April 4th to April 5th saw me completing my journey back home to York from my intermediate airport in Istanbul. With the exception of the flight itself, it was probably the best journey of its type that I’ve taken. From relaxing in an airport lounge at Ataturk, to some awesome service from the Assistance Team on the railway, the final legs of my journey were more than bearable.
My flight from Nairobi to Istanbul, with Turkish Airways, was brought forward at the last minute. Instead of departing at 10:30am, the flight was scheduled for 5am. This resulted in a longer layover than expected at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.
I had also planned for my arrival at Manchester Airport in England in the knowledge that I would be unable to handle my heavy suitcases on and off the trains due to a wrist injury sustained in Nairobi. Transpennine Express were organised to meet me and assist onto the train, and then off again at York and into a taxi.
I’ve always disliked this airport. It’s big, it’s busy, and there’s very little seating until your gate opens, which is a bit of an issue if you have a long layover. I might not be being fair though as it’s true that, every time I have passed through this airport, I have been halfway through a long journey and feeling tired, uncomfortable, and a little stressed.
Having more time to explore on this layover, I discovered that it’s not so bad. Yes, it’s big, but it’s very well signposted and almost logical. Also helpful are the signs indicating the gates that give approximate walking times. It’s good to know if you need to leave five minutes to reach your gate, or half an hour. My only real issue walking around the airport was remembering to walk on the right and not the left! After a number of encounters with stressed travellers and large bags coming directly towards me, I discovered that, when tired, I’m not great at remembering something so simple!
Ataturk Airport has extensive duty free offerings. There’s a large main area of shops, plus smaller ones nearer the gates. The only downside if you’re looking for bargains is that, during the peak times at least, it’s very busy and the service was very slow/laid back. Not the place to shop if you’re cutting it fine for your flight.
A bonus for some is that this airport is not smoke free. Okay, so you can’t smoke inside the terminal, but they do provide a terrace for smoking. It’s easily accessible close to the lounges.
The airport boasts a number of lounges. Some require you to hold a business class ticket. Others only accept people with a certain credit card. However, there’s also a good selection that you can access with your economy ticket simply by paying a fee on entry. I can’t describe or review all the lounges here as I don’t have the knowledge or experience. Maybe if I become a regular!
My choice of lounge
I had initially intended to use the Comfort Lounge as it’s the only one that offers free showers. The lounge is upstairs close to security and is well signposted. I arrived at the lounge only to discover that there was nobody to be seen at the door. Therefore, no way to pay. I decided to enter and take advantage of the shower anyway. You need to take your own soap but a disposable towel is provided.
Although I could probably have stayed in the Comfort Lounge for free, I actually decided that I would pay to enter the nearby Millennium Lounge, which was quieter, had better wifi, and offered more comfortable seating. I paid $30 on entry (they accept several currencies in cash or a credit/debit card). I had read that there was a time limit on staying in the lounge (to avoid people using it instead of an airport hotel) but nobody mentioned it or ever bothered me. The price does go up at night.
Once in the lounge I found a really comfortable corner seat, perfect for the solo traveller who wants to kick off their shoes and curl up. I easily connected to the wifi, which was strong and fast. I browsed the rack of newspapers but found nothing of interest (it was mainly Turkish papers with one international offering that looked rather dry). Then I took advantage of the free food and drink. There’s a huge range of juices, bottles of water, fresh Italian coffee, and assorted alcoholic offerings. And you’re spoilt for choice with snacks. There’s everything from mini sandwiches and wraps, to bite size pastries and cakes, fresh fruit, roasted nuts and cheeses. For something hot, there’s thick soup and fresh bread.
Toilets/washrooms are available opposite the lounge and they were acceptably clean and spacious with no queues. Just remember to hold onto your lounge ticket/receipt so you can get back in without having to pay again!
After several hours in the lounge, I decided that it’s a great addition to travel. I’m even tempted to schedule longer layovers in future just for the opportunity to relax for a few hours between long flights.
Time to fly
When I arrived at the gate for my onward flight to Manchester, security was insane. I guess it’s reassuring really in light of the recent terrorism in Europe. However, it seemed a little discriminatory. With my British passport, I was just asked where I’d flown in from, my final destination, and whether I’d left my bags unattended. The same couldn’t be said for most of my fellow travellers.
I’m unsure why, and it’s certainly unusual in my experience, but the vast majority of people on my flight were from Syria, Iraq, or other countries in the Middle East. Each of these passengers was subjected to extensive questioning. Their passports were photographed and further ID was demanded, also photographed. Then there was a full baggage search and pat-down demanded. I don’t pretend to understand all the reasons for this but it did seem a little odd that I was singled out to avoid all this, presumably by virtue of holding a British passport.
The flight to Manchester
Probably the less said the better! It wasn’t a great flight. I was seated opposite a woman with a baby, who screamed for a large portion of the flight. And the lights were turned on and off seemingly at random, making it difficult to either sleep or to read a book. Also, there was almost constant low level turbulence, meaning the seatbelt signs never went out. On the positive side, we landed in Manchester over 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
Transpennine Express Assistance
After collecting my bags from the carousel with a luggage trolley, I made my way to the desk where I was united with my ‘assistant’. Barry was fantastic. He spoke to the guard on the train that was waiting at the station and I was allowed on board even though I held a discounted advance ticket for a later train. I was even given a complimentary cupcake!
On arrival at York, the guard took my bags off the train and I was met by another member of station staff who took everything out to the taxi rank and waited with me until a taxi was available. I can’t commend the service enough, especially as it’s offered completely free of charge.
The Joys of Travelling?
Going back to what I wrote over a month ago about ‘enjoying the journey’, I can reflect on this most recent experience. Initially, I got stressed over my changed flight, particularly as Turkish Airways customer service was less than helpful. However, once I was on my way, I managed to focus instead on enjoying the experience. Being able to relax at Ataturk made a real difference, as did the amazing service from the train company. I’m not going to say it wasn’t exhausting, and that I wasn’t thankful to fall into bed at 4am on Tuesday, but it was by no means unpleasant.