Turkish Airlines (THY) is the world’s biggest carrier in terms of countries and destinations served. It operates a gargantuan network of 304 worldwide destinations, including 49 domestic, and 255 international in 122 countries—more than any other airline in the globe.
In 2016, the airline opted to launch services to Caracas, Venezuela via Havana, Cuba. At the time of the announcement of the new route, analysts saw it with skepticism, given that Venezuela’s current economic, political, and social crisis forced more than 12 international carriers to stop flying there.
Venezuela’s socialist/communist regime forbids the free transaction of international currencies since 2003.
More than $3 billion dollars belonging to international airlines remain trapped in Venezuela’s banks, detonating the massive exodus of carriers that once linked Caracas with the world on a daily basis.
And with a soaring hyperinflation that’s expected to reach the one-million-percent mark by the end of 2018, those airline funds are nothing but dust in the air.
However, as other airlines flew away and never came back, Turkish Airlines opened up the Istanbul-Havana-Caracas triangle in December 2016 with a three-times-per-week service on its Airbus A330-200s, betting on a market that, albeit underserved and heavily damaged by poor loads, has fewer connections than ever before.
Apparently, the Istanbul-based carrier saw an opportunity.
“This flight is a perfect option for Middle East and Asian travelers, as the arrival time of this flight to Istanbul allows the transfer to most of the Asian destinations served by Turkish Airlines, including our three destinations to China,” said Kerem Sarp, SVP Sales, Turkish Airlines at the flight’s inauguration ceremony.
It was time for me to give them a try after more than eight years since I delivered its first Boeing 777-300(ER) from the Boeing Assembly Line in Everett all the way to Istanbul—an experience I’ll never forget.
On my return flight from Istanbul in 2010, I had the chance to fly the airline’s Airbus A340-300 to Chicago-O’Hare—an experience that I’d hoped would be similar on this CCS-IST leg.
Let’s see what happened.
The Caracas Airport Experience
I arrived at the dismal Maiquetia International Airport at 11:00—two hours and forty-five minutes ahead of scheduled departure time.
Upon entering the terminal, a hot and humid environment slapped me in the face, strong. The air conditioning system at CCS has been inoperative for a good five months.
I arrived at THY’s check-in counters and realized I was the very last passenger to check-in for the flight. Thankfully, since I was flying Business Class, the friendly gate agents waited for me and didn’t close the flight.
In less than four minutes, I had my boarding pass in hand and cleared to pass through the even-hotter customs and passport control area.
Once airside, I went straight to the American Airlines Admirals Club, which THY partnered with for all premium passengers to enjoy. Upon entering, I was given the terrible news that in less than 10 days, the 27-year-old lounge was going to close for good.
Apparently, American Airlines decided to shut down three of its lounges, including Hartford (BDL), Greensboro (GSO), and Caracas (CCS), leaving without a job a dozen of Venezuelan employees who were visibly emotional about the drastic decision that came all the way from Dallas.
Hanging out at the lounge was a blessing. The airport not only didn’t have air conditioning but also didn’t have running water in its public restrooms. The lounge, on the other hand, was a little oasis in the midst of a warm, humid desert.
The airport is now far away from the true self—which once even welcomed Concorde on a regular basis in the 1970s.
Boarding the Airbus A330-200
One hour after arriving at the lounge, our A330 was ready for boarding. I was the second passenger to jump on the plane, and before reaching the plane’s L2 door, I noticed an African man screaming, crying, and laying on the floor.
The poor man had flown from Guinea to Havana, where he was denied entry. He was then deported back to Istanbul and, while the plane was being refueled in Caracas, tried to escape from the airline’s custody. Venezuelan authorities apprehended the man and held him for interrogation.
The man’s screams were such that passengers boarding the plane demanded that he’d be restrained. Thankfully, the issue was solved and our plane departed on time, with the poor man restrained to his seat.
Inside the fresh-looking Business Class cabin, four passengers who had flown in from HAV were enjoying a bottle of wine—two of them sitting on the ottoman and the other two on their seats. They sure seemed to be having a great time!
Turkish Airlines PaxEx
Once settled, the signature Turkish Airlines Flying Chef handed out the menu for both supper and breakfast. After giving us some time to browse through the very complete menu, my order was taken.
I was impressed at the vast selection of dishes, and even more so by the numerous choices of red, white, rose, and sparkling wines.
Simultaneously, I was given a delicious red berry mocktail, which was refreshing and tasty.
As we taxied out to the runway, the famous LEGO-themed Turkish Airlines safety video was shown. It has to be one of the most entertaining safety videos in the industry. Kudos to its creators!
Our heavy A330 became airborne at 14:45, performing a shallow left turn towards a northerly heading. Scheduled time enroute was 12 hours—putting this plane close to MTOW.
Although the A330 offers a nose and a belly camera, the latter didn’t seem to be working properly. However, once the landing gear was retracted, I got a nice peek at the aircraft’s shadow moving rapidly over the northernmost coastline in South America right below us. A neat sight for sure.
About 20 minutes after departing Caracas, the crew was quick to prepare the cabin for supper service.
A Flying Chef Experience
With a very modest English, our FAs kindly set the table with a Turkish Airlines branded linen, followed by a small plate of nuts together with my beverage of choice.
The nuts had a nice selection macadamia, pistachios, cashews, and almonds. Unlike other carriers, Turkish Airlines does not warm these up.
Minutes later, a second appetizer followed with three Venezuelan canapés known as Tequeños (sort of
The succulent hors d’oeuvre worked well to open up the way for the main course.
As ordered, my tomato soup arrived, together with a beautiful rectangular plate that came equipped with four smaller circular plates. Each one had a Do&Co bottle of Olive Oil, two magnet salt and pepper shakers, butter, spices, and the coolest-looking electric candle light that soothed the dining experience to a whole different level.
The soup’s quality was outstanding. The bread, which was obviously re-heated, seemed as if it had been recently baked.
The quality of the butter, olive oil, and the Turkish spice blend were also a nice add-on to this course.
Once finished, the main course arrived—a beautiful piece of filet mignon accompanied by roasted potatoes and a tomato salad.
Producing a decent piece of beef on an airplane is a challenge in its own. Most of the times, the beef comes out dry and overcooked. However, the Do&Co Flying Chef onboard today’s flight to Istanbul managed to knock it out of the park, nailing the beef’s heat to perfection.
The filet mignon was perfectly medium-rare cooked. The flavors were also highlighted by sparkles of salt flakes that rested on top of the filet. I was impressed.
Once the dish was cleared off my table, a large cart with a myriad of cheese and desert choices was presented along the aisle of the plane.
Feeling quite full, all I ordered was a small cup of Fresh Fruit and a little bit of Cheese, which the Flying Chef described as Cheddar, Brie, Emmental, and Blue Cheese.
Overall, I was utterly awestruck with the quality of the food served on this flight. And the most surprising fact was that all of it was cooked in Caracas.
I was later told by the Flying Chef that a Do&Co head chef travels to Caracas on a regular basis to supervise the production and delivery of all catering that’s boarded on this flight.
“I am very surprised that every time I fly to Caracas, the food is spot on. Sometimes I travel to Washington and other US destinations and the food is horrible. But Caracas never lets us down,” she said.
This is very welcome news, especially now that Venezuela is going through the worst economic and social crisis in its history, with food scarcity being a number-one concern.
Famine and poverty are at record-breaking highs in the country, where finding proteins is a task that is often mission impossible.
Moreover, the fact that Do&Co and Turkish Airlines have trusted and empowered Venezuelan talent into the making of the airline’s award-winning catering is a fabulous endorsement.
After the hearty dining experience came to an end, I chose to sit back and enjoy a movie on the airline’s strong IFE, which comes equipped with hundreds of movies, live TV, games and plenty of music to browse through.
By 17:00, the FA came to my seat offering the turndown service. I gladly accepted and my seat was covered with a cushiony cover and a large pillow.
Since the cabin was not full, I had the chance to get two more pillows from unattended seats, increasing levels of comfort exponentially.
I then dozed off for a good five hours until waking up as we entered Portugal’s northern coastline.
As our flight progressed through Europe, from its far western corner all the way to the furthest east, the sun began to light up in the horizon.
We flew over the beautiful island of Sardinia, where I’d been less than a month before visiting Air Italy’s headquarters and meeting the airline’s new Boeing 737 MAX 8.
I continued enjoying a second movie, boosted by the amazing Denon noise-canceling headsets that the airline offers to its passengers.
The headsets are one of the best features in Turkish Airlines’ business class service. They’re light, comfortable, and truly noise canceling.
Breakfast Time: What a Surprise
By 06:00 Eastern European time, breakfast was served.
The first tray arrived fully stocked with all the items I had ordered: a plate of fresh fruits (pineapple, melon, watermelon, strawberries); two small bowls with muesli and yogurt; a small plate with cheese, tomato, and cucumber; a selection of warm bread; and a freshly brewed cappuccino.
The favorite component of this first tray was the muesli, which came with raisins and a couple of grapes. The fruit, also local from Venezuela, was stunningly fresh and sweet.
The second tray then arrived with what I can describe as the best omelette I have ever had inflight. Hands down.
The mozzarella cheese
The flavors were light and somewhat sweet. The melted mozzarella made it a truly enjoyable breakfast experience.
Descent, Arrival, Conclusions
By 08:30 local time we began our descent towards Istanbul.
The Denon headsets were collected by our flight attendants and cabin was prepared for our imminent arrival.
Landing and deplaning were completely uneventful. I was landside in less than 15 minutes after leaving the aircraft, hopping on to my ride to the hotel, where I arrived fresh and ready for a full day of work.
In conclusion, Turkish Airlines is strong. Very strong.
I had my doubts when the airline opened up the IST-HAV-CCS route, believing it was just a service that wasn’t going to last long.
However, the airline is now flying to CCS daily, and reportedly, loads aren’t bad either.
The carrier offers excellent connectivity to Europe and Asia through its hub in Istanbul. And once the new Istanbul Airport opens next week, its efficiency will undoubtedly increase.
The food was, as mentioned above, five stars. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. And the fact that it was cooked in Venezuela, says a lot about the airline’s complicity and supervision on its award-winning catering service.
On the flight back to Havana and Caracas, food was good, but not as much as the outbound.
Also, I was somewhat disappointed that on the HAV-CCS leg, the Business Class service was downgraded with a small snack and plastic-made headphones.
All thick covers and pillows were removed and the overall experience lost a good few points on the three-hour flight across the Caribbean.
Would I fly Turkish Airlines again from Caracas in the future? Absolutely.
And with the new Istanbul Airport opening up shortly, the Turkish Airlines passenger experience will see a massive promotion.