I’m sitting in the Club Lounge at the Intercontinental Hotel just off of Istanbul‘s Taksim Square right now, sipping an Efes Dark and picking at a few snacks while I wait to meet some friends for dinner. Given that, as of Monday I didn’t have any travel planned for the weekend and as of Thursday my flight was canceled I’d say that the current circumstances are quite impressive. I booked the flight on Tuesday evening, snagging a $550 round-trip fare ($500 of which I covered with a voucher from my last Istanbul trip) on United Airlines to fly out on Friday night from Newark to Istanbul, returning on the same route Sunday afternoon. Only 26 hours on the ground but that’s plenty of time to see a few sights, eat a few meals and enjoy a trip. At least if you’re crazy like me.
I probably should have known there would be trouble given the forecast for a blizzard but I paid it no mind. Worst case scenario had me stuck in NYC, eating leftovers and snowed in. Not ideal, but not awful either. And when the email came in on Thursday afternoon that the flight was canceled I was a bit annoyed.
Still, I knew I had options and I was willing to explore them. A quick call in to United had an agent offer me a Lufthansa connection without any troubles. I asked him to check the Turkish Airlines non-stop rather than the Lufty options as I’ve already flown those routes and I’ve been meaning to fly Turkish long-haul at some point to try out the experience. It took about 15 minutes for the agent to call over to Turkish and confirm things but I was quickly rebooked and the ticket reissued. All set.
Friday morning rolled around and I started to get worried about the late Turkish flight. Yes, the inbound was en route to JFK but snow levels were predicted to pick up late in the evening and the 11pm-ish departure had me apprehensive. Another quick call in to United had me rebooked on Austrian’s 6pm departure from JFK. Yeah, a connection, but Vienna’s airport is easy and getting out early seemed like a good idea. That agent forgot to reissue the ticket so it took another call to resolve that but around 10am I was able to complete OLCI and, thanks to the rebooking in full Y, choose the reclining exit row with huge legroom for the flight.
We pushed back early – the ground crew were particularly good in dealing with the people complaining about the early departure in spite of the impending storm – and then waited an hour for deicing. We certainly needed it, with the accumulation from the prior three hours of the plane on the ground.
And then off to Vienna. I had escaped!
The meal on board was presented beautifully but not actually all that delicious. With Do & Co catering the Austrian flights I had reasonably high hopes. The meal on Turkish on Saturday was much better. Still, it was enough to get me through the flight. I watched the end of Casablanca on the very mediocre IFE system and then managed to sleep a solid 4 hours or so.
Before I knew it we were on final approach into Vienna.
From there it was off to the lounge for a shower and then meeting up with a friend also on his way to Istanbul, though on a later flight. Turkish boarded a full A330 from a gate area built for an A320. It was packed and not at all pleasant. Still, I settled in to my seat and slept nearly the whole two hours of the flight.
I did wake up for lunch which, as noted above, was quite tasty, in addition to the excellent presentation. Yes, this was a coach meal on a less than two hour flight. My, how things are different. Also, apparently ordering the "kofte" instead of beef had the flight attendants convinced I spoke Turkish. That ruse fell apart quickly when I had to order a drink, but it was fun while it lasted.
No line to get my visa was great. The part where, as a Star Alliance Gold elite I got fast track for immigration was WAY better. I skipped a roughly 30-45 minute line and was through in 5 minutes. Less than 20 minutes from when we pulled in to the gate and the door to the plane opened I was on the Metro, headed in to town.
I stopped off to see the Basilica Cistern, now one of my favorite sites in a city filled with amazing things to see. A separate post coming on that eventually because, quite frankly, it deserves one. And then I checked in to my suite at the Intercontinental. Thank you, Best Rate Guarantee!
I’ve got time for another Efes or two before dinner. And I’m drinking them while looking out at the Bosporus and night settling in over this beautiful city. Not a bad day at all.