Executive Traveller exclusive
Turkish Airlines will begin flights to Australia in December, and both Sydney and Melbourne are in the running – with the eventual prospect of direct daily flights to both cities using new ultra-long range jets.
In an exclusive interview with Executive Traveller on a visit to Melbourne, Turkish Airlines Chairman Ahmet Bolat revealed he is in final stages of discussion with both airports.
Bolat also admitted there were “some legal issues” involved, without going into specifics, but said “both countries are working on it.”
As to the issue of Sydney vs Melbourne, Bolat described the competition as “actually 50/50 right now,” although Melbourne may have the edge because “Sydney Airport is more limited compared to Melbourne Airport... but in terms of the number of the passengers that we can carry, they have similar potentials.”
“We have not decided which city we are going to fly to first,” he admitted, but expects that decision to be made by “mid-August”, with the flights themselves going on sale very soon after.
“We’re going to start immediately to sell (them)” he told Executive Traveller, “and we are targeting mid-December this year” for the first flight to take off.
“We are working on three flights per week via Singapore using our Boeing 787s for this journey,” Bolat confirmed.
Bolat then intends to ramp up the frequency to five flights per week before moving to a daily roster – and eventually, daily flights to both Sydney and Melbourne “is our strategic target.”
However, regardless of which city is chosen for the honour of hosting Turkish Airlines’ inaugural flights to Australia, Bolat said the other city would only follow once that first city is brought up to daily flights.
“The way that we will do it will (be to) compete daily in the city that we selected, (and) then we'll go to the other city” – a process which be predicted could take “two years.”
Turkish Airlines’ Boeing 787 each have 30 flatbed business class seats in the same design as Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-10 ‘regional business class’.
Turkish Airlines already has daily flights to Singapore, where it uses Changi Airport’s Terminal 1 – the same terminal as used by Qantas and Emirates, among others.
During that Singapore stopover, business class passengers, Elite and Elite Plus members of the airline’s Miles&Smiles reward program and their Star Alliance Gold siblings will break their journey at T1’s SATS Lounge.
The long leg between Singapore and Istanbul will take around 11 hours, and a total Sydney-Istanbul or Melbourne-Istanbul travel time of 21 hours including the Singapore stopover.
Bolat also told Executive Traveller the airline will seek ‘fifth freedom rights’ to sell the Singapore-Australia leg on its own, describing that as “really a crucial factor” for the route.
Non-stop from Istanbul to Sydney and Melbourne
However, Bolat eventually hopes to skip Singapore with non-stop Istanbul-Australia flights using ultra-long range jets from Airbus, in the form of the A350-1000ULR, or Boeing’s delayed 777X.
“Our main goal is to fly directly to both Sydney and Melbourne every day, with the production of a new generation of ultra-long-range aircraft.”
But those globe-spanning flights won’t take wing until the end of this decade at the earliest.
“It’s five years if it’s the A350, if it’s the 777 it’ll take seven years to mature,” Bolat expects, saying Turkish Airlines is looking at an order of “10 to 15” aircraft, which would also fly to South American destinations such as Santiago and Bueno Aires.
But while that remains some years away, for now “it’s time to show the Turkish Airlines logo in Australia.”
Bolat says his ambition to connect Istanbul and Australia is a long-held one, noting the airline “carried 120,837 passengers in 2019 and 118,847 passengers in 2022 with airlines with codeshare agreements from Australia, where we do not have direct flights yet.”
This hints at the untapped potential for Turkish Airlines to add Australia to its network map, with scores of convenient connections spearing out from Istanbul across Europe, the UK and Africa.
For stopovers at Türkiye’s impressive new Istanbul Airport between six and 24 hours, the airline offers two free packages for exploring the sprawling city, which straddles both Europe and Asia on either side of the Bosporus: a choice between eight city tours, and a more comprehensive Stopover in Istanbul program including a complimentary stay of up to two nights in a five-star hotel.
Bolat also says business class passengers from Australia will be offered a free domestic return flight to the historic city of Karahan Tepe, in the country’s south-east, best known for ongoing archeological digs.
The Turkish Airlines experience
Turkish Airlines is held in high regard by business class travellers, with one highlight of the journey being “restaurant quality” gourmet meals prepared by the airline’s signature Flying Chefs – and yes, they’re actual chefs, not cabin crew wearing a fancy hat.
The airline’s Boeing 787 flatbed business class seats are arranged 1-2-1 to provide privacy and direct aisle access for every passenger, with an 18-inch video screen plus free inflight WiFi.
Turkish Airlines’ Istanbul Airport hub features two stunning lounges – one for business class travellers, the other for frequent flyers holding Elite and Elite Plus status in Turkish Airlines’ Miles&Smiles program (and their Star Alliance Gold equivalents).
Top-tier frequent flyers with Qantas, Emirates, Etihad Airways and any member of the Oneworld and SkyTeam alliances can apply for a Turkish Airlines’ Miles&Smiles status match to obtain up to 12 months as a Miles&Smiles Elite tier member, unlocking practical perks such as lounge access, a higher checked luggage allowance and the use of priority lanes at Istanbul Airport.
Additional reporting by Chris Ashton