When does an airline lounge become the reason to fly through a city?

That question never entered our heads when we booked a trip from Toronto to Africa, cashing in our Aeroplan Miles to fly business class. When our travel agent booked us back home from Cape Town to Toronto, we hunkered down in the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport for the six-hour layover.

One step inside and it became clear that this is to ‘lounge’ what ‘rec room’ is to ‘Rogers Centre.’

In fact, it’s bigger than some airports, spread out over 60,000 square feet on two vast floors and can hold 1,000 passengers at a time, with a capacity of 4,000 passengers per day. It’s much, much bigger than Canada’s largest airline lounge, the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in the Domestic Departures area of Pearson International in Toronto.

But it’s not just size that makes Istanbul the largest airline lounge on earth; it’s what you can do here. Of course you can eat and drink, much better than in business class on many airlines. There are over a dozen food stations serving everything from full meals to fine wine. One station serves only western desserts; another, only Turkish. There’s also a separate station devoted entirely to olives.

Beyond eating and drinking, you can do things here that most loungers don’t offer, like have a shower, snooze in a ‘quiet room’, and get a massage. But this is the only lounge with two roaming masseuses who will give you a 15-minute shoulder-rub at your seat.

And what other lounge has a pool table, a library, a model race-car track, a prayer room, a golf simulator, a separate kid’s area, and two baby grand pianos that play a la pianola all night and day?

The lounge is saved from being cavernous by being divided into a number of loose sections, set off with different furniture and floorings that reflect the Ottoman and Seljuk periods in Turkishhistory. We settled in to a foresty-gardeny area and it took me awhile to realize the sounds of birds I was hearing weren’t taped, but were real birds flying overhead.

The Turkish Airlines Lounge is all part of the airline’s push to remain the Best Airline in Europe for the 5th year running, and it’s clearly a new weapon in the war to attract lucrative international business class customers.

Will rival airlines pile on with ever larger lounges so that Turkish Airlines no longer enjoys first-mover advantage?

Let’s hope yes.

But to me, the bigger question is, would you deliberately change your flight route in order to enjoy a layover in an airline lounge?

Well, Istanbul is now the third most visited city in Europe, after Paris and London.

One reason may be that way back in 2009, Turkish Airlines, alongside the local and national governments, started a program called TourIstanbul that offers free 4-to-8-hour sightseeing tours for transit passengers – meals included:

It’s clear that investing in your passengers’ well-being when they’re not on the plane carries serious long-term benefits that our own airlines would do well to emulate.

See the article here.

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