In April this year, a perceptible change took place in global tourism. Though it wasn’t one that travelers noticed immediately, for industry insiders it was a landmark one. The first phase of the new Istanbul Airport was completed, and over the course of 45 hours, the entire operations of the national carrier, Turkish Airlines, were shifted from the old airport, the Atatürk International Airport, to the new one.
This was a historic event for many reasons. The new airport, 35 kilometers from the city centre, once entirely completed by the current deadline of 2028, will become the biggest airport in the world operating to more than 300 destinations; its annual capacity will be 200 million passengers (its current closest competition is the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International at 107 million passengers). Opening in four phases, the airport will be spread over 76.5 million sq mts and will have six runways. Plus, there is Istanbul’s strategic placement – at an intersection of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, the airport will be one of the world’s most significant aviation hubs.
To a passenger / global traveller, these are however just details. Because what matters at the end of the day to anyone arriving, departing, or transiting at the airport is the experience of it. And the new airport promises many.
My recent visit to Istanbul allowed me to spend some time at the airport on my way out of the city. What hits one immediately is the sheer size of it. The main terminal area is spread over 1.4 million sq mts, a modern structure seemingly made bigger by the natural light that floods it. The airport is inspired in form and design by the many facets of Istanbul. The ceiling is reminiscent of the city’s domes (the lattice-like design harks to how light penetrates the Ottoman Süleymaniye Mosque), and the main terminal’s transit hall follows the shape of the Bosphorus Strait. The control tower has been designed in the shape of a tulip, Turkey’s national flower.
The Business Class check-in is a lounge unto itself. Enter the space that has a designated gate and choose to seat yourself in elegant chairs while you wait for a friend or colleague, or breeze through given the number of counters that are there. It needs to be said here that for business class passengers, the service continues on board. Apart from fully flat beds, in-chair massage features, Christian Lacroix amenity kits, and a screen to create a private area, there is the winning Flying Chefs concept, where passengers are treated to freshly cooked, customised meals, by world-class chefs on board.
It’s once you pass security that the magnificence of the airport sets in. An ‘Istanbul’ installation greets you (for obvious reasons a popular photo op), and you move on to the array of shopping options. The Duty-Free Zone is spread over 53,000 sq mts, and features everything from Louis Vuitton and Prada to Hermes and Celine (soon to be launched is a pre-order system, which will allow passengers to make online purchases that will await them at the store at the airport). For food and drinks, there are 30 restaurants and cafes to choose from. The airport also has Yotel, 451-room airport hotel with both landside and airside rooms.
The Business Lounge follows the same grand scale of functioning. Divided into different types of seating – lounge, restaurant, casual – stow your things in an on-site storage locker and head to one of the many live counters for food that being made hot and fresh. There are day beds for people who want to stretch out, and conference room services for when you want to work on-the-go. Giant screens allow you follow global news, and if you are in the mood for something cultural, there is an art gallery you can spend some time in. For the sports inclined, there is a gaming station, and a golf simulator. And kids can keep busy at a specially designed play area. Best of all, there are private suites that eligible passengers on long-haul flights and long layovers can avail of. Some may argue that bigger isn’t always better, but the new Istanbul airport could prove otherwise.