Flying in Turkey – Pegasus or Turkish Airlines?
We recently had our “summer holiday” to Turkey and flew on airlines which both get consistently poor reviews on Skytrax. At the time of writing, Pegasus gets 2 stars (4/10) and Turkish Airlines gets three stars (5/10). 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.
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.
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 legroom 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.
We only had one somewhat unplanned internal flight on Turkish Airlines. 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.
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.
So, if I were to fly again…
Turkish Airlines wins, hands down. 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, although Sabiha Gökçen really isn’t bad. Both are approximately 35km and 1.5 hours by public transport away from central Istanbul. Both offer good bus shuttles into town, costing about 20 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.
I found both airlines much better than reviews suggest and I like 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 short 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.
This trip was 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. However, there are no affiliate links in this post.