This flight was booked as the return portion of a roundtrip but I had to change the date on the Turkish Airlines web site. This was easy and this time cost only the stated minimum fee of 100 €.
I got again online check-in reminders. I did the online check-in filling in the passport information and security questions although I could not print out the boarding passes. I was able to use the baggage drop queue and got boarding passes for both flights issued at the counter.
I arrived at the airport 3.5 hours before the 11pm departure. (A car transfer took 2 hours from the other side of Bangkok although the traffic was not at its worst...) Turkish Airlines is using entrance #10 (the last one) at the departure floor. Check-in was already open at this point but the bag drop queue had only one customer before me. They had another earlier flight checking in at the same time and helpful staff directed me to the correct queues.
I had packed 29.6 kg when the checked bag allowance was 30 kg. Check-in scale showed 30.1 kg; the staff made no comment. The airport scales being 0.5 kg off has happened to me before... The staff just tagged my bag. My wife's ticket had only a 20 kg weight allowance with no option to prepay for more. On this route excess baggage must be paid by kilo at a rate that looked quite expensive. The staff tagged also my cabin bag presumably after seeing that it did not look too large. The counter had plastic name tags that looked pretty sturdy and I used one for my checked bag.
The boarding gate was at pier G, i.e. closest to the Turkish check-in area but at Suvarnabhumi you still walk quite a distance. Inside the gate area there are lots of seating and toilets, so people can walk in well before boarding, have their travel documents checked and sit down to wait. Boarding was by groups. Push-back happened 7 min ahead of scheduled departure.
Similar to the flight to Bangkok the Airbus 330-300 had seats with a good inflight entertainment system (menus in 12 languages but not in Thai). The large movie selection had updated a bit in 4 weeks with the advertised half a dozen movies having become premier night movies. I believe some passengers used the live TV to watch the World Cup during the flight. There was a USB charging port. Signs on the plane advertised WiFi which I did not try. The IFE was used for the pretty good safety briefing shown first in Turkish and then in English.
On my incoming flight I had not noticed that the armrest can be raised out of the way so people who had empty seats next to them could get really comfortable. By this time I had noticed that the seat slides forwards when you recline but you must take your weight off the seat before you can recline. Having the seat in front of you reclined did not seem to cause problems with using the tray table and cabin crew did not remind people to raise their seat backs at meals. I still found the footrest useless due to the limited space and the seat started feeling hard after a few hours.
When people boarded the seat had a pillow, a bagged blanket and a headset. Later on the crew distributed amenity kits which had eye shades, socks, slippers, ear plugs, lip balm, small toothbrush with paste. This time the male version was blue, not black - you might find some later use for the bags.
The crew distributed menus with the amenity kits. The supper was a 'green salad with prawns, and a cup of green beans marinated in olive oil'. Main course choices were 'grilled fillet of beef with Mediterranean vegetables and potatoes gratin' or 'stir fried chicken with wok fried vegetables and steamed rice'. Dessert was mandarine cheesecake. Before landing meal was 'yoghurt with melon, assorted cheese, scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and grilled tomato'. With each meal also 'ovenfresh bread selection, butter and jam'. Beverage choices were listed as 'orange, tomato, sour cherry, apple juices and homemade lemonade with fresh mint', 'cola, cola light, fizzy drink, mineral water', 'tea, coffee', 'Whisky, Gin, Vodka, Raki', 'selected Turkish and international red and white wines'.
The meal service got going about 1 hour after takeoff. There were multiple carts in each aisle and one of them proceeded from row 16 to the back so I got my meal quickly sitting on row 18. The crew went first around distributing and later collecting hot towels. Unlike the flight to Bangkok there was no drink run with bags of nuts before distributing the meals; this time the crew did that after they had collected the supper trays. This makes sense for a late evening flight when people may want to sleep ASAP after the meal. Cabin lights were switched off about 3 hours after takeoff. Before that the cabin crew went around offering small water bottles for your seat pocket. Well done.
The actual meal tray had metal utensils, a 'refreshing towel', a pack of butter, and a pack of strawberry jam. The starter portions were tiny which is good for an inflight meal. I suspect the cabin crew goofed a bit because after finishing the meal tray distribution they came around again handing out tubes of salad dressing; at this point I had long since eaten the salad. I suspect that despite the Turkish Airlines branding the meal had been sourced from a Bangkok catering company since unlike the incoming flight there was no Turkish twist in the menu. I ate the beef as main course which probably was the poorer choice. The taste was OK but the meat was stringy; it was very much like the beef served in cheapest Bangkok restaurants in meal sets costing 100 baht versus 900 baht in a better class of restaurant. I did not see any choice in the hot bread that was served with the meals. I felt the meal was better on the flight from Istanbul to Bangkok.
This time I tried the raki. It is not going to be a favorite since it tasted like bad Greek ouzo which I actually like.
I kept nodding off while reading my book but I still got only a couple of hours of sleep during the flight. Their seat does not agree with me. Even the provided pillow appeared useless: I could not find any good use for it with the built-in neck rest and sitting in an aisle seat; someone in a window seat might sleep against the wall with it. The cabin crew did not make extra runs to top off drinks but it was no problem to get an extra bottle of wine by going to the galley.
Just like on the incoming flight I did not see queues to the toilets, i.e. good capacity. This time around I even figured out where the toilet seat covers were stocked. Toilet cleanliness was very good.
Unlike some airlines the cabin crew did not go around trying to sell tax-free products. This had been the case also on my IST-BKK flight.
At the end of the flight the IFE popped up a customer satisfaction survey. They asked about cabin temperature. That was a tough one since in the beginning it had felt hot and in the end cold.
Arrival at Istanbul was well ahead of schedule at 4:45am. The entrance to transit security looked like a zoo but actually I was through in about 30 min so it was quite orderly. You did not have to take off your shoes unlike Bangkok but the liquids rules were enforced. Just before the entrance to the transit security area there was a shop selling snacks and bottled drinks; I suspect some people were going to be upset to buy there and then to ditch the bottles at the security checkpoint. There was also a toilet before the entrance to the security lines. After security you ended up in the main hall with lots of shops and some coffee shops with more food outlets upstairs.
I was through transit security about at the time when the flight was scheduled to arrive. This was actually not good since the scheduled transit time was over 3 hours. The departure gates do not become available until 2 hours before departure. My previous transit in Istanbul had involved a 25 min walk to the departure gate so I did not want to wander blindly to a possibly wrong direction. Unfortunately the central hall has no real seating beyond the coffee shops which I knew to be expensive from my previous transit.
It was not a comfortable wait. I found some steel bars on which to perch but many people chose to sit on the floor. Half an hour later the information boards stated that there was going to be a 55 min delay - my 3h10min transit had now become a 4h40min one. That is not great when the free airport WiFi is available only for 2 hours. If I had known the airport better I would probably have found the nearest boarding gate and just squatted there in a decent seat until my gate information became available despite having to walk a couple of hundred meters to see it.
The gate information became available 2 hours before the original scheduled departure, so I went to the gate (only 300 m away) and spent the rest of the time there. There was a decent number of seats that were not busy that early and a couple of charging points.
My overall impression is that Istanbul (IST) airport is not a great place for a long transit without spending quite a bit of extra money. This is of course not the fault of Turkish Airlines but it is something to keep in mind if you choose to fly with them.
The announced 55 min delay turned out to be accurate; the reason was stated to be late arrival of aircraft. The boarding was done in groups and it took a long time because the gate staff were doing really careful travel document checks for this flight into the Schengen area. I believe I saw one guy getting turned away due to some document problem.
The flight to Helsinki was on an Airbus 330-200. The seat and IFE were similar to the plane on the Bangkok route. However, there was no USB charging nor WiFi. The movie selection was slightly newer. A pillow and earbuds were provided. No amenity kit. This time the IFE was used for the safety briefing unlike the flight from Helsinki.
The meal was scrambled eggs with mushrooms and grilled tomato. There was a small cup with cream and hard cheese, figs and a slice of tomato and cucumber. Another cup had apparently muesli mixed with yogurt. I treated it as the dessert. There was also a hot bread roll. On this flight the carts proceeded from both ends towards the middle of the plane and row 18 was one of the last to be served.
The crew served coffee and tea while they collected the meal trays but were responsive to requests for other drinks.
This plane seemed to have fewer toilets than the -300 and I saw people queuing up despite the much shorter flight (3.5 vs 9.5 hours).
Also on this flight the IFE was operating when you boarded and kept running until gate arrival. The main restrictions during takeoff and landing were that earbuds/headsets were not to be worn (to hear crew instructions), laptops and tablets had to be stowed, and USB power cables could not be used (no tangling if evacuating). People could keep using mobile phones and similar handheld devices as long as they were in flight mode. A very reasonable policy compared to what I have experienced in the past with some other airlines.
The inflight experience felt better than on my Helsinki-Bangkok flights but this may have been simply because it was my second time as a Turkish Airlines customer so that I knew what to expect and when to ask for extra service.
Unlike Finnair this airline did not employ any Thai staff on the flights to/from Bangkok. This might be an issue for Thais with limited English skills but that had not deterred the many Thais who I saw on the plane. This was a codeshare flight with Thai Airways so they may not have known what they were getting.
I would use this airline again. They are not a good choice if you know that you may exceed the given baggage allowance which was a miserly 20 kg for my wife who bought tickets originating from Bangkok; the baggage fees are so high that a more expensive airline that charges for extra bags is quickly cheaper. Istanbul is also not a great airport for connections for economy class travelers. In business class you may feel different due to priority lines to transit security and the reportedly excellent lounge.