While they don’t have the same ‘over the top’ reputation as the “Middle East 3” (Qatar, Etihad, and Emirates), most of that is sizzle – remember that both Qatar and Emirates still fly a substantial number of angled business class seats around the world, and Emirates packs their Boeing 777s with 10 seats across in coach (like American’s reconfigured 777-200s and 777-300s, and like United is supposedly considering moving to).
In fact, when we get down below business class Turkish Airlines made perhaps the world’s biggest bet on premium economy. And some of their Airbus planes have a couple of inches more legroom in economy than US airlines do.
What’s more, when an itinerary contains a forced layover in Istanbul, Turkish will provide a free hotel night even for economy passengers. A work colleague was given the Radisson Blu at the airport when flying economy to and from Eastern Europe.
And Turkish does offer one of the most over the top business class lounge experiences in Istanbul. There’s billiards, golf, a race track, and a movie room with popcorn machine.
They’re certainly expanding at a rapid pace. They are fourth in the world for number of destinations served, and they serve the most countries at 110. They’ve just announced their third destination in South Africa.
In the US they serve Boston, Chicago, New York JFK, Washington Dulles, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston, and are launching Miami and Atlanta service in the coming months.
At JFK, LAX, and Miami they’re flying right into the heart of American Airlines territory, and with Atlanta service planned they’ve got a straight forward attack on Delta. They aren’t limiting themselves to cities with Star Alliance connectivity (hence Boston, New York JFK, Miami, and Atlanta).
And they’ve long been state-subsidized.
- The English translation of the airline’s original name: State Airlines Administration
- It was late renamed General Directorate of State Airlines
- The government provided aircraft and capital for the carrier throughout the first 50 years of its existence.
- By 2004 it was privately owned, sort of — 2% of shares were in private hands with 98% held by the government.
- The government took its ownership stake down to 75% at that time. But before they did that they placed a $2.8 billion aircraft order.
- The government still owns over 49% of the airline.
They’re profitable, but so is Emirates (and Etihad claims to be). They’re able to serve routes all over the world that US carriers shy away from with claims of too much competition. And surely they benefit from capital injections over the course of 70 years, even if the government were passive owners today (they aren’t).
And yet there were never screams of unfair competition by Delta, American, and United.