TRIP REPORT: Turkish, Zagreb - Bahrain via Istanbul


Written by Jakov Fabinger

Flight 1/2:

Departs Zagreb Airport (ZAG) at 09:10
Arrives in Istanbul Ataturk (IST) at 13:15
Date: Tuesday 18 December

Ticket price: £384 (open-jaw: includes separate trip to LHR via IST in 2019)
Fare: Economy Promo

Aircraft: A321 (Sharklets, TC-JSP, 3.5 years old)
Load factor: 135/158 (85%) in economy, 3/20 (15%) in business

Left the gate in ZAG 5 minutes early, parked at the gate in IST 6 minutes late
Flight time: 2 hours 16 minutes

Flight 2/2:

Departs Istanbul Ataturk (IST) at 20:55 on Tuesday 18 December
Arrives in Bahrain International (BAH) at 00:45 on Wednesday 19 December
Ticket price and fare type: see above

Aircraft: A330-300 (TC-LOE, 4 years old)
Load factor: Business unknown, economy estimated 88%

Left the gate in IST 11 minutes late, parked at the gate in BAH 6 minutes late
Flight time: 3 hours 43 minutes

I purchased this ticket in May 2018, for flights ZAG-IST-BAH in December 2018 and BAH-IST-LHR in January 2019. Since it is no longer possible to fly Qatar Airways between Zagreb and Bahrain, and since Emirates was absurdly expensive and I did not fancy taking a two-stop journey with Air Serbia/Etihad through BEG and AUH or Lufthansa through FRA and RUH, I opted for Turkish Airlines, despite the 8-hour layover. I decided to use that time to visit the city of Istanbul.

Some weeks after the purchase Turkish started making various changes to the itinerary. Some of them were fairly minimal: the IST-BAH flight was rescheduled to depart 10 minutes earlier and arrive 25 minutes earlier, the BAH-IST flight was rescheduled to depart 10 minutes later and arrive 15 minutes later, and the IST-LHR leg's arrival was pushed back by 5 minutes.

There was also one highly pleasing change: while the original equipment for these four flights was scheduled to be A321-A321-A321-B777, some three weeks before I flew out of Zagreb the BAH-IST flight was switched to an A333.

On a less positive note, I was expecting that the BAH to LHR flights would run through the new airport (ISL) instead of through Ataturk (IST), but with the opening of ISL being pushed back twice, this did happen. ISL is yet to fully open.

Plane had left Istanbul before I even started my journey to Zagreb Airport

En route to Zagreb Airport

Christmas decorations at Zagreb Airport, and Turkish Airlines check-in

Boarding started exactly when we were told it would: 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time. I can't remember the last time I boarded a plane this early. We managed to leave before schedule, and we would have arrived in Istanbul early had we not been placed in a landing queue for some fifteen minutes above Turkey.

Our A321 was parked next to Qatar's A320 in Zagreb

An air bridge at Zagreb

My seat was in the front row of economy, and the extra legroom was absolutely fantastic - even for my very long legs!

The safety demonstration was presented through IFE, using a custom-made video for Turkish Airlines made to the theme of Lego the Movie

I had never flown Turkish Airlines before, so I didn't know what to expect. I had anticipated minimal service on a 2-hour flight, comparable maybe to Lufthansa's feeder flights into Frankfurt or Munich. The actual experience was infinitely superior to perhaps any economy-class flight I ever took before.

The head flight attendant was immensely hospitable and spoke fairly decent Serbian. Before we landed she asked me what I thought of the flight and wrote down what I said, and then did the same with a few more passengers seated by the aisle lower down the aircraft.

The IFE was fantastic, not just for its selection of music and movies but also for how responsive the screen is. I was not expecting this for a 2-hour flight. All the seats came with USB charging ports.

The food was also a highly pleasant surprise, both for the volume of edible items we received as well as for their quality. We were even given blankets!

Breakfast (special meal): an egg omelette with potatoes, meat and tomatoes, jam and butter, and a selection of fruits and vegetables

We were also given Turkish wine and Turkish coffee

Economy class was 95% full

Taxiing in Istanbul Ataturk

We landed with a small delay as a result of queuing to land, but we taxied for only four minutes before parking at the gate. I felt so immensely happy about this because I had planned to go into Istanbul during my layover and was afraid I would not have enough time if we arrived late or if the taxiing took too long (or, worse, if we had to use buses instead of air bridges).

With there only being 4 passengers in business and me being in the front row of economy, I was out of the aircraft in no time, much to my absolute delight. I was also extraordinary lucky that the gate at which we parked was practically just a few meters away from immigration control, which really meant I could maximise my time in Istanbul. I ran to join the queue and proceeded to exit the airport with a visa I pre-purchased online the week before.

I waited some 20 minutes in the immigration queue, but I was lucky: the queue kept getting longer and longer shortly after I joined it

A snapshot of the five hours I spent in Istanbul

Having spent just under 4 hours walking through Istanbul, excluding the two hours I spent travelling into Sultanahmet and back to Ataturk, I returned to the airport some 40 minutes before my next flight's boarding time.

There are two security controls at Ataturk: one takes place at the entrance point to the airport (still inside the train station!) and the other is just before passport control. It only took me fifteen minutes to get from the train station to my gate, through both security checks and the passport control.

Turkish Airlines check-in area at Ataturk

The waiting area at our gate

Our A333 - a pleasant equipment upgrade

Again, boarding started exactly when advertised. In Zagreb it was 40 minutes before departure for an A321, here it was 60 minutes for the A330. Two weeks later it was 70 minutes for the IST-LHR flight on a 777. Much to my bewilderment, even though this flight was scheduled to be on an A321 and was only upgraded in the ticket sales system to an A330 three weeks ago, the flight was fairly busy. Most of the other IST-BAH flights that week, and the week after, were upgraded from A321 to A330 as well.

Even though boarding was completed well ahead of the scheduled departure time, we didn't leave on time as there was one passenger requiring special assistance that could not be accommodated as the aisle was too narrow for his wheelchair to pass through. Multiple flight attendants and airport crew were involved in placing this person to his seat, which was surprisingly not in any of the front rows or even in an extra legroom seat, but in the middle seat in one of the rows deep inside the aircraft. This made us late some twenty minutes. Taxiing then took 21 minutes.

Boarding. The flight is codeshared by Singapore Airlines and Air Canada

Ataturk air bridge

My seat was a front row in Economy class again, with great extra legroom - again!

It was raining in Istanbul as we taxied

The food was amazing, again

The service was excellent, again. The IFE system contained a true variety of content: music genres and movie productions that surpassed Hollywood and mainstream pop culture, and several channels of live TV.

We were given blankets again, as well as socks, earplugs and sleeping masks. Each seat had USB charging ports and the toilets had hand gels and skin cream. This surpasses my experience of flying to the Middle East with both Qatar and Etihad in economy (not to even mention Gulf Air), even though all their flights were several hours longer than this Turkish Airlines one.

Listening to Bregović ahead of our landing in Muharraq

Lights were dimmed for most of the flight

Bahrain from air

Walking to immigration

Manama at night

I was again the first person from Economy to get off the flight, and I even managed to clear immigration control within ten minutes, buying myself a visa on arrival and filling out the paperwork needed. Still, I did not manage to get out of the airport as soon as I hoped because my luggage took a whole hour to arrive. And when it finally did, my suitcase was completely soaked in some liquid, and badly beaten from all sides. By the time I obtained a damage report from the luggage desk and finally left the airport, it was 2am.

Still, all in all, I thoroughly and absolutely enjoyed my experience with Turkish Airlines, especially considering the price I paid for a flight in the midst of the Christmas season. The service wildly exceeded my expectations, as did the food - normally my dairy-free meal requirements leave me with a tasteless piece of chicken and rice with no sauce on long-haul flights, but the catering I received with Turkish was truly great.

I acknowledge that I was very lucky that the timings worked out for me to be able to visit Istanbul, and I was lucky to have gotten front-row seats with extra legroom at no additional cost. But I was also unlucky that the connection time between Istanbul and Zagreb isn't just half an hour longer, because then I would have been able to take part in a free tour around Istanbul organized by Turkish Airlines with complementary food provided, for passengers with layovers of over 8 hours.

I am now seriously considering using Turkish for a trip to America next year, since the overnight connection in Istanbul for the flight between Zagreb and San Francisco qualifies me for free accommodation and a tour around the city with lunch provided, all organised by Turkish Airlines.


  1. Anonymous09:11

    Very nice and detailed report. Is Manama worth a visit, did you like it?

    1. Ovisi sta trazis
      Osim preskupa alkohola i barova prepunih tajlandskih radnica, preskoci Manamu

    2. I would say yes, but only as part of a tour of the Middle East. Compared to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Manama feels more authentic. But on its own Bahrain is not worth the trip.

  2. Anonymous09:13

    Hey Jakov,
    thanks for the report.

  3. Anonymous09:26

    So what was the price for your trip to Bahrain and back?

    1. I didn't fly back. I flew ZAG-IST-BAH and then BAH-IST-LHR a month later, and that was altogether £384.

  4. Turkish are definitely one of Europe's leading Airlines that put most others to shame!

    1. Anonymous10:45


    2. That same Turkish managed to lose my bag on the direct flight and return it broken. Also, they've broken two of our bags purchased just before the flights just to get a refund of €40.

    3. Yes, mine did too on this trip. But I don't think it was Turkish's fault.

  5. Anonymous12:28

    Your "very long legs" should NOT be on the cabin wall. It really makes me sick when passengers do that and smear all the dirt throughout the cabin so afterwards they make trip reports and state that "cabin looks very tired" or "there are signs of wear and tear". If passengers acted normally, cabins would be clean and inviting.

    1. Anonymous12:51


    2. Anonymous13:01

      Well maybe those lazy cleaning people should do a better job? Hmmm

    3. Wow. Maybe you or whoever does that shouldn't have to be a massive prick. Hmmm

    4. Anonymous13:13

      Maybe they should do the job they are paid for. Hmm

    5. Their job is not cleaning the walls of the aircraft because someones' parents failed at parenting.

    6. I didn't "smear any dirt throughout the cabin" since I used the socks I was provided, and so did the other front-row passengers in both ZAG-IST and IST-BAH. The socks have strong rubber patches on them so they held firmly against the cabin interior, and made for a pleasant sedentary position. If your definition of passengers acting normally is sitting tight for hours without eating, sneezing, or touching anything so that the cabin interior is maintained sterile, then no, I am not a normal passenger at all.

    7. Anonymous13:40

      Regardless, these people are paid to clean the cabin after a flight. It's their job, there is no excuse for them not to be respectful towards their employer.

  6. Great report.Jakov have in mind ìt's free tour or free hotel provided by THY and when you book your ticket you must choose flights with least conection time on that day

    1. Thanks! I know, I've read blogposts of people who were certain they would qualify but ended up having to pay for accommodation as there was some other weekday on which there was a shorter connection time. I will look carefully when booking.

  7. Thank you kindly for this article. I have a layover from FLL to IST to SSH coming up. We have a 7+ hour layover heading to SSH, unfortunately it's from 5:30 to 1am and I am confused as to what we can do. On our way back home we have a 6+ hour layover, but thankfully we arrive at 7am. Any suggestions that you may have for our layover would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Sorry, I've only just seen this!

      I just tried looking at your flight - Turkish doesn't appear to be selling this route? You have to check whether both flights on the ticket you purchased are operated by Turkish Airlines, but even so your layover in both directions is too short for you to qualify for a free entry into their transit hotel, unless you are flying Business in which case the 7+ hour layover qualifies.

      You can however go on their free tour around Istanbul - on the way out there probably won't be time as the tour leaves at 6pm, but on the way back you can take the tour that leaves at 8 and comes back for 11.30. See here:


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