terminal 3 of the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv. Proceeding to check my baggage in, I've encountered the first of the many perks of business class: radically reduced lines to security and check-in (all airlines have a dedicated desk, and the TA airport has a special X-Ray line for business class passengers as well.) After checking in and exchanging some currency (along with passport control and additional security checks) I proceeded to the passenger hall and then did some shopping in the duty free shops there. I still had a while before my flight, and it was then that I made use of the second major perk in business class: the CIP lounge.

The Dan Lounge in Ben Gurion Airport

Turkish Airlines make use of a CIP lounge operated by Dan hotels and is an extremely welcome respite from the bustling mess that is the passenger hall. Aside from wireless internet access - which is actually available in the regular passenger hall as well, but that isn't necessarily true for all airports - the CIP lounge features comfortable seats, private bathrooms, a private meeting room (for those who require it and will pay extra, of course) and refreshments. Most importantly, it's uncrowded and quiet; having spent a total of over 10 hours in airports in the span of three days I've learned to appreciate the relative peace and quiet of the CIP lounge. I can't imagine what spending those hours would be like in the regular passenger halls. The Dan CIP lounge in Ben Gurion airport (section B) is fairly small compared to the lounges in Istabul and Beijing (more on those later) but is perfectly equipped: comfy seats, sodas, light food and some alcoholic beverages if that's your thing.

Boeing 737 interior diagram (source)

My next station was the Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane headed to Istanbul. I've flown in a charter 737 flight before, and even at 14 could vaguely recall the airplane as cramped and uncomfortable; I was hopeful that the business class section would be radically more comfortable, but alas that was not the case. The 737 is fairly small (39.47 metres in length and only 3.76 metres wide, internally [source]) and quite uncomfortable. The Turkish Airlines plane was configured so that the business class seates were slightly further apart (for a little more legroom), but each row still contained triple seats (as in the diagram) which do not comfortably accomodate an above-average sized person. The middle seat was converted into an armrest/cup holder though, so at least I had some freedom of movement. Despite the short flight (less than two hours) the food was actually excellent: the main dish was a halibut fillet with saffron rice, shrimp and calamari. Being generally averse to fish, I was very much surprised at how good the dish was.

The Atatürk airport in Istanbul was where I made my home for the next 4 hours or so. I met a pleasant guy called Haim on the way and we had a beer at the local cafe (at about three times the proper price); he's a real-estate entrepreneur doing business in China and had some insights to share about the culture there. After strolling about the duty free complex (which is over thrice as large as the one in Tel-Aviv) for a bit I proceeded to the CIP lounge, which is considerably larger than the one in TA. The lounge is decorated in Ottoman style and is very appealing. Despite the large variety the refreshments are fairly basic; wireless access was spotty and somewhat problematic and the restrooms weren't nearly as highly maintained as in TA. The couches were rather comfortable though, and I put them to very good use. Unfortunately I was unable to find any pictures of the lounge on the 'net.

A330-220 business class seat (source)

The Airbus A330-200 airplane which was my transporation from Istanbul to Beijing was an extremely welcome change from the 737 which brought me to Istanbul. At a length of 58.8 metres and a maximum internal width of 5.28 metres, the plane (and the business class seats in particular) is spacious and comfortable. There is as much legroom as you could possibly want, and the seats are wide enough to accomodate large persons as well as small (although I could use a few extra centimetres for my legs). The Emirates Airlines plane depicted on the left is somewhat different from the one I took - the seats on the Turkish Airlines airplane were somewhat larger and had an adjustable led-based lamp above of the arm-rest. On the back of each seat (facing backwards, towards the passenger in the next row) is an LCD screen which can be controled via a remote control unit inside the arm rest (where it can be seamlessly stored for takeoff, landing and taxi). A fairly large selection of movies was available on an individual basis; since I had my laptop with me I didn't make any use of this feature, but there were some pretty good flics (e.g. From Russia With Love) if one was inclined to watch them. Also featured was an in-flight map, an external camera (particularly cool during takeoff/landing) and some intercontinental communication features I had absolutely no use for.

The service on this flight was absolutely top-notch: helpful, efficient (and attractive!) stewardesses cater to the passengers' every whim. Other than regular soft drinks, sodas etc., alcoholic beverages were served, and not cheap-ass drinks either: several brands of wine (both Turkish and foreign), Johnny Walker Black Label and even Glenfiddich Antique (18 years old). I was fairly tired and opted for a glass of Graham's Port Late Bottled Vintage (Portuguese sweetened red wine) which was terrific. Food was surprisingly not quite on par with the previous flight, but at least we got to use proper cutlery (Israeli security procedures do not allow metal cutlery on flights to/from Israel).

Between all of this grandeur and sitting among all of those people in business suits made me crave some balance; out came the laptop and headphones, and two Buffy episodes later I was finally tired enough to fall asleep. I woke up just in time for the pre-landing breakfast, and I'll tell you the rest in the next post.

Next up: China, shopping and the way back

Monday, June 19, 2006 10:12:40 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
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