Turkish Airlines Catering: How an Airline Went From Great to Bad Under Corona

With most airlines having returned back to normal service, Turkish Airlines is a noticeable exception as the once great airline is still offering an extremely poor product under the guise of “corona safety measures”.

Turkish Airlines

I’m currently at Istanbul Airport on my return journey home after a great holiday in Egypt. As a Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Elite member (Star Alliance gold status) I’ve always enjoyed flying with Turkish.

As you can read in a couple of reviews of both short haul and long haul flights, I think that Turkish Airlines has an above average hard product and an excellent soft product.

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I arrived early this morning in Istanbul after a Turkish Airlines flight from Alexandria. ©Paliparan

Catering

Indeed, the airline had a reputation around the world for its great in-flight catering in both economy and business class. In economy, you can even except a nice hot meal and free-flowing drinks on longer European flights.

Multi-course meals inspired by Turkey’s awesome food culture are normally offered in business class.

turkish airlines business class meal
A Turkish mezze starter on an intra-European flight in business class. ©Paliparan

Not so normal

As you can see I used the word “normally”, as the current product of Turkish Airlines is far, far removed from its former glory. As a Turkish Airlines loyalist of some sorts, it pains me to see it happen.

I fully understand that at the beginning of the corona virus pandemic airlines decided to opt for caution and adjusted their service levels.

After all, less or no food at all being served means that passengers spend less time with their masks off. It also limits the potential exposure of airline crews as passenger – flight attendant interactions are brought back to a minimum.

However, most of the major airlines across Europe and the Middle East have since brought their service levels back to the old normal – or something very close to it.

Thanks to effective HEPA filters on aeroplanes the risk of getting infected with the corona virus on board is negligible.

So what did Turkish do when it comes to reinstating some of their old service levels and catering on board? Not so much..

economy class meal turkish airlines
A Turkish Airlines economy class meal in normal times on a flight between Turkey and Germany. ©Paliparan

Turkish economy class under COVID-19

Take economy class flights. On 1st March, Turkish Airlines finally reinstated their normal catering on flights of more than 8 hours in economy class, although alcoholic beverages are still not served due to “corona safety measures”.

Weird that serving a can of Fanta is not a safety risk, while a can of beer suddenly gets you corona instantly!

Having a flight of 7 hours and 30 minutes in length? That’s too bad – all you get is a box with cold food items which is hardly a substitute for a proper meal. Because as we all know, you can only get corona if you eat hot food on flights shorter than 8 hours.

It would be one thing if the quality of the food would be acceptable, but that’s another story. Especially Turkish Airlines revolting, drier than the Sahara desert “cheese” sandwiches have earned a notorious reputation among the frequent flyer community.

On a recent Dusseldorf to Istanbul flight, there wasn’t even a choice of drinks as we all got the same offering: a small bottle of water and a pack of juice normally handed out to kids. Because as we all know, these are all corona proof while a cup of coffee or can of coke aren’t.

turkish airlines corona catering food
Economy class food on a recent Dusseldorf to Istanbul flight. Compare this to above picture of the hot meal served in normal times on a flight between Turkey and Germany! ©Paliparan

Turkish business class under COVID-19

The story is a bit better in business class as since the beginning of March Turkish Airlines has restored its normal business class catering on all international flights of more than 2 hours in duration.

Wine, beer and spirits are all back as well in Turkish’ premium cabin, which is a promising sign.

Turkish Airlines lounge under COVID-19

However, the story is completely different in the Turkish Airlines lounges. Here, the difference is perhaps most stark.

I always thought that the Turkish Airlines lounge at the airline’s hub of Istanbul Airport is one of the world’s best business lounges, and I’d for sure rank it among the top three in Europe.

Istanbul Airport has two Turkish Airlines lounges: the Miles&Smiles lounge for frequent flyer elites and the business lounge for business class passengers. Both are mirror images of each other and offer the same facilities. Turkish only chose for the concept of two lounges to spread out its eligible passengers and to prevent overcrowding.

Currently, the business class lounge is still closed by Turkish due to an overall decrease in passenger numbers, which means that all eligible passengers are now sent to the Miles&Smiles lounge.

However, due to social distancing between seats and complete areas of this lounge being sealed off, it means that at peak hours there just isn’t enough space for all passengers here.

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The Turkish Airlines Lounge in Istanbul is still as beautiful as before, but the experience isn’t really the same.. ©Paliparan
lounge closed covid19
Big parts of the lounge, including the area with the loungers, are sealed off due to corona. ©Paliparan

Lounge food

The Turkish Airlines lounge always stood out for its great catering by Do & Co – there was a salad bar and several live cooking stations where you could get several hot food items such as pide, moussaka and grilled meats and veggies.

Although the pide and grilled meat stations are still open, several other food stations have been closed. Worst of all, all the baklava, pies and sweets have been removed from the lounge.

Fancy a cup of barista-made coffee? Also the barista has disappeared – and is now being replaced by old-fashioned pots of self-serve coffee.

The great salad bar with fresh food is gone too. Instead, you can now choose from some unappealing pre-packaged food items, including those revolting cheese sandwiches I mentioned earlier.

In normal times, the Turkish Airlines lounge used to have a wide choice of Turkish wines and booze. In the “new normal” of Turkish Airlines, all the alcoholic drinks have been removed from the lounge.

Want to take a refreshing shower or a nap in one of the sleeping rooms? Bad luck – both are still closed “because of corona”.

turkish salad bar food lounge
The Turkish Airlines Lounge salad bar in normal times.. lots of appealing-looking fresh food! ©Paliparan
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The same salad bar right now. No fresh food, but just pre-packaged stuff which you can normally find on an economy class flight. ©Paliparan
coffee bar turkish airlines lounge
The Miles&Smiles Lounge normally has proper barista coffee. ©Paliparan
turkish airlines coffee
Now it’s just a self-serve station with carton cups and pots of coffee. ©Paliparan
turkish airlines cognac sweets
Some Turkish coffee and cognac with some tasty sweets for dessert? Bad luck! No barista coffee, tasty desserts or booze can be found at the Turkish Airlines Lounge currently.. ©Paliparan
turkish airlines new catering
This is as good as it gets for a coffee and some sweets these days. With lots of throwaway plastic being used too instead of proper plates and cutlery. ©Paliparan

Cost-cutting

This whole article isn’t meant to bash Turkish Airlines. I’d just like to point at the fact how stupid their own corona measures look like and how this is not in the interest of the airline.

As you might have probably noticed by my sarcasm, there isn’t really any reason why serving quality food is more of a corona risk than serving bad-quality food.

I understand that airlines across the world are in a difficult financial position, but please, don’t cut back on service and blame “corona safety measures” for it. This are of course purely cost-cutting measures – and no PR talk from Turkish Airlines executives on how the airline puts safety above all else can change that.

Bizarrely enough, the Istanbul Airport SkyTeam Lounge opposite the Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles Lounge does serve alcohol for example, showing that these service cuts are clearly the choice of Turkish Airlines management and not some government regulations.

Although it is promising that Turkish Airlines did reinstate much of their normal service in business class, the paltry state of affairs in economy and in their lounges will cost them dearly if they do not bring back old service levels soon.

After all, most other major airlines have since done so! Turkish’ excellent on-board catering was always the main selling point of the airline apart from its vast route network. Take out the great food and beverage service and what’s left is a mediocre airline and passengers choosing for one of the competitors on their next flights.

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On board a Turkish Airlines flight. ©Paliparan

Comparison

On my last flights with Air France for example I was able to take a refreshing shower in the lounge in between flights. The Air France Lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport did have normal food and beverage options, including alcohol/champagne.

The only difference from normal times was the fact that there was no longer a self-serve buffet and that all the food was plated and handed over by the lounge staff – a sensible approach to corona if you ask me!

Why can we still have the good stuff when flying Air France, Lufthansa or Qatar Airways, but not when we step on board a Turkish Airlines flight or visit the Turkish Airlines Lounge?

air france champagne
In the Air France lounges, champagne is free-flowing, normal food is served and shower rooms are available. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

I understand that airlines have to make safety adjustments due to the corona virus, but Turkish Airlines is clearly taking it too far. What are in effect pure cost-cutting measures are being sold as measures “taken for our safety”.

Nobody is buying this of course, and as other airlines have resumed normal service it may very well cost Turkish Airlines dearly if the old catering isn’t brought back in the future.

Turkish Airlines is still lucky that compared to other airlines it has maintained most of its vast route network, leaving some passengers with no other choice than to fly Turkish. There is simply no other airline these days with a similar flight frequency covering the entire globe.

However, when other airlines will resume flights and increase frequency, why would a passenger opt for Turkish Airlines above other companies which do offer much better service levels?

I’ve always enjoyed flying Turkish Airlines but I don’t see how this helps them protecting their quality brand and keep frequent flyers happy. Let’s hope the current Turkish Airlines catering is only the “new abnormal” (I absolutely hate the sentence “new normal”!) and that the “old normal” from before the corona virus pandemic returns sooner than later!

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Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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