The first time I entered an airport lounge was over ten years ago. I was flying to Peru with my god family and my godfather traveled frequently for work so he had status, thus getting us all access to a lounge in Dallas during our layover. I can’t remember exactly what the lounge was like, but I remember him telling me that if I ever had a job that required me to travel often he would pay for my lounge membership because lounge access made frequent travel infinitely better. From the moment Anthony and I set foot in our first lounge back in August, I’ve known his words could not be more true. Lounge access is easily one of the best parts of travel hacking, and a few weeks ago we were lucky enough to have access to one of the best lounges in the world: Turkish Airlines International CIP Lounge at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.
As Anthony mentioned in his flight review, we had both been looking forward to this experience for months. In the days leading up to our departure from Hanoi it was basically all we could talk about. Kind of like the days before our stay at the Intercontinental in Da Nang.
The lounge in Hanoi and the flight to Istanbul were nice, but to me they were just the warm up, and the CIP Lounge was the star of the show. I still feel this way even a few weeks later. This lounge is without a doubt the nicest one we’ve been to, and that’s saying a lot seeing as we had access to every business class lounge in Cathay Pacific’s hub of Hong Kong. Turkish Airlines just knows how to bring the luxury.
We made it to the lounge feeling tired, but much less road weary than normal. Thank you Turkish business class! The lounge itself was a bit of a troop from our gate, but Ataturk Airport is huge so I wasn’t surprised. The walk gave us a chance to wake up a bit, and get a look at the airport itself. I’ve been to a lot of very nice airports, but overall I have to say Ataturk is absolutely the nicest. Just a beautifully designed place with so many high end shops it made Hong Kong’s airport pale in comparison.
Entering the lounge was a tad confusing. It’s very clearly marked, however, there is what looks like a welcome desk with several staff members prior to the actual entrance. Normally when checking into a lounge we show our passes to the greeters, however, this wasn’t necessary. The people working at the desk are there to answer questions or sell passes to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access, but if you’re a Star Alliance Gold Member or flying with a ticket that grants you access to the lounge you simply have to scan your boarding pass at the electronic turnstiles to the left of the concierge desk and enter. There is no need to stop. We didn’t know this and received an exasperated look when we approached the desk, however, I imagine this is a question they answer hundreds of times a day so I’m not surprised by the reaction we received.
Once inside my first thought was: wow this place is HUGE! The glass paneled ceilings were sky high, and the lounge just seemed to stretch on forever. I knew the lounge was two floors, but I had no idea just how immense it would be. It is certainly a very busy lounge so the large space is necessary, but it still took me by surprise.
We did a quick lap, but found seating almost right away since we were both exhausted, and wanted to rest up for our tour of Istanbul in a few hours. When we arrived the lounge was very busy, but since there is so much space and so much seating it wasn’t hard to find a place to post up. There are several different styles of comfy chairs located around the lounge as well as tables for dining. I will say that most of the seating lacks privacy, but there are a few corners that can be found for those who want a little more space to themselves. There are also outlets everywhere so charging your electronics between flights is very doable.
While I didn’t notice any massage chairs at the Turkish lounge like the ones in Noi Bai, there are still plenty of amenities to satisfy any road weary traveler. There are lockers for storage at the main entrance and the entrance on the lower level. These came in handy during our day tour as we didn’t want to cart around our carry on luggage while exploring Istanbul.
There are several private prayer rooms, and you can even book a shower if you feel the need to freshen up. Anthony and I didn’t take advantage of this, but two friends we made on the tour did and they both said it was amazing. We’re flying back through Ataturk in August so I plan to give them a try myself in the near future.
There is also a movie theater, Xbox, Playstation, golf simulator, mini racing cars, T.V.s with all major sporting events, a pool table, and a kid’s area. The movie theater even had a little popcorn machine outside so you could munch while watching the film. I wandered in to see what was playing, but mostly it seemed like everyone in there was just using it as a dark quiet place to sleep.
In addition to the array of entertainment amenities, there was also a designated business area with computers and printers. Newspapers and magazines were located on shelves throughout the lounge, and there is even an option to book a hotel room if the length of your layover meets the time constraints.
Food and Drinks
The food on the flight was pretty delicious, so naturally I was very excited for the food in the lounge. It honestly exceeded my expectations. There is food EVERYWHERE: hot stations, fruit, trays of desserts, salad bars, olive bars, pretzels and snacks, jars of candy, hummus and tzatziki and tabbouleh, loads of Turkish specialties… just so much food. There was even locally churned butter in barrels by the bread baskets, and giant slices of honey comb to add to your yogurt or cereal. It was a foodie’s dream. To be honest, both of us were still pretty full from all the food on our flight, but we did our best to make a small dent in what the lounge had to offer.
For breakfast I had yogurt with fruit and some of the honeycomb. I’d never tried honeycomb before and it’s now my new favorite thing. There were omelettes and eggs available at the hot stations, but I stuck to something a little lighter. We both had a small tomato mozzarella panini made to order before departing for our tour as well.
I made sure to snag some popcorn from the movie theater since in Asia they tend to only have sweet popcorn. It was surprisingly fresh even though I assumed it had been sitting out for a bit. I also discovered the Turkish Delight is in fact VERY delightful. All the stuff they sell in the states is brightly colored and kind of gelatinous, but in the lounge I ate way more than I care to admit. It was nutty and sweet with a texture that was nothing like what I’ve tried back home, and conveniently located on little tiered trays all over the lounge. I also managed to try a few Turkish desserts which were absolutely delicious, but I think the Turkish Delight was my favorite sweet offered in the lounge.
In the afternoon, the hot options changed to pasta and pizza. Unfortunately, they fed us a ton of food on our tour of Istanbul so, again, neither one of us really had room for anything heavy. I decided to stick to the olive bar, which, besides the Turkish Delight, was my favorite part of the lounge.
I love all olives, but in particular I love kalamata olives and green olives. The Turkish lounge had several varieties of both, so I was pretty much in Heaven. Again, I had more olives than I’d like to admit, but they were just so good I couldn’t help myself. My particular favorite were the Rhodes Kalamata olives. They were the largest but also very soft with tons of flavor. Thank you to Turkish Airlines for introducing me to so many new foods!
If you’re feeling parched after all of those olives, don’t worry there are just as many drink options available to quench your thirst. Throughout the lounge are refrigerated shelves stocked with water, soda, juices, beer, milk, and countless other soft drink options. There are also wine racks with bottles of red wine everywhere and tubs filled with chilled whites. If you fancy something a bit stronger there are bars with an array of liquors, and if you’re in need of a pick me up, the coffee and tea stations (with espresso machines) are around every corner. All the drinks are self serve so if you feel like having an extra foamy latte or a slightly stronger drink it’s no problem. I made sure to drink a lot of water, but I also sampled a white and a rose from Turkey, both of which I found to be quite good.
Overall the lounge more than exceeded my expectations. The food is outstanding, the space is beautiful and comfortable, and there is more than enough to keep one entertained for a few hours during flights. I was both relieved and disappointed that Turkish Airlines provided so much food for us on the flight and the tour, but what I managed to eat was top notch. My only small complaint would be that the entrance is a little confusing, and the people manning the desk can be slightly standoffish, but other than that this is officially the lounge to beat in my opinion. If you’re flying through Ataturk and have access to this lounge, it is not to be missed. Stay tuned for our review of the free tour of Istanbul provided by Turkish Airlines!