Although Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa are Star Alliance partners, the two carriers are fierce competitors. Competing head-to-head for both long haul and short haul traffic, the “frenemies” each have a distinctive advantage. Which one is the better option for you?
For this piece, I will be comparing Lufthansa and Turkish within Europe only and focusing on business class.
Here’s the immediate advantage to flying Turkish Airlines business class within Europe: far superior seats. Nearly all Turkish aircraft now have vastly superior business class seats than on Lufthansa.
Turkish business class seats on its narrowbody fleet look like this:
These have more legroom and recline than domestic first class seats in the USA and also have leg rests.
Turkish also operates wide bodies to many major cities in Europe including Frankfurt, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Athens. These flights feature fully flat bed seats in business class.
Turkish does have a handful of 737s and A319s in the fleet that have economy class seats with blocked middles serving as business, but I haven’t been on one of these flights in several years. Even these seats have generous legroom in business class.
Compare that to Lufthansa, which operates a variable business class cabin across its fleet, meaning that the only difference between business and economy is a blocked middle seat. Same slim-line coach seat, same legroom, same lack of recline.
Turkish is catered by Do & Co and offers remarkable onboard food (I wrote about my meal on a recent 90 minute flight here). Menus are typically distributed, meals are multi-course, and welcome drinks are freshly prepared juices.
Lufthansa food is also tasty. In my opinion, Lufthansa tries too hard to be “gourmet” and sometimes has some weird stuff on its menu, but you certainly will not starve on Lufthansa.
Turkish tends to offer hot meals on all flights while Lufthansa offers hot meals and menus on flights longer than 2.5hrs.
Most Turkish flights have seat-back or in-console monitors in business class with a selection of audio and video programming on-demand. The A319s and select 737s I mentioned above do not have IFE.
Lufthansa does not offer IFE. Some aircraft will have moving map displays and gate connecting information on overhead monitors.
Neither carriers offer wi-fi…yet. Plans are in the works for wi-fi on both carriers within Europe.
Lufthansa has a very nice network of lounges which include hot food, showers, wi-fi, and ample seating and work areas.
Turkish, however, outshines Lufthansa and frankly all other airlines with an incredible lounge in Istanbul that I label as the best business class lounge in the world. Showers, wi-fi, and ample seating are available here too, but delicious freshly-prepared meals are available all day long from a team of chefs (buffet style) and a wide assortments of drinks are also available, including a barista to make the coffee drink of your choice. I typically spend hours in this lounge each visit, deliberately scheduling long layovers.
Ease of Connections
The biggest thing Turkish has going against it is that Istanbul is far from the heart of Europe. Flying from Dublin to Rome via Istanbul is not nearly as practical as flying via Frankfurt or Munich.
Thus, as great as the Turkish Lounge and onboard product is, it will never win time-conscious travelers because it takes hours longer to get from point A to point B if you are traveling just about anywhere in Europe.
Is it worth it to fly Turkish? As always, it depends up on how much you value your time.
Lufthansa’s Frankfurt hub is the source of many complaints because it is so spread out and difficult to connect in. On the contrary, Munich airport makes connections easy. Minimum Connect Times (MCTs) are short, security re-clearance is generally not necessary when coming from any EU flight, and the airport is very easy to navigate.
Istanbul’s Ataturk airport is also spread out, though not as bad as Frankfurt. In my experience, security re-clearance is not required when transiting from an inbound European flight. When you do have to re-clear security though (downstairs), it is usually quite crowded and chaotic. The line moves fast, though.
The running joke is that Lufthansa is on strike more often than it is not, but at least there are typically other options. Lufthansa has SWISS, Austrian, and Brussels within its group and can easily re-accomodate you on those flights. Turkish, on the other hand, goes it alone and in my experience is reticent to place you on another carrier.
The good news with Turkish Airlines is that even for weather delays they will take care of you — my sister-in-law got a night in a fancy Istanbul hotel with meals when Kathmandu was fogged in and her flight cancelled — though it can be aggravating to be told you have to wait a day or two to get your destination.
While Turkish often has attractive one-way pricing and cheaper long-haul pricing than Lufthansa, particularly for business class, within Europe the prices are generally equivalent.
What about Economy Class?
Economy Class is economy class…the differences are more limited. Turkish has better food and IFE on some planes, but the economy experience will be similar. I would not fly out of my way for economy.
Though most will choose Lufthansa for the better schedule, I don’t think one carrier is a clear winner overall. Turkish continues to win awards for being the best carrier in Europe and is always a good experience: you’ll just have to allow extra time for your travel.