Showing posts with label Star Alliance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Star Alliance. Show all posts

Monday, November 14, 2016

Turkish Airlines: Toronto to Tel-Aviv Review

I am writing this post on a plane on the way back from Israel.  I'm on Turkish Airlines, which is one of the few international carriers to offer trans-continental wi-fi for the whole flight.  It's not free - it's 9.99 Euros for two hours or 14.99 for 24 hours.  But it's great to have - especially if you are on a day flight and people are awake.
Over my 7 years of going back and forth between Toronto, Canada and Ra'anana, Israel, this was my first time flying Turkish Airlines  I had avoided it partially due to security reasons and partially for political reasons.  The relationship between Israel and Turkey has been strained over the past few years to say the least.

But I have to say that Turkish compares very favourably to almost anything else I have flown on this route.  I would put Air Canada at the top, since it is direct. Swiss and Lufthansa are also quite nice, despite the changeovers.  But I think I would prefer Turkish over Lot, Austrian, KLM or any of the different U.S. airlines.

Part of the reason I took the flight was timing.  It left at 10:30 pm from Toronto, which meant I was able to work all day in Toronto before leaving.  I will also say that price was a consideration as Turkish was much cheaper than other options for the days I was flying.

The aircraft from Toronto to Istanbul was decent -a 3-3-3 configuration.  The seats felt wide enough.  Each person has a large personal screen and an electrical outlet (that handles all types of plugs).  There are also USB ports for charging USB devices.  The entertainment system includes a range of movies, games, music and other items.

The flight attendants were very attentive.  They came around often and were friendly and helpful.

I ordered an Asian (Hindu) vegetarian meal, which was great.  There were also a few wine choices and lots of other drinks.  Like Air Canada and all of the European airlines, there is wine and bar service at no charge throughout the flight.

On arrival in Turkey, we had to take a shuttle bus from the plane to the terminal.  We then had to pass through personal security.  This was similar to other airports and nothing particularly eventful or problematic.

The airport terminal itself is huge and very nice.  Lots of shops - many very fancy, recognizable name brands. I only bought one item - a bottle of whiskey - and I was able to do so at a reasonable price.  There was a fairly wide selection.  On the way to Israel I also picked up some "Turkish Delight" at the request of a friend of mine.  There was quite a selection of different types all over the airport.

Inside the Turkish Lounge
A highlight of my stopover in Istanbul and a highlight of this flight was the Turkish Airlines lounge, which I was able to access as a Star Alliance member.  That's some lounge!  Spanning two stories, it features a range of different types of seating in a variety of areas, most of which are very comfortable.  Overstuffed couches, leather sectionals, dining table type seating to name just a few.

Turkish Lounge
There are food stations all over the lounge - like a buffet restaurant.  A coffee/espresso station, salad bar, fruit bar, crepe station, grill area, pizza bar and many others.  No shortage of food here....(though I'm not sure if they have many kosher options).

There is a golf swing area with a range of practice area with Sony PlayStations, showers, available Macs for use, a massage area, and a sleeping area with reclining chairs.  In case you are wondering, I did not wind up getting the Turkish massage...maybe next time.

I could probably go on and on but it is fair to say that I don't remember anything comparable from any of my other lounge visits in different airports.  As nice as the lounges are in Frankfurt and Toronto - or Zurich - this is a whole different league.

In case you are curious, I did see many Orthodox Jews on the flight and they did not seem to have any kind of problem flying with Turkish.  Certainly the Turkish planes did not seem to be as filled with Israelis or North American Jews as one might find on an El Al or Air Canada flight.  But the security seemed reasonably sophisticated and I felt safe.

My flight to Israel had a connection time of about 2 hours which worked out fine.  On the way back I wound up with an 8 hour layover because I was late in booking the flight, but I think that is generally avoidable.  There are several flights a day between Tel-Aviv and Istanbul.

All in all - thumbs up and I might do this more often....

A final note is that you must carefully look at the class code if collecting Aeroplan points is important.  Some classes of economy travel on Turkish Airlines do not allow for accumulation of any points.  For example, "U" class, as of June 2016, is in that category. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Toronto to Tel-Aviv: Air Canada - Business Class Dreamliner

Business Class Seat View 1
I have previously written about the various changes that Air Canada has made to its "Altitude" program - which have made it harder and harder to earn a high level status.  Up until two years ago, I was earning one mile for each flight, regardless of the cost of the air fare.  This also applied for flights on United Airlines and a number of other Star Alliance partners.  Now, Air Canada is only providing half the air miles for most of the lower end fares.  Some fares don't earn any points.  As a result, to qualify for "altitude 100k" (formerly "super-elite") status, you would need to fly 8 1/2 times between Israel and Toronto, at the much higher priced "flex" fares.  These fares can cost anywhere from $200 to $800 more on a round trip flight than a discounted "Tango" fare.  Same seats, same food, same plane.  Just a lower air miles reward (only about 2,850 each way instead of 5700).  So it is probably quite unlikely that I will qualify for "Super 100k" status again.  But I still have the status until February 28, 2015. So I decided to try and use it before it expires.

I booked a flight from Toronto to Tel-Aviv on an Air Canada flex fare.  This meant that I would be eligible for a free upgrade to business class, if the space was available.  If not, I could be upgraded to premium economy.  Since I had the upgrade points and I still had the status, I decided that it would be worthwhile (especially during low season) to take my chances.

I arrived at the airport and inquired about the likelihood of an upgrade.  I was told that there were three other people ahead of me and only two spots.  Oh well, I figured, at least I can probably fly "premium economy" which would get me a bit more leg room.

About an hour before the flight, I checked with very helpful lounge staff.  They told me that I had been upgraded and was seated in I was all set.

Air Canada is now using 787 "Dreamliners" on its flights between Tel-Aviv and Toronto.  These are very new planes.  Apparently, they fly at a cruising speed of about 60 km/h faster, so the flight time is reduced by about half hour to forty-five minutes.  I have to say that the planes are also quite smooth and much less noisy than many other planes.  Beyond that, the seats in the economy class seem to be as crowded, if not more so, than other planes.

But for this flight, I was quite fortunate.

Business Class Seat View 2
I was seated in an aisle seat in business class.  Unlike the previous planes that Air Canada used for flights to Israel, this plane has a separate entrance into the business class section.  Economy class passengers cannot pass through and gawk at the personal cabin-type seats.

Business class seats include a fully reclining, extra-wide seat and a large sized personal screen.  They also include a side table, a storage compartment and a handy electronic remote control that controls the seat, the TV, the entertainment and can even call for flight attendants.  The seat was very comfortable though I did  not use the down comforter that was also provided.

At the start of the flight, the attendants come around and offered a choice of orange juice (freshly squeezed) or sparkling wine.  Since I had already been in the lounge for a couple of hours, I declined these drinks.

Air Canada Vegetable Platter
I found it interesting that in such a fancy new plane, there were no overhead compartments for the aisle seats in the middle in rows 4, 5 and 6.  There was plenty of overhead storage room elsewhere, but it seems bizarre that they built the plane without overhead compartments for some of the business class rows.

Our flight left on time and the attendants came around with the menu.  I had pre-ordered an Asian vegetarian meal but was still given the choice of one of the business class options.  I went with a cod dish, which was served with wild rice and vegetables.

Fruit Platter
The appetizer was a plate of grilled vegetables, including asparagus, zucchini, artichoke and red pepper.  It was quite tasty and the plate was quite attractive.  Shortly afterwards, the attendants delivered a fresh fruit plate including pineapple, watermelon, kiwi, strawberries and grapes.  Sublime.

The main course was reasonably tasty - cod served with wild rice, fennel and carrots.  Not particularly memorable but edible and served with a reasonably artistic flair.

Main Course

Meanwhile, I managed to sample some of the different wines that were being offered.  A California Meritage, a Spanish wine and a French wine.  None of the wines were particularly enticing but I preferred the California selection.  The flight attendants were quite eager to help me find a wine that was most suitable to my palate.  They insisted that I try each of the wines until I find one that I really liked....

Cheese Platter

After the meal, a cheese platter was delivered.  I was getting a bit worried about the caloric size of this meal, so I passed on the chocolate mousse which was also offered.  Instead I opted for some Courvoisier VSOP Cognac to accompany the cheese platter.

During the meal, I watched the movie Transcendence, which started off as an interesting concept but fizzled.  I also watched a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

By the time the movie ended and the dishes were cleared, I enjoyed one last drink - a decaf coffee.  I then reclined the seat-bed fully - and tried to go to sleep.  Next thing I knew, I was hearing an announcement that we were less than two hours away from Tel-Aviv and that a hot breakfast would soon be served.  I really wasn't that hungry at this point.  The flight attendants came around with a choice of pancakes or quiche, both served with chicken sausages.  I would not have eaten either dish and would have had my Asian vegetarian breakfast.  But instead, I had a yogurt and a coffee and I was fine.

Overall, this was certainly one of the more enjoyable flights that I have had between Toronto and Tel-Aviv.  I really don't think I would spend the $5,000 to buy a regular priced business class ticket - and I am not even sure I would pay the $500 cost to upgrade from "flex" class to business class that Air Canada is now charging its passengers (other than Altitude 100K passengers).  But I took advantage of this rare opportunity and enjoyed the free upgrade knowing that it is probably unlikely that I will have too many similar chances in the near future.

On hearing about my flight, a number of people, here in Israel, told me that I probably didn't want to get off the plane...

Well, as nice as the flight was, I can't really go that far.  After all, I arrived to a sunny 22C day, having left the -3C temperature of Toronto.  Winter? In Israel?  Maybe for a few days - but even the roughest winter days here would be like early fall in Canada, unless you happen to live in Jerusalem or way up north, in which case you might get a few odd days of snow.  Of course, it might feel like winter inside the homes since most homes are built without insulation.  But you can always step outside and enjoy the sun.

And now that January has almost come to an end, there are likely to be very few "wintry"days left in Israel - and even fewer when measured by Canadian standards.  Of course, that all makes sense, since the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the "New Year of the Trees" is quickly approaching and the weather should be nice enough to allow us to plant some new trees.

Hopefully, on my return to Toronto I will hear that the groundhog has delivered some good news about the Toronto forecast.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Swiss: Tel-Aviv to Toronto Route Review: March 2013

Flying Over Switzerland - From Inside Swiss plane
Over my three years of travelling back and forth between Toronto and Tel-Aviv, I have managed to sample most of the Star Alliance partners that travel this route.  Travelling Star Alliance allows me to collect Aeroplan points, which seems like the best option for this route.

I have reviewed the various options in different blog posts, which are all listed in the Contents By Topic page.  While I try to take a direct flight as often as I can, the price difference is often so significant that it is worthwhile trying a different route.

Most recently, I flew on Swiss.  The price on Expedia was about $800 cheaper than flying on the available Air Canada flight for the dates I needed.  So I decided to save the money and take the roundabout route.

Most of the Swiss flights (if not all of them) fly from Zurich to Montreal, rather than Toronto.  So this is a major drawback.  I had to fly Tel-Aviv-Zurich-Montreal-Toronto (in order to save all that money).  I would  have spent the day travelling anyways, even with a direct flight, so although it was an inconvenience, it did not cause me to lose extra work time.

Like most of the other European flights from Tel-Aviv, the Swiss flights leave early in the morning, in this case 5:30 a.m.  That is just not that fun.  It means you have to arrive at the airport at about 3:30 a.m.  this is exhausting.  The highways were empty at 3:30 a.m. but Ben Gurion airport was completely packed.  Since so many of the flights to Europe leave early in the morning, the check-in area was wall to wall people.  It took quite a bit longer than usual to get through everything.  By contrast, the direct flight to Toronto on Air Canada leaves at 12:30 p.m. and the aiport is usually quite empty at that time.

The flight from Tel-Aviv to Zurich was uneventful.  The planes were similar to those used by Austrian and Lufthansa.  But I have to say that Swiss had the best in-flight entertainment selection that I have seen, by far, rivalled perhaps only by United, which would be a distant second.  There were hundreds of movies, and hundreds of musical choices in many different musical genres.  By contrast, for example, Austrian Air does not even have an entertainment system for its route between Tel-Aviv and Vienna.  Of course, I was too tired to watch a movie, having left at 5:30 a.m., but I listened to a bunch of new pop and rock albums while trying to catch up on some sleep.

Regretfully I went back to Kosher meals - since I didn't want to get stuck being served some kind of breakfast wurst or other meat which I would not have been able to eat.  So I had to make do with a hideous omelette look-alike that tasted like a hunk of rubber.  I jealously watched my seat neighbour enjoying a fresh salad and some fresh fruit even though his hunk of mystery meat that accompanied the healthy food did not tempt me at all.

In Zurich, I had about four hours to kill until the flight to Montreal.  I was able to hang out in the "Panorama Lounge" for a while.  This chintzy lounge only offered one hour of free wireless internet (I think it was one of the only lounges that I have been in that has this restriction).  There was a bit of food, some decent coffee and other items.  It was largely empty when I first arrived but as time passed, the lounge became completely overcrowed.  Apparently, there are not many lounge choices in Zurich so seats were at a real premium.

I also spent a bit of time poking around in the duty free stores, but the prices were really quite high.  I decided I had to buy a few bars of chocolate but that was really about it.

The flight from Zurich to Montreal was fine.  The plane featured the same great in-flight entertainment system so I was able to catch up on a few recent movies.  I actually quite enjoyed watching Silver Linings Playbook and I also checked out some more new music selections.  The kosher mystery beef dish that was served for lunch was quite questionable.  Probably should have ordered vegetarian...Near the end of the flight I was served some kind of deli sandwhich, which was equally less than appetizing.

The real problem with this flight was the extra delay of having to travel through Montreal.  Of course I love Montreal (I was born there after all) but this stop simply added an extra three or four hours to my travel time.  Fortunately, I was able to get on a standby list to leave on an earlier flight than scheduled (on Air Canada) and I wound up in Toronto about 2 hours earlier than scheduled at 5:30 p.m.  Total Travel time - 19 hours - including travel time, lounge time and everything in between.   It would have been 21 if I had not been able to get the earlier flight. 

Most Swiss flights award full Aeroplan points (unlike Austrian and many Lufthansa) and you get to see some really great scenery travelling into and out of Switzerland, if you have a window seat.  All in all, I would say that this was probably a preferable flight over Austrian and maybe even over Lufthansa but it wasn't as good as flying via United or US Air, if you have to make a stopover.

I won't rule it out for the future, particularly if I can save hundreds of dollars (not just one or two hundred...), but there is no doubt that it is preferable to fly direct if at all possible.