When it comes to airport lounges, I enjoy them. I don’t love them – I just enjoy them. I enjoy being able to have a quieter area that somewhat removes the hustle and bustle of the airport scene. I enjoy being able to get free food (even if it is only carrots, celery sticks, and Biscoffs) and drinks. I enjoy the free internet, the more comfortable seating, the cleaner bathrooms, the rest areas, and the lounge agents that can help with airline problems. All of those things make the travel scene a little bit nicer and easier.
However, I am not big on reviewing airport lounges for the simple reason that most people do not plan a trip based on the airport lounge (except for a few instances that I will mention). People choose hotels, they choose airlines, airplanes, and rental car companies but they do not normally choose airline lounges as part of their travel. The lounge is something to simply stop in at on your way to a gate or to relax in during long layovers.
But, there are some lounges that really just elevate the whole lounge scene to a different level. I have been fortunate to visit some while others I have not been to yet. Some of those lounges would be the Lufthansa First Class Terminal (that’s right – a whole terminal), the Emirates First Class Lounge (which is actually a terminal), the Wing (Cathay Pacific’s First Class Lounge in Hong Kong), the Qatar Premium Terminal, the Thai Airways First Class lounge (in Bangkok), the Qantas First Class Lounge (in Sydney), and the British Airways Concord Room (in London). Of the ones that I have visited, I would have to say that the Emirates First Class Lounge is my favorite. It is really something else!
Something you may have noticed about that list is that they are all First Class lounges. When it comes to lounges reserved for business class customers and alliance elite customers, many of them are not really worth mentioning. This is especially true in the US! But, there is one that I believe is one the of the best business class lounges in the world – the Turkish Airlines CIP Business Class lounge in Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge
I have been through this lounge no less than a dozen times in the last couple of years. Each time I go, I am again just taken at how well the place was designed and what is available in it. It is definitely one of the classiest, most useful business class lounges in the world.
First of all, the lounge is just huge! They have just recently completed a lower floor to the lounge that brings the total space to over 30,000 square feet! It is an enormous space that can handle 2,000 customers and offers amenities that are normally available only in first class lounges.
The entrance is deceiving as it does not show the true scope of the lounge itself until you pass through the electronic entrances. Once inside, it is easy to be taken with the amount of natural light, high ceilings, and amenities that are available. Right in front of you after entering is a huge library with a wonderful pool table. To your left is a mix of screens that shows huge video images of various aspects of the Turkish Airlines operation.
There are tables and chairs everywhere around the lounge! This is good because there are about 10 food stations that offer various kinds of Middle Eastern food. There are snack tables, olive bars, cheese bars, vegetable tables, freshly cooked food service areas, and roving carts of fruits and cheeses. This is in addition to the numerous beverage shelves that are kept cooled so your drink of choice is ready to go without needing ice.
In the hot eating areas, there are freshly baked breads with spices, hot soups, among other more specially made dishes. Some of those dishes are the handmade Turkish tortellini, the rice and grilled chicken and meat area, the plate of the day which often features a pasta dish with rigatoni and olives, sauce, and mushrooms.
The food is just wonderful! It is very easy to eat and be very full of the type of food you might order in a nice restaurant. Just know that some of the hot food stations have some long lines and there are many that visit the lounge who do not have any respect for lines! The other day, I was in one of the lines and we were waiting for the grilled chicken to be done. Just as it is done, a man comes elbowing his way through, takes half of the chicken on two plates and walks away. When I got up there, another guy was trying to work his way around from my left (with the line behind me to the right). I just boxed him out and took what I wanted before exiting right in his direction so that those waiting behind me could have their turn. 🙂
After walking in the lounge, you will find to your right a whole bank of glass lock cabinets to hold your carry-on items in. If the lounge is busy, good luck trying to find an empty cabinet! The best thing to do is just to wait for a couple of minutes as there will be some that are leaving and you can take their cabinet. But move fast! Many of those same people that will not wait for food will not respect the fact that you got to a cabinet first! 🙂
Fortunately, the newly-built downstairs section of the lounge has another whole area of luggage storage and it was almost completely empty. These areas are fantastic so you can really relax in the lounge and not have to worry about watching your luggage. It also makes traveling with your family easier as well! If you do not find room upstairs for your luggage, head downstairs because there will certainly be more space there.
The lounge has some other unique offerings that make it different from other lounges. One of those is a newly built golf area. This is exactly like other indoor golf ranges with the projected image inside of a room with a green and a tee area. As I am not a golfer, I cannot give you much information beyond that except to say that there is only one, so it may be busy when you are passing through. The good thing was that I never saw anyone standing in line for it (it is downstairs so people may not realize it is there).
There is also a movie theater with very nice leather recliners. It is a great spot to just kick back and relax in for a while if you want to get some sleep. I have only been in there a few times but have really only seen them showing orchestral videos (which also helps with the relaxation part).
If you have a longer layover (6 hours +) and you are on one of the Turkish Airline long-haul flights (like Toronto, JFK, LAX, etc), you can take advantage of their sleep studios. There is a sign-up list but you will be able to get in one of those beds and get some shuteye during your long layover. They are pretty strict on the time and route so do not expect to get in otherwise!
Another area they have which I found to be wonderful on our recent trip was the children’s play area. The room is mostly geared towards toddlers, but my children all found ways to amuse themselves in there. There are several toys throughout the room as well as iPad play stations and TVs on the wall. In addition, there is a nursing mother’s room and a children’s sleeping room. It is definitely a place that parents will appreciate when traveling with their children! There are leather seating areas outside the glass-walled room if you would like to eat something while watching your children.
The acoustics of the lounge are very interesting. There are several places that you can stand in and hear people on the other side of the room as if they are whispering in your ear. There are also some very dead sound spaces as well. For long layovers, it can provide some interesting experimentation! 🙂
As for technology, there are several computer stations throughout the lounge. They use 21.5 inch iMacs and have at least 20 of them as well as printers that are connected to them. Even with a full lounge, there is normally at least a couple of computers available.
How To Get In
I could not believe the amount of people that I saw turned away on my last visit. There is a desk at the front and then electronic entrances that you use your boarding pass at. Normally, there is not an agent at the electronic entrances (just at the regular ones a few feet down), but when the lounge is really busy, the agent will be standing next to the electronic entrances. This is because it is very easy to scan one boarding pass and have three people stream by before the gate closes.
If you are flying in business class or first class on a Star Alliance airline, you will have access to the lounge but only for yourself. If you have the United Club card or a United Club membership, you will be able to enter and bring one guest with you. If you are a Star Alliance Gold customer traveling on a Star Alliance airline, you will be able to enter and bring one guest with you. Unfortunately, the United Club passes you receive each year for holding a United Airlines credit card will not give you access to this lounge.
Here is the tricky part – how many people get to enter may depend a lot on how your ticket was printed. If it was printed by a carrier that puts your elite status on all the tickets in the reservation, you will have no problem accessing the lounge through the electronic entrances (even with an agent present). All boarding passes will scan and give you access based on the Star Alliance Gold status that is reflected on each ticket. This does not work all the time. For example, on our way to the US, my United 1K printed out on all the tickets and gave us all access (when flying Turkish Airlines). When traveling back, it only printed on one ticket. I asked the agent at the electronic entrance and she said I was only allowed one guest with a Star Alliance Gold card (which is correct). I mentioned that I have two Star Alliance Gold cards from different airlines and if that works (I wanted to see what would happen). She sent me to the desk. The desk agent didn’t even say anything – she simply took my Gold cards and checked each boarding pass before sending us in. Now, we are a family of 5 and we are only (technically) allowed 4 in with the two Gold cards. But, the agents are normally very permissive with small children and she just smiled at and waved at our two year old as we walked through.
Does this lounge compete with the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai? Absolutely not! But, is it worth trying to route a trip to Europe through Istanbul if you have a longer layover? I say yes. The lounge is fantastic and can really give you everything you need and more in a lounge. I have spent layovers in there that were 7 hours long and found the lounge to give me a great experience that seemed to shorten the time.
Plus, here is the last little bit to have you choose Istanbul for your next layover – if you are traveling on an award ticket, the taxes for going through Turkey instead of Germany or other European countries are significantly lower. For our family of 5, it cost jut $60 in taxes and fees compared to the $280 that another itinerary gave us. Let that be your push to make the Turkish Airlines CIP lounge a stop for you – it is definitely one of the best business class lounges in the world!