Which Airline in Turkey is better – Pegasus or Turkish Airlines?
We recently flew on airlines which both get consistently poor reviews on Skytrax. At the time of writing, Pegasus gets 3 stars (low cost) and Turkish Airlines gets 3 stars also (full service). But does the experience fit the reputation? Whether Pegasus or Turkish Airlines are a better choice for you depends on many factors. Here is our experience on flying both airlines in October and November 2019, and in November 2021.
We flew Pegasus Airlines from Berlin to Izmir, changing planes in Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen (SAW), and from Sabiha Gökçen back to Berlin. We paid 150 Euro per person, which included 20kg of checked luggage on the way back.
More recently, I flew Pegasus Airlines from Berlin to Hatay/Antakya via SAW, and returned from Istanbul. I paid 55 Euro for the flight to Hatay and about 45 Euro for the flight back to Berlin.
Berlin to Izmir
Berlin-Schönefeld (SXF) is, in my eyes, one of the worst airports in Europe. This might change when after a delay of several years, the new airport will be opened. I checked in online and we went through security quickly and easily. The departure lounge for this particular flight was in some metal shed with almost zero facilities. Unlike what has been mentioned online, they are pretty relaxed about sizes and weight of luggage. The black case in the picture weighed a fair bit over 8kg and just about fits in the hand luggage size guide (I often have to demonstrate this) but no one checked this time. The flight was full and departed on time.
The airplane was an Airbus A320, new-ish, clean, basic cabin. There is not a lot of leg room but for a flight of 2.5 hours, it’s fine. What I really like is that when they randomly allocate seats, they ensure that females don’t have to sit next to strange males, and they show which seats you are in before you can make changes, and buy better seats for a higher price. So they put my husband in the middle seat.
After we landed in Sabiha Gökçen, I was amazed at the speed and efficiency the gangway, shuttle buses and luggage trucks arrived. We disembarked within minutes of touching down, but then had to endure a rather lengthy queue for immigration. We also had to completely leave the air side area, walk across arrivals hall and go through security again to get to Domestic Departures. The airport was really busy on a Sunday afternoon. There are lots of ATM and stalls to buy a Turkish SIM card in the Arrivals Hall in Sabiha Gökçen, and I wish I had time to stop for both! We eventually bought Turkcell SIM from a phone shop in central Kusadasi, as Izmir Arrivals has ATMs but no mobile phone shops.
The flight to Izmir was uneventful and very short.
Istanbul (SAW) to Berlin
We returned from Sabiha Gökçen to Berlin (SXF). You can get to SAW in one hour by car from Central Istanbul, much longer in heavy traffic. We took a metered taxi, which cost, including bridge toll, about 200 TL (35 Euro). International Departures was really, really busy. We checked in using the Self-Service kiosks, then I proceeded to the self-service bag drop. You weigh your bag, and if it corresponds with what you paid for, the machine will print a luggage tag, which you fix yourself, then take the bag to an automated drop off, where it is weighed again, then transported away.
After passing security and passport control both which had a considerable queue, we were faced with either waiting in the not so cosy and very crowded public lounge, or cough up 95TL per person to visit the ISG Lounge. I think prices depend on your airline and class of ticket.
The lounge was nearing capacity and didn’t look as good as on some pictures. All comfy seats were full. We got one of the the last available cafe tables for our two hour wait. There is free WiFi, toilets (not very nice ones) and a large amount of free food and drink. The drinks selection is impressive – beer, wine, soft drinks en masse, and of course, tea and coffee. The food wasn’t bad – lots of fresh vegetables, and some really good lentil soup (among other things). My lounge experience is very limited – it was no match to the old Ataturk Airport CIP Lounge or some British Airways lounges.
The flight back was full again, and uneventful. In terms of flight experience, Pegasus pretty much comes on par with other low cost carriers like Ryanair or Easyjet.
My second flight from SAW to Berlin exactly two years later was somewhat clouded by another COVID-19 surge. I left my hotel near Taksim super early, only to find that the airport shuttle bus really runs very frequently, and due to being there early on a Sunday, there was almost no traffic and we were in SAW in 40minutes. The security queue outside the airport was horrendous, the Check-In queue for Pegasus was horrendous, and the online Check-In was not working, and neither were there Check-In machines, so you had to go through a physical desk to check in. The security queue was you guess it, also horrendously long, but I was at the airport nearly four hours before departure, so not really bothered.
Seemed that half of Germany was getting hair transplants, and I saw lots of guys with sweat bands in the queue. I mean, a good time to get a hair transplant for sure, but hey, who am I to say that, going on a much-needed foreign joy ride myself?
All in all, I queued about 2 hours. The departure area for Berlin was some tiny and very full basement corridor, so there was no distance keeping, but I had my FFP2/KN95 mask on, so crowds no longer bothered me, especially not after an afternoon walking in a crowded Grand Bazaar. Flight was on time, super full and unvenentful, and in an Airbus 320. And this time, fairly on time.
Berlin to Hatay via SAW
Here comes the flight where I’ve sworn myself never to fly Pegasus Airlines again. Flying now from the new rather chaotic Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (BER), I arrived at Check-In over three hours before my flight and was pleasantly surprised about the orderly dedicated Pegasus Check-In. Our departure time approached, but no aircraft. No information either. After about 45minuted after our departure time, there was an announcement that our flight would be delayed indefinitely due to weather conditions at SAW. Dome internet searching showed that there had been fog at SAW in the morning, and many departures had been either cancelled or severely delayed.
The terrible seating and unavailability of food and drink in the part of the airport we were stuck in, or the poor communication is perhaps not the airlines fault, but still it made for a rather uncomfortable wait.
When we finally departed, about six hours after our original departure time. There was no information whatsoever which flights would be reached and which would not, so after we landed, there was a mad scramble for the exit. Since I had to go through immigration anyway for a domestic flight, I did the immigration procedure (cursory glance as my HES code and vaccine record, I even got in using my ID only), I went to the Pegasus Ticket Desk which is in the First Floor of the Domestic Terminal, to be met with long unruly queues and some very loud, almost abusive ex-Soviet citizens.
However half an hour later, I had a ticket to Hatay for the next morning from an extremely unfriendly service agent, then looked for the Hotel desk which, guess what, was at the other end of the terminal on the ground floor, at the end of a very very long queue. After failing to book myself a room online near the airport as it was now 2am and Booking.com repeatedly tried to sell me room for the next night, I gave up, and just “rested” in the domestic terminal airside – somewhat more comfortable than before security, and with a few food and drink outlets that are open all night. I felt that the pegasus staff was totally ooverwhelmed by the demand for flight changes and overnight accomodation, as many people had gooten stuck there, and lost the plot completely. A totally unpleasant experience, and honestly, I was ready to go home after that night!
Another word of warning: my perfectly fine VISA card got swallowed by an ATM in the arrivals hall, because I entered the wrong PIN once. I strongly advise against using any of the ATMs there – safer to change a small amount of cash then go to a proper bank at banking hours just in case… this is also what my credit card issuer advised. Made for an interesting day in Hatay, paying for taxis with Euros and begging a fancy hotel to exchange 50 Euro so I could go and eat. Finally got cash using my backup card after confirming the PIN with my husband, using an ATM attached to a branch of a bank.
The flight to Hatay, apart from a total lack of facilities at Hatay Airport, was uneventful.
We only had one somewhat unplanned internal flight on Turkish Airlines (THY). We planned to travel from Izmir to Istanbul by train. However, the night train via Eskisehir involved a 5am change, the train would not go all the way to Istanbul, it was nearly impossible to book on the Turkish Railway site, and the train and ferry schedules in Bandirma didn’t gel. The alternative was a 9 hour bus ride. So… one day I checked flight prices on Skyscanner and ended up buying two flights for the scandalously low price of about 19 Euro.
In 2021, I took a flight from Mardin to SAW using the low-cost subsidy of THY, Anadolujet. I had paid about 30Euro, which is a standard price in Turkey – prices for domestic flights tend to be quite low. Also, there is currently a very high level of inflation in Turkey, which makes prices for Westerners seemingly low.
Izmir to Istanbul Ataturk Airport
We flew to the new Istanbul Airport (IST). Driving to Izmir Airport from outside the city was a breeze thanks to good signposting and a highway system that bypasses the city proper. The guy at Sixt took a cursory glance at our car, said ” its good” and signed the return slip. We ended up arriving way too early at the airport. I walked up to the empty Check-In Desk and asked if we could take an earlier flight. Not only did they change our flights for free, they also put us by the emergency exit.
And… Turkish Airlines includes 15kg of check-in luggage per person.
The cabin of the Boeing 737 looked nicer and more comfy than on Pegasus. During the 50min flight, not only was there a lot of communication from the cockpit (which, as a nervous flyer, I really appreciate), but they also managed to serve an entire full cabin with drinks and a really good cheese toast. How can they serve a tasty hot cheese toast to about 150 passengers? Magic or superb efficiency.
By the time we had entered the impressive glass-fronted terminal building, our luggage was already out. Everywhere they had official notices about how to get into town. It was already dark, so we took advantage of the metered taxi prices and paid about 160TL to our hotel in Fatih.
Mardin to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport on Anadolujet
An interesting one. I had asked my hotel receptionist the day prior if he could book a taxi to the airport, and he said “why taxi, take the Turkish Airlines Shuttle” so well, who I am I refuse such an offer to save money? So, about half an hour before the pick-up time, I rolled up on a very dark main road in old Mardin, only to find the hotel guy coming half an hour later with some other guests… to load us all into a minibus, which took us to Mardin Otogar, where the driver loaded us into a bigger bus parked there, and took us on a scenic tour of new Mardin, waiting for every booked passenger, even going into hotels to fetch them… great service, if you ask me, but my departure time was approaching and I was becoming verrrrrry nervous.
Anyway, we arrived at the airport, which is some way from Mardin and about 20km from the Syrian border, with about an hour to spare, only to find a long queue OUTSIDE the airport. I became seriously twitchy about my flight, but did not want to try to jump the queue, and asked the people on my shuttle if they were on the same flight – which they were, and they were very cool about waiting. So, when I finally got in, I joined the check-in queue for my flight, everything calm and orderly, even people checking in umpteen pieces of luggage. I almost manged to miss my flight because I didn’t realise I had to go through another security queue, and waved frantically at the boarding agents, who told me not to worry.
So, finally boarded, I was very impressed with the new clean interior of the plane. They fly mostly 737-800, not my favourite plane, but fine – the attendants were very friendly and therefore calming, and even the passengers seemed friendlier. A lady next to me kept praying the entire flight, then dispensed chewing gum to all her seat neighbours as we approached to land, and despite being a low cost airline, they did serve us some water during the flight. Landing in SAW was slightly bumpy but fine otherwise, I got out very quickly, and there are frequent buses into the centre which can take anything between 1/2 and 3 hours depending on traffic.
So, if I were to fly again…
Turkish Airlines wins, hands down. That includes their low-cost subsidiary, Anadolujet, as well. The decision between Pegasus or Turkish Airlines is easy for me, and although I do look at prices, I would pay more to fly Turkish Airlines as they use an airport closer to me, allow more luggage and, as a nervous flyer, I found the whole experience much more pleasant.
Turkish Airlines are a full-service airline, and it really shows even on the shortest flight. I found the new Istanbul Airport (IST) to be extremely efficient – and beautiful. I thought Sabiha Gökçen really isn’t bad, but my recent experience taught me otherwise. Both are approximately 35km and 1.5 hours by public transport away from central Istanbul. Both offer good bus shuttles into town, costing about 40 TL, and you can purchase and pay using the Istanbulcart for bus shuttles.
However, saying that… to me personally, Pegasus has a slight edge in that they operate both Boeing and Airbus narrow body aircraft, but they are retiring their Boeing Fleet so chances are that they’ll be flying Airbus exclusively in the next few years while Turkish Airlines flies mostly Boeing 737 on short haul. Also, Pegasus pricing is so extremely competitive, so then you get a one-way flight from Berlin to anythere in Turkey for 30-60 Euro, this can be very tempting, and this is how I often end up flying Pegasus internationally and THY domestically
I found both airlines better than reviews suggest, although my recent Pegasus bad weather experience makes me want to avoid Pegasus Airlines in the future, especially if Anadolujet offers similarly priced tickets. I want to stress this is just my personal experience on some rather straightforward flights to and inside Turkey.
One last word on Sustainability
I much prefer train and bus over flying, especially shorter distances under 800km. But your precious holiday time, comfort and price are important factors, too.
I do not normally recommend taking short internal flights when there is a reasonable land route. For example, it is easy to travel between Istanbul and Ankara using a new high-speed rail link, and will become even easier once the central terminus (Haydarpasa?) is completed. I hope that there will be an easier public transport route linking the largest and the third-largest city in Turkey.
Still, using flights that are booked full and to a certain extent using sardine-can low cost airlines is probably better than driving or other means of transport, especially flying business – I love to travel and won’t get by without flying anytime soon. Personally, I try to compensate in other areas ( save on heating, drive a tiny car, vegetarian for 30+years) what I sin, flight-wise.
This post was first written in December 2019 and updated in January 2022. All the trips mentioned were entirely self funded. I have received no monetary or non-monetary rewards for linking aside from some affiliate links. I will only review and recommend places that I have stayed in myself unless otherwise stated. You can trust me for the whole, unbiased truth. More details on my affiliate link policy are here. There are no affiliate links in this post.