Turkish Airlines VP: Israel is our busiest route

Ziya Taskent

Ziya Taskent tells "Globes" that a ninth weekly flight between Tel Aviv and Istanbul will soon be introduced.

"As countries, there will always be a love-hate relationship between us and Israel. What's important, however, is that business connects people, and we don't let the bad people around interfere with our mission: to be always the preferred option for Israeli passengers. We're very proud of our route, and we want to continue giving good service and a successful product that will make Israelis choose us," said Turkish Airlines VP Ziya Taskent in response to a "Globes" question about his personal opinion on the prolonged diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey.

Taskent, who spoke with "Globes" last week in company headquarters in Istanbul, knows what he is talking about. Despite the poor state of relations between the two countries and the incitement against Israel by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also Taskent's boss (since Turkish Airlines is a government company), Israelis are nevertheless flying Turkish Airlines, or to be precise, 695,000 flew roundtrip with the airline in 2014, 4.86% more than in 2013, making it the leading foreign airline in Israel.

Walla Tours CEO Ariel Atias says Israelis like flying with Turkish Airlines for several reasons: "Frequency of flights, availability of seats, good connections to a large number of destinations around the world, good service and treatment of passengers, and attractive prices."

Atias adds, "Travel agents also like Turkish Airlines, because it pays commissions to agents, while most European airlines have stopped paying commissions."

Israelis, who have avoided visiting Turkey for vacations, are not giving up on Turkish Airlines' flying bus services on the way to vacations in Europe, the Far East, or the US. Turkish Airlines operates eight daily flights every day on the Tel Aviv-Istanbul route, and is looking to increase the number.

"If the strong demand in the Israeli market continues, we'll add a ninth daily flight on the Tel Aviv-Istanbul route. We'll do it with no hesitation. We have great flexibility in our decision making, because it's a very profitable route," said Turkish Airlines manager in Israel Fatih Dogan during a visit to company headquarters in Istanbul.

He added, "Israeli is a strategic market for us. Operating costs are low, compared with other European airlines one hour and 40 minutes, and you're in Istanbul. In addition, the downgrading of Lufthansa's business class on its Tel Aviv route contributed a great deal, and brought us many passengers."

Taskent adds, "The number of flights to Tel Aviv is the greatest on Turkish Airlines network of global routes. It's a profitable route, and it's very important for us to continue promoting it. 85% of the passengers on it continue on connecting flights to Europe and Asia, and we'll always want to be the best option for them."

Connection to 219 destinations

It is true that there is a travel warning for Turkey for the Israeli public, which is afraid to visit the Muslim country of 67 million people. During Operation Protective Edge 4,000 Israelis were stuck in Istanbul Airport after the Turkish carriers, including Turkish Airlines, refused to fly them to Israel. Only after Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz intervened were they flown to Cyprus, from where they were returned home by Israeli airlines.

As an intermediate stop, where monetary considerations are concerned, however, Israelis en masse are not afraid to fly with Turkish Airlines to a range of connecting destinations, even if the airplane flies over hostile countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia (on the way to distant destinations).

As of now, Turkish Airlines offers connecting flights to 108 countries and 219 destinations around the globe at good value prices, and is seeking to expand what it has to offer. Taskent expects Turkish Airlines, which carried 124 million passengers in 2014, compared with 19.6 million in 1994, to carry 381 million passengers by 2034. "We want to be one of the world's leading airlines," he says.

Last year, Turkish Airlines had the highest growth rates in terms of number of passengers and opening new destinations.

How worthwhile is it to fly with Turkish Airlines? A "Globes" investigation found that connecting flights through Istanbul in July-August to destinations such as Toronto, Bangkok, and Tokyo are indeed cheaper than connecting flights by Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, British Airways, and Royal Jordanian Airlines to the same destinations.

For example, a connecting flight with Turkish Airlines to Bangkok costs $980 a person (roundtrip), compared with $2,510 with Swiss Air (through Zurich) - a huge $1,530 difference; $1,680 with British Airways (through London) - a $700 difference; $1,230 with Lufthansa (through Frankfurt or Munich) - $250 difference; and $1,030 with Royal Jordanian Airlines (through Amman), considered the most popular among Israelis flying eastward - a $50 difference in favor of Turkish Airlines.

It is also cheaper to fly with Turkish Airlines to many European destinations. For example, a ticket to London on Turkish Airlines will cost $420 a person, compared with $700-900 on the other European airlines checked. Flights to Amsterdam and Rome are also tens of dollars cheaper on Turkish Airlines.

On the other hand, passengers who fly to destinations like New York and Los Angeles this coming summer will pay a higher price - $1,280 to New York and $1,680 to Los Angeles, compared with $1,130 and $1,570 on Royal Jordanian Airlines, respectively. In comparison with companies like Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, and British Airways, however, flights to these two destinations are tens of dollars cheaper on Turkish Airways.

According to Taskent, Turkish Airways's prices are attractive due to "Istanbul's location as a transit point between Asia and Europe, which facilitates good prices to distant destinations. It makes operating and fuel costs substantially cheaper. In principle, 70% of our flights to destinations on the global network can be made using narrow-bodied planes. We have a great desire to continue focusing on our accelerate growth in Israel and in general. I can guarantee that the price we offer Israelis is attractive, and will continue to be so."

"Globes": As an airline seeking to obtain even larger market shares, do you intend to cut your prices?

Taskent: "We adjust our prices from time to time, but as long as demand is inelastic, why should we lower prices?

Does Turkish Airlines plan to launch its own low-cost brand?

"We have no plans right now to set up a low-cost airline to compete with easyJet and Ryanair, for example. That's a different model, completely different. We're partners with Lufthansa in Sun Express Airlines, and we have our own regional flights brand, but our prices are attractive enough to continue using the current model."

Flying on food: 3 tons of kebab a day

Studies show that the atmospheric pressure and dry air at 30,000-40,000 feet have a negative impact on our sense of taste and smell. For this reason, the food served to us on airplanes seems tasteless to us, regardless of how it is served. Even in business class, where the trays look like gourmet food, the food, however esthetically and carefully prepared, still tastes like industrialized food that has been frozen and reheated.

"At the heights at which passenger planes fly, we lose our sense of taste and smell, so the food served to us in a plane seems tasteless to us. If we eat on the ground the same food served on a plane, especially in the luxury sections, it will taste much better to us," explains Dr. Eran Schenker, an aviation doctor and head of aviation and outer space medical research at the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.

Turkish Airlines attaches great importance to the food served on its flights in all its sections food produced in the Ko&Co plant in Istanbul, owned 50% by Turkish Airlines, with the other half privately owned.

Furthermore, in order to differentiate itself from the competing airlines, the company has chosen a culinary gimmick: on every flight, the food in business class is served by a flying chef in a pure white chef's hat and dressed like a waiter in a gourmet restaurant.

"The factory employs 3,000 workers on shifts round-the-clock, and produces 160,000 portions a day just for tourist class," they say there. "They use three tons of kebab balls and three tons of roast chicken a day, divided among dozens of production lines."

Some of the food is produced by hand, because labor is cheap in Turkey. For example, on a visit to the plant you can see dexterous hands preparing 600 units of kibbeh a day, and bakers sprinkling cream on an assembly line of desserts at a dizzying pace. All of this is loaded onto carts and brought to the airplanes on a fleet of special trucks, but only after the head chef samples the portions and approves them for delivery.

The factory says that Turkish Airlines passengers prefer rice, beans, and lamb cutlets.

The writer was a guest of Turkish Airlines in Istanbul.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 25, 2015

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2015

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