Premium Economy was all the rave last year with Airlines trying to appeal to a subset of the middle-class demographic in the world that was not as wealthy as their First/Business class passengers, but also not as Thrifty as their Economy class customers. It’s a revenue game and premium passengers are the revenue generators in the airline industry. When the demographic who generate revenue in the premium market was saturated, what better way to increase revenue than to create an entirely new demographic to saturate!
Premium Economy cabins have been around for decades in the international spectrum with Eva Air reported to be the first airline to debut this class of service in 1991. Things have changed quite a bit from that time with airlines introducing everything from special on-board chefs, dedicated check-in counters to customized amenity kits for this premium cabin.
Turkish Airlines had one of the top Premium Economy cabins in 2012 for both their hard and soft product. The Skytrax World Airline Awards ranked Turkish Airlines the 2nd best in 2012. The Points Guy ranked them 3rd best and Smarter Travel ranked them the fourth best Premium Economy.
Turkish Airlines introduced their Premium Economy cabin in 2010 and called it “Comfort Class”. It was inaugurated on their Istanbul to Beijing route and finally introduced to my LAX to Istanbul route in 2011. They only planned to configure their 777 long haul aircraft with this new cabin and did so by removing the First Class cabin entirely. With the new configuration, the 777 would house 28 business, 63 Comfort Class and 246 economy class seats.
With all the talk about Premium Economy last year, there were very few online trip reports that described the experience of a long-haul premium economy flight. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and decided to try Turkish Airlines for my trip to Istanbul. (If you are interested on how I got the ticket, you can read about it here.)
Comfort Class passengers are not invited to the Star Alliance lounge at LAX, so I had to resort to using my Priority Pass Lounge card to get myself into a lounge. While Priority Pass does have numerous choices throughout the many terminals at LAX, the only lounge they had at the International Terminal (T4) was the SkyTeam Korean Airlines Business Class Lounge. The only problem is that the lounge is only open from 08:00 – 16:00 & 19:00 – 23:50 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturday and Sundays. My flight to Istanbul departed at 19:45. Just my luck, I was traveling on a Saturday and so the lounge was closed prior to my departure time. My only other option was The Relax Lounge which is located outside security in the food court area. With no other choice, I tried out the lounge and to my surprise, it was just as nice as the Star Alliance lounge (which isn’t saying much).
Because the lounge is located outside of security in the food court area, I didn’t allow enough time and ended up being late to the gate. Finally when I got there, the boarding had already commenced for Economy class passengers. I didn’t see any signs designating priority boarding for Comfort Class passengers as there was for business class passengers.
After we boarded we were shown to our seats which were set in a 2-3-2 configuration. The seats were made of cloth with leather-type headrests and looked modern. The seat pitch was 46 inches which provided enough room to maneuver if the passenger in front of you decided to sleep. The seat had a nice width of 19.5 inches but only reclined back 8.8 inches. Each seat had power ports, a flexible shoulder mounted light and a tiny 10-inch center console TV monitor.
Shortly after boarding, we were brought Welcome Drinks which consisted of Orange Juice, Water or Champagne. I took the juice and well, it was juice. Shortly after take-off we were presented with Menus. Turkish Airlines, known for their in-flight meals, specifically state that they offer an upgraded meal to Comfort Class passengers. One thing I quickly noted was that while they offered a multi-course menu similar to Business/First, the only selection you could make was for the main entrée; all other courses came without any alternate choices. I also noticed the flight had an on-board chef who was constantly walking between the galley behind Comfort Class and the Business Class area throughout the meal service. He was hard to miss, since he was wearing a red apron and the traditional white Chef Boyardee hat! I also wasn’t sure if he was involved in both Comfort and Business class meal services or just the Business Class service.
After receiving the menu, we were handed gray Turkish Branded slippers along with an amenity kit. The amenity kit consisted of Bogner brand body lotion and lip balm, a compact toothbrush with toothpaste, a hair brush/comb combo, black socks, eyeshade, a shoe horn and ear plugs.
About 2 hours into the flight, the dinner meal service began. It started with drinks again and a serving of warm hazelnuts, which they proudly advertise as originating in Turkey. The appetizers, side salad and entrée were served together on a tray in nice ceramic plates. The salad was served without any dressing which I found incredibly odd and hard to eat without. The hummus and eggplant were both good and up to par with middle eastern cuisine that I have had at restaurants. For my entrée, I selected the traditional Turkish Kofte and my wife had the Herbed Chicken Breast entrée (she is less adventurous). The Kofte was on the drier side, but was good when slathered with hummus. The chicken was moist, well seasoned and tasted even better with the provided tomato and eggplant sauce.
For dessert they cleared our tray and brought a new tray with a separate plate of fruits, cheeses and petite desserts. Nothing was outstanding, but nothing was inedible either. On the whole, I wasn’t impressed with the dinner meal. The additional courses and service in actual plates did make things aesthetically better, but I was expecting more from a meal with an on-board chef.
After the meal, it was about 11pm local time and I thought I would try to get some sleep. While the seat was comfortable when sitting, I found it incredibly hard and uncomfortable to sleep in. Seat controls to recline and adjust the leg rests were done by manual push-buttons as opposed to the electric, motor-based seats you find in Business/First. Me and my wife also found the seats would not recline on their own, we would both have to stand up, push the recline button with one hand and use the other hand to push the seat back with quite some force. Similarly, we had to use one hand to push the leg rest button and the other hand to lift up the leg rests. At first I thought our seats were broken and then I saw others following our lead and realized it wasn’t a bug, it was a feature. I must not have been able to get the seat to recline a full 8.8 inches or the leg rest to come up far enough, because it didn’t feel like I was in any kind of recline that would allow me to sleep. Nor did my seat look like the picture on the Turkish website of a reclined passenger. Maybe I have just been spoiled by Business/First seats. I attempted to sleep off and on for a few hours before giving up.
Since I couldn’t sleep, I tried to watch some movies to pass the time. The 10-inch touch screen TV monitor in the center console was small and awkward to look at. I felt like I was looking down at the screen versus the seatback monitors that allow you to look straight ahead. The movie selection was very paltry as well. I was able to find a couple movies that could hold my interest and luckily, by the time the 2nd movie ended, it was time for the breakfast service as we were only about 2.5 hours out of Istanbul.
Unlike dinner, breakfast was more along the same lines as something you would find in Economy class. There were no options to select from as everyone was served the same tray, consisting of: fruits, cheeses, a cheese omelet, and bread. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same breakfast was provided to Economy class passengers as well. Perhaps only the dinner meal service is upgraded for Comfort Class passengers.
After the meal service, the 12 hours flight was nearing its end. Everyone rushed to the bathrooms and luckily Comfort Class passengers have a dedicated lavatory which is curtained off from Economy class and therefore the lines after breakfast were tolerable. We landed on-time and the taxi to the gate took a mere 5 minutes. We exited into the terminal expecting the same over-the-top lavish airports we had experienced across the middle east and were thoroughly disappointed. We must have landed in a remote, older terminal, because our outbound flight from Istanbul to Rome was in a modern, respectable terminal. It was like night and day!
Overall, based on what I paid for my flight using the Hidden City Trick and having it turn into two separate flights, I think it was worth the money I spent to fly in Comfort Class. I didn’t particularly like the seats and felt they were too uncomfortable for sleeping because of the paltry 8.8 inch recline and I don’t even think my seat reclined to that level! The food was supposed to be a step up from Economy class and it was exactly that, just a step above. If it doesn’t cost much more than an Economy flight, I would highly recommend upgrading to Premium Economy, but I wouldn’t pay significantly more for it.
Lucky wrote late last year that that Turkish Airlines is actually removing Comfort Class from its fleet in favor of a 2 class configuration of Business and Economy Class. But as of today, Comfort Class tickets are still being sold via their website.
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