Airport review: Istanbul Airport is now Europe's busiest




EY96 to Abu Dhabi, business


The worst thing about Istanbul Airport is getting there. The airport, which is 54 kilometres from the centre of town, opened in 2018 and we are still waiting on the opening of the dedicated metro line (currently scheduled for the end of this year.) Travel time from the city is a minimum of 50 minutes, more if the traffic is heavy (as it often is). An airport shuttle bus is available but as I have appointments in the morning before my flight, I book a car.


There are two things you notice immediately about Istanbul Airport, and one of them is its size. The first time I landed here, I was surprised by how long it took us to taxi to the terminal, and then even more surprised by how long it took to walk from the gate to passport control. This place is huge. The second notable thing about it is its sleek design - so at least you have something to look at while you walk. I'm particularly taken by the soaring vault-like ceiling with slatting that lets in plenty of diffused sunlight.


Istanbul Airport has picked up a swag of awards lately and has been especially lauded for its efficiency. This is particularly remarkable given that last year it catered to 23.4 million passengers, placing it ahead of London's Heathrow and Paris' Charles de Gaulle in the busiest airport stakes. So it's a shame that my check-in experience is drawn-out: an accident of timing, in that I find myself queuing behind several large family groups, all of whom have multiple suitcases. Fortunately the queue at passport control moves much more smoothly.


There are two security checks for travellers on international flights out of Istanbul – one when you arrive at the airport, the second after passport control. Both queues move efficiently. After security you can pick up one of those small hand luggage trolleys, but only if you have the right lira or euro coins for a returnable deposit. It's a measure that is both annoying and ineffective – I spot a staffer collecting abandoned trolleys from the departure gates.


Travelling in Turkey is a treat for food fans, so it's pleasing to report that the airport's culinary offering is well above average. Its Turkish food court is a delight, with a village-style setting, (fake) trees and all. Half-a-dozen outlets offer a range of local foods, from Anatolian cuisine to a doner roasting over open flame and a wide range of halva. International outlets such as Subway are tucked away upstairs; there is also a sushi outlet and a kid-friendly haven with ice creams and chocolate fondue.


Like other major airports, Istanbul is lined with a familiar range of luxury outlets, although in this case, a number of high-end Turkish brands are also represented. The most surprising – and endearing – shop is a low-cost clothing outlet with a bit of a Target vibe.


Need a layover? Istanbul Airport has two airport hotels, one landside, one airside. International passengers can access free Wi-Fi in the terminal, although you need to input your mobile number to receive a log-in code via SMS. Don't have roaming? Look for one of the mobile terminals instead, which can also issue a passcode. Above all else, allow plenty of time to reach your gate – this airport really is vast. Our flight is delayed because we have to offload the luggage of a number of no-shows; my guess is they were still hiking to the gate when the flight closed.



Love the design, love the food – but remember to wear your walking shoes. See