Once free of the confines of that United Airlines 737-900ER from San Diego (and an extra scuffle of my feet to rid them of any remaining orange cheesy crackers), I wasted no time in exiting the terminal to catch the train over to T5. Above-ground inter-airport trains such as the one at ORD are never a dull experience, and I was very much looking forward to zipping around the field with my nose pressed to the window the entire way and getting reacquainted with my old friend that is O’Hare.
Some things just aren’t meant to be however, so imagine the shock and horror I felt to see that train sitting idle at the station looking as if it hadn’t moved in days, complete with a blocked off entrance and crudely built signs directing passengers to use temporary busses instead (with arrows pointing vaguely in the direction of oncoming traffic). Poop. Busses are never as much fun as trains.
Before jumping into the meat of the review, here’s the video I put together for this flight which should give you a pretty good preview of what you’re about to see (complete with a spoiler alert in the title):
It had been 16 years since I last set foot in the international terminal here at ORD, and the most trippy thing about it was the fact that it looked exactly the same as I remembered – right down to the flags hanging from the high ceiling and vanilla white prison-like walls in every direction. It’s like time had been completely frozen for the past 16 years, and memories of being just a kid and being sent on a business trip to Milan on an Alitalia MD-11C came over me in a rush – though it was somewhat bittersweet since I wouldn’t be flying in business class this time. Not that 2002-era Alitalia Magnifica class is anything to be nostalgic about, but it’s the principle of the matter.
One thing I didn’t recall from all those years ago was the struggle of trying to get through security. The line seemed short when I first approached it, but once turning the corner and seeing what looked like a massive knot of frustrated looking people, I woefully accepted the fact that it was going to take at least an hour to untangle my way through it.
Thankfully it kept moving at a decent pace, and I was able to reach the scanner within 35 minutes. And then right before I put my stuff on the conveyor belt, two people pushed through from behind with a “sorry, I’m going to miss my flight, can I cut ahead?” plea. I politely let them by of course, but I’m fully of the opinion that people need to take more responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences. If you’re late, you’re late – don’t inconvenience others due to your lack of planning!
I sound really salty don’t I? I know. My mood sours when denied rides on airport trains with awesome views.
Priority numero uno after checking out the gate for my flight to Istanbul was to get some nutrients running through my veins, and even though I had access to both the Swiss and KLM lounges thanks to my Priority Pass membership, I chose to hold off on that a bit since I needed a real meal. I assumed that neither of those lounges offer anything but light snacks, and besides – I was still feeling angst towards little orange cheese-flavored crackers and it was best not to be confronted with the likes of them again so soon.
Up and down T5 I walked, scouting out the dining options and looking for a meal that would be satisfying yet light – after all, I’d be eating again in a few hours once onboard the flight to IST and I didn’t need anything that would sit like a granite rock in my gut. That was the plan anyway. I happened upon a delicious-looking teriyaki chicken bowl in my search that was anything but light and feathery (especially with the monstrous egg roll I asked them to put on top) and as I sat there on the floor next to an electrical outlet stuffing it in my face, I couldn’t help but to think how unwise of a decision this was. It was tasty and highly satisfying though.
Two hours prior to boarding, I decided to whip out my Priority Pass card and give the KLM lounge a try. It ended up being a small but really nice hangout with some really awesome up close views to all of the action outside, and I realized that I was missing out big time by not going in earlier.
I found a good spot right at the tip of the nose of a Lufthansa 747-8, and soaked in the view while munching on a banana. Some people like to hit the liquor before a flight, but give me a banana and a 747 and I’m good to go.
Boarding started about 20 minutes early for reasons I was never able to figure out, which caught me off guard since I hadn’t even stuffed my pockets with everything I’d need (earbuds, GoPro, snacks, etc). Heck, even the last-chance pre-boarding this-is-it bathroom trip hadn’t even happened yet. There are two things in life that I absolutely hate rushing through: meals, and bathroom breaks. Being forced to speed though either will only make me salty – and considering that I had already been denied a ride on the train and I was already reaching dangerous levels of saltiness tonight, it seemed things were stacking up against me.
Despite being economy class, I eventually came to the conclusion that I was pretty darn satisfied with my seat for this flight. Ok, yeah, it was dangerously close to having no view to the outside world at all – but the leg room was phenomenal and I liked the idea that I could get up at any point during the flight without bothering my neighbors. I don’t like being locked into a window seat on long flights like this, so this was massively convenient (and definitely made up for the lost train ride several hours ago). Not feeling so salty any more…
Service started with a bang on this flight, with the menus, amenity kits, and hot towels coming in rapid succession within 15 minutes of liftoff.
Unfortunately, the really speedy start of the cabin service set the completely wrong precedent for the remainder of the flight. From this point forward, things flowed slower than Molasses in an Alaskan deep freeze. I should mention that slow doesn’t necessarily mean “bad” however, as I had no idea how delicious Turkish Airlines economy class meals are, and I was about to find out. Well, “about to” makes it seem like the meal came quickly, but the reality was anything but. You know how the Spanish are notorious for stretching out meals for hours and hours? I was beginning to think it’s the same way in Turkish culture.
Row 40 (where I was seated) is the exact center of the economy class cabin on these Turkish Airlines 777-300s. The flight attendants started at the very back and front of the cabin first, and then met in the middle (which just happened to be row 40). I don’t have a problem with this at all, as it’s only fair to those way in the back – but the speed at which they dolled out those meals was nothing short of glacial. It took an hour and a half for them to reach our row, which was frustrating at first, but kind of a good thing in the grand scheme of things. My gut was still working on that teriyaki chicken after all, so it’s not like I was sitting around feeling weak and on the brink of dying of hunger.
The completion of the meal service was just like the beginning (but obviously in reverse). Everyone had to wait for over an hour for their trays to be cleared, which is never a good thing because it gives us all far too much time to think about how much we over -indulge and that we need to cool it or we’re going to end up in the Guinness Book of World Records for “world’s fattest and most disgusting human” or something. At least that’s what I was thinking.
Several hours of some of the best economy class sleep that I’ve ever had followed the meal service, which wasn’t surprising considering how busy my day had been up until this point (and the fact that I wasn’t bunched up in a ball in a typical economy class seat). I got up every now and then to stretch and use the bathroom, and all in all it was a really nice evening/morning there in 40A.
The lights came on with only an hour and 45 minutes of flying time remaining, and I thought for sure they were going to have to pull off a miracle in order to get breakfast served in time. Just as they did with the dinner service several hours prior, they started at the front and rear and met simultaneously at row 40. Thankfully they were a bit faster this time and I had my breakfast in front of me with just one hour before touching down in Istanbul.
The weather was absolutely phenomenal out there on our approach into IST, and for the first time of the entire flight I was feeling a bit frustrated with my window situation. Yeah, I could kind of see what was happening if I cocked my head all the way to the left (almost completely around like an owl), and as I was trying to wedge my camera in there to get pics and video of the approach, it dawned on me that I was probably annoying the hell out of the woman behind me. She never once blurted out an expletive at me to quit blocking her view, which is a good thing – otherwise, the next few pics may have never happened.
Despite having left home 19 hours ago (and spending 14 of those hours in economy class seats), I assumed that I would be absolutely dead by this point with very little energy left to do the final leg to Vienna. But you know what? Walking off that plane and into the terminal, I do believe there was a spring in my step and some excitement running through my veins.
Where it came from is beyond me, but I took full advantage of the unexpected vigor and started gathering that juicy SANspotter content for the next segment which is coming up soon…