First Impressions: New Istanbul Airport (Arriving, Departing, & Connecting)

by Anna

I’ve just come back from my around-the-world trip a few weeks ago. In the span of two weeks, I had experienced the new Istanbul Airport (IST) three times — arriving, departing, and connecting.

The trip was booked with 115,000 ANA miles and about $750 in taxes and fees. I transferred Membership Rewards that I earned from the welcome bonus from my American Express Platinum Card to ANA.

Booking an around-the-world ticket is one of the best uses of Amex Membership Rewards; it provides tremendous value. MR points are fairly easy to earn thanks to the welcome bonuses and bonus spending categories. My favorite no annual fee small business American Express card is the Blue Business Plus card. The card earns 2x on everything, making it easier to accumulate a good stash of Membership Rewards.

Here are my thoughts on the new, massive Turkish Airlines hub airport that fully opened in March 2019.

Getting Between Istanbul Airport (IST) And The City

New Istanbul Airport

The new IST airport is far from everything and there’s no train or subway. On my first ever visit to Turkey, I arrived in Istanbul at 4:30am. My hotel was in the very centrally located Sultanahmet district, less than 10 minute walk from Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. To get there, I had the choice of taking a cab or taking an airport shuttle bus that goes directly to Sultanahmet Square.

Taking A Taxi 

I opted to take a cab for 135 lira or about $24. Turkish cab drivers are notorious for trying to take advantage of tourists, and I was told by my hotel’s staff of this as well.  When I got into the cab at the airport I made sure the driver turned on the meter. So early in the morning there was no traffic and the drive took about 35 minutes.

I considered taking the airport bus back to the airport, but the bus stop wasn’t far enough from my hotel for the cab to take me there, but it was too far to walk with the bags. I ended up asking my hotel to get me a taxi. On the way to the airport, the taxis won’t turn on the meter but rather charge a flat rate. Many cab companies can’t pick up passengers at the airport, only certain companies can do that. They have to go back to the city empty, so they have to charge a flat rate. I paid 190 lira or $34 for the ride back to the airport.

The airport bus would have cost me just $3, and if I didn’t have a suitcase, that’s what I would have done. But considering how far the airport is from town, I thought paying $24-$34 for a cab ride wasn’t bad.

Related: 11 Top Travel Scams And How To Avoid Them

First Impressions: The Istanbul Airport Itself

istanbul airport review

The airport is vast. Massive. Huge. And there’s a lot of walking involved so wear your comfortable shoes, you’ll be walking a lot. I haven’t been to the old Istanbul Atatürk Airport, but the new one is beautiful.

I thought it looked like an upscale fashion mall rather than airport. There are lots of designer stores with beautifully decorated windows and open seating areas. If you are connecting, it does take a while to get from one gate to the other and I had not seen any moving walkways.

My first time there was when I arrived on an international flight from Seoul, South Korea and we taxied for about 10 minutes and disembarked via the jetway.

On my subsequent shorter flights to and from Istanbul, we had to go to a remote stand by bus. I was actually very surprised — the airport is so big and brand new — I thought they’d have enough jetways to accommodate all the flights.

It took me me a good 15 minutes to reach immigration after disembarking from my flight from Seoul. There was no one in line at 4:30 in the morning, the border control agent checked my visa, stamped my passport and I was on my way.

Connecting In The New Istanbul Airport

A few days later, I was transiting in Istanbul from Israel on my way to Munich, Germany. My layover was only 55 minutes, so I knew I’d have to hustle.

Thankfully, there are clear signs for transit passengers with short connections, I just followed the signs and got to the immigration pretty quickly. I had to go through security again, and that’s where you can encounter people who don’t fly often and could slow down the line, but there were a lot of lines open and security took just a few minutes. This time I was at the airport in the middle of the day, and it was, of course much busier, but it never felt crowded.

All of the departure screens show the approximate walking times to the gates, so this was very helpful. After a brisk walk, I made it to my gate a few minutes before boarding. In the future, I wouldn’t pick such a short connection. Had my incoming flight been delayed by even 20 or 30 minutes, I would have missed my connecting flight.

 Turkish Airlines Lounge Impressions

Turkish Airlines Lounge

Turkish Airlines Lounge

When I was leaving Istanbul, I made sure to leave enough time to explore the lounge. I’ve heard great things about it and I wasn’t disappointed.

One word to describe the lounge is simply”wow.” Like the airport, it’s massive (for a lounge), there are showers, storage lockers (why don’t all lounges have this?) and various sitting areas. And, of course, there’s amazing food. I was at the lounge during breakfast, and Turkish breakfast is usually a huge spread. There were even kind Turkish ladies doing made-to-order traditional stuffed flat bread called gozleme.

There were also all kinds of eggs including menemen, a Turkish style scrambled eggs with tomatoes. Then, there were a million kinds of olives, pastries, fruit preserves and cakes.

One area is decorated as a Turkish tea house where you can have some tea or Turkish coffee with traditional sweets. Oh, and there’s also a simit (Turkish bagel) cart, exactly like you’d find on the streets of Istanbul. In short, come hungry and eat your way through the lounge. There’s no dedicated bar, all the alcoholic drinks are set up at self-serve stations. The barista at the coffee station can make you any cup of coffee or tea you can imagine.

Turkish Tea at the Lounge

Turkish Tea at the Lounge

There’s also a really cute kids play area with colorful tables and chairs and a room for the little ones to run around.

Turkish Airlines Lounge Kids' Area

Turkish Airlines Lounge Kids’ Area

To get a Wi-Fi password, I had to scan my boarding pass at one of the machines scattered around the lounge. Outside of the lounge, in order to use Wi-Fi, you have to register with a Turkish phone number and enter the code sent to you by SMS. So effectively, there’s no Wi-Fi at the airport excluding the lounge, unless you live in Turkey.

Final Thoughts

I was a little apprehensive about the new Istanbul Airport because of its size. However, even with a short layover, I made my flight. I am glad I got to experience IST three times — on arrival, in transfer, and for departure. Next time, I am going to leave myself more time between flights and visit the lounge again. I am curious now what they serve for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was so fabulous, I can’t wait to eat there again.

Be prepared to get a good walk. Not necessarily a bad thing before a long flight, just leave yourself enough time. I was surprised they still use remote stands at this brand new airport. But everything ran smoothly and the flights departed on time.

Related: Impressions Of The Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge (IST)

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havaist shuttles August 28, 2019 - 1:02 pm

That should be istanbul new airport. It’s awesome. You can now use havaist airport buses to go to city center economically.

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