I’ve had the pleasure and displeasure of transiting through the new Istanbul Airport. Originally scheduled to open in October 2018, operations were not fully transferred from Ataturk Airport to the new airport until the weekend of 5th April 2019. This resulted in flight cancellations, including my own outbound flight, to facilitate the 45 hour closure.
With a current capacity to handle 90 million passengers per year, the airport will be Europe’s busiest. When fully operational, Istanbul’s new airport is expected to serve 200 million passengers a year, becoming the world’s busiest by a significant margin. The IATA code of IST was transferred from Ataturk airport to the new airport.
Here’s my Istanbul Airport review. The airport has its good points and its room-for-improvement points but let’s start with an overview of the layout.
ISTANBUL AIRPORT – LAYOUT
It has one terminal with 5 piers jutting out from a central hall. The central hall contains most of the shops, restaurants and an information desk. The piers I used had individual facilities but only the central hall area contains the international connections security gates.
The terminal is 1.4 million square metres in size. In other words, it’s massive.
ISTANBUL AIRPORT – PROS
It really is a stunning-looking airport, inside and outside. The vaulted ceilings reflect the city’s extensive history while some shops are contained in wooden arched structures reminiscent of a Middle Eastern bazaar.
The vaulted ceilings are high, giving a comfortable sense of space. In fact, the piers are quite spacious with plenty of seats at the departure gates. The glass-walls of the piers give an extra sense of space and are a great source of natural light.
In the central hall, there is a comprehensive duty free selling a wide range of perfume, tobacco and alcohol brands among other items. Each pier I used also has a mini duty free shop but the stock is limited in these.
The signage in the airport is clear and large with blue as the chosen background. It’s ideal for those in a hurry through. A specific part of the floor, marked by green lines, are reserved for vehicle transport but as you can see from the below picture, nobody seemed to take any notice of this despite the oncoming buggy.
Like Ataturk Airport, the new airport retains the feeling of a world hub. It’s in such a multicultural environment that I’m at my most comfortable.
The airport is situated approximately 30 miles from Istanbul city centre on Turkey’s European Black Sea coast. An added bonus for passengers arriving from Europe is the descent over the gorgeous Black Sea coast.
ISTANBUL AIRPORT – CONS
Firstly, the airport is very big, and perhaps too big for some passengers. It takes a long time to walk from pier to pier and is not ideal for anyone other than the fit and lively wearing runners. I wonder if airlines have extended their minimum connection times to facilitate the airport’s sprawl.
From an advertising and revenue perspective the airport’s size is a disaster as passengers will spend their time in transit endeavouring to find their international departures gate rather than chilling out, spending money and looking at adverts.
Not only is the terminal large but the surrounding airfield is so big that it took our inbound international arrivals flight 20 minutes just to taxi to our terminal slot.
The WIFI wasn’t working during both transfers. I was told that there is a disagreement between the provider of the WIFI and the airport authorities. Can anyone confirm this?
Not all of the restaurants were open. Regarding hot food, we were limited to expensive fast-food outlets and a food court of traditional Turkish food where none of the signs and menus were translated into English. Not wanting to sound like a diva but English is the official language of international aviation. If Istanbul airport wants to be the world’s mega-hub then it’ll have to meet the linguistic needs of the international community.
There was no toilet paper or soap in some of the toilets. An electrical fault could have been the cause of the automatic soap dispensers’ lack of co-operation but there is no excuse for lack of toilet paper.
The busy central area contains most of the shops and restaurants including the domestic and international transfer security screening. The transfer security screening was almost as chaotic as the screening at the old Ataturk airport. If there are no plans to build another terminal this area will not cope with 200 million passengers transiting through it per year. A little more natural light in this area would also be welcome as would more seats for passengers awaiting their boarding gate calls.
A lot of the airport’s special features were not advertised. Apparently most seats at the airport have USB and socket outlets. There is also an Istanbul airport app which tracks your flight and finds airport locations such as shops and restaurants on the app map. Given that it’s a new airport, perhaps airlines should email this information in advance to passengers? Then again, with no WIFI working the app would have been useless. Besides, does anyone download an app specifically for an airport?
Finally, and the biggest problem to solve for local and visiting passengers, the metro to the airport from the city centre is not completed and is not scheduled to operate until 2020.
I’ve made a decision not to fly through the airport for a while to allow for these issues to be resolved and for facilities to be fully operational. There are more cons than pros in this Istanbul Airport review. But an airport’s primary concern is safety and thankfully there appears to be no issue in this respect.
Berlin’s new Brandenburg airport was scheduled to open in 2012 but only opened in October 2020. So a pat on the back is due to the Turkish authorities for building Europe’s largest airport with only a few months delay in the commencement of operations.
Have you travelled through the new Istanbul Airport? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them below.
For general information on flying, check out my Tips for First-Time Flyers post.
10 thoughts on “Istanbul Airport Review”
I flew to Istanbul recently but it was through Ataturk, which looked saturated and in need of new facilities. This new airport is an incentive to go back!
I agree with you about Ataturk Airport, Delphine. But if going to Istanbul city centre, wait until the airport-city metro link is up and running.
Such a great article! I needed to find this information and hear from someone how an actual experience was. Usually, on all my travels I try to avoid flying to big airports because they give me so much anxiety. So good to know these details, thank you!
Thanks Anya. Yes, smaller airports are much better from a stress point of view. I hope the new Istanbul airport won’t become a victim of its success and end up as chaotic as its predecessor.
Transited through the new Istanbul airport in June 2019. Terminal is huge, signage sparse , distances between gates can be long. The delayed arrival of our flight from London meant that we missed our connecting flight. Tried to use golf-buggy service to reach gate more quickly but driver demanded Euros 5 cash to use the service ( this service is provided free of charge in most airports) .Hard to find Turkish Airlines Customer Service area to rebook. Wi-Fi not working, credit cards not accepted as poor connections
I agree that this airport is not fully operational; in short it has opened too early before all facilities were in place . Avoid if you can for the next 12 months or so until the place is running more smoothly
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Thanks for the observations and feedback. Sorry to hear about your difficulties. The minimum flight connection time will have to extended. And it’s astonishing to hear that the wifi isn’t working yet!
Worst airport experience ever. The staff is sooooooo rude and denigrating you will wish you paid more to avoid the experience.
To start with the airport is huge and although that may seem a good thing soon one starts realizing that walking 30 minutes hike with kids or luggage is not a fun experience. This airport was build to impress not to be functional and it isn’t. There is no way to reach your transfer flight in less than 2-3 hours, impossible I tell you. and if you are going to Canada, UK or US you got to start planning for 4 hours minimum. The airport is humongous, and tiring and super expensive, a simple 200 ml water bottle will set you back 3.5 euros and its not easy to buy after security. Security is in layers, you may have to go thru more than 3 different security personnel at 3 different stages. You may think is design to make you loose your flight…you are not alone.
The staff, oh my dear, the staff deserve a dedicated review web page. Rude does not begin to describe them. Let me try to see how clearly I can describe them:
– Disrespectful , Arrogant, discourteous, disorganized, unwilling, unprofessional, un everything you may think about.,
This has been for my wife and small kids a nightmare trip with Turkish airlines, to the point that my wife and I made the promise to never ever go back to this airport no matter how attractive the offer. I assure you that couple hundred dollars more for a flight thru another airport is better. This airport was a humiliating experience.
Dont get me wrong the flight was fine, but once we landed, none of the services was there, imagine 36 minutes in a bus after the flight..A BUS!!! of course you miss your flight connection, and then you are left alone in an airport the size of 10 football fields walking cause no trams no nothing, walking I say to you, with three kids, asking people cause all the signs are directing you to nowhere..it is a mad house. No one speaks English nor even a broken one. Horrible.
Not enough? well the most expensive airport in the world…………wait for it….. does not have wifi.
Designing an airport should be about the passenger experience, and rest assure the designer of this airport hates people.
I was heartbroken and ashamed of myself to have put my family thru this airport. I just hope that my experience avoids it to your family. Please take another route, avoid this airport.
You will see another sites with 4 and 5 stars reviews…i lived it, all those reviews are fake.They have to be.
Below I have to rate from 1 star, if I could I would rate from -3000 stars.
If there is anyone in your life that has hurt you and you wanna revenge, get them a flight with transfer thru this airport… trust me you will be avenged.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Shel. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for you to traverse the new Istanbul Airport with children. I travelled solo and was wearing a pair of runners and still found it a challenge! It’s unbelievable that the airport still doesn’t have WIFI. Yes, I also noted that the airport’s food was very expensive (for comparison, I come from a high-cost country) but thankfully didn’t need to purchase much as Turkish Airlines’ in-flight service is pretty good. I didn’t have any problems with the ground staff but months of unresolved problems would dent morale and leave the most saintly of people at breaking point.
This is the thing: the airport is huge. That is not a problem, there are many huge airports around the globe. But this airport is not user friendly: it seems they didn’t build it for passengers, but to show of. I don’t know what exactly, but there you go.
WIFI is almost non existent. You can build this massive building, but you cannot provide, what is today, a basic service needed for travelers. Nice!
Despite there are numerous shops, diversity is also lacking, in offer and prices. You CANNOT eat for decent here. It is impossible. Although it was opened recently, the materials, carpets, floor and walls already seem in a bad shape, probably due to the fact they built it so quickly with cheaper materials. From the moment of landing to getting into the building you need at least 35-45 minutes because it is also not “plane friendly”. Taxiing takes just too much time. Flying out seems better: it requires 20 minutes. If you are connecting here, take your time. Queues for passport and security check take the same amount of time (a lot!) like at Ataturk: why building a new airport if you are not improving services?!
And the final thing from me, despite its size, each wing of the new building looks alike without any particular character, without anything that will scream “This is Istanbul”, and of course this fact adds more to confusion of passengers who have issues with orientation there.
The point of any airport is to take you places. New Istanbul Airport exhausts you at first place.
I will try to use other airports for my connections in future.
Thanks for the feedback. Your experience seems similar to my own with the food, taxiing and WIFI. I’m beginning to wonder if people are choosing other routes just to avoid this airport. Surely that’s going to affect the revenue of Turkish Airlines who actually deliver quite a good service. The situation with the WIFI is unacceptable in this modern age. It only took 1 week for me to order and install new WIFI in my house. It can’t be that difficult! I agree with your comments regarding the similarity of each pier. Turkey is known for its rich design heritage so could well-afford to make the piers look different.