For years travellers have been using hubs at the likes of Doha, Dubai and Amsterdam to connect between Europe and Asia, with Istanbul’s Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen airports suffering from congestion and delays despite the city’s well-placed location straddling both continents.
Enter Istanbul airport (also known as iGA – Istanbul Grand airport) which began operations in October 2018 and aims to be the world’s largest airport once its four phases of construction are complete in 2028.
The airport took over from Ataturk as Istanbul’s main airport in April 2019, adopting the IST code as well, and occupies 76.5 million sqm with an “under one roof” design, meaning that there is only one terminal – spanning 1.4 million sqm – for both domestic and international departures plus three independent runways, an air control tower and various facilities. That said, there will be separate terminal buildings for VIPs and private jets in due course.
The airport will have five north-south parallel runways as well as one east-west runway by 2028, and the capacity to handle 200 million passengers per year – at the moment it has a 90 million capacity. Indeed it was listed as the busiest airport in Europe (and seventh worldwide) in the ACI’s World Airport Traffic Dataset this year.
Here we look at the various facilities on offer – from business to entertainment and leisure – and help you guide your way around the vast airport.
Istanbul airport is 53 km from Taksim on the European side, and 65 km from Kadikoy on the Anatolian side.
The M11 metro operates between Kagithane and Istanbul airport and takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the city centre. This will also extend to Gayrettepe station in the city centre soon.
Passengers can also use the Havaist buses which operate to several areas on both the European and Anatolian sides of the city. IETT, meanwhile, operates five different bus routes to the airport. For further details, visit this landing page.
Getting around the airport
The mobile app provides flight tracking, a virtual assistant, maps, audio guides for visually impaired customers, and a ‘find my vehicle’ service.
It’s also a silent airport, meaning that there are no announcements as you walk around but there are touchscreen information panels and flight boards throughout.
For those transiting, the minimum connection time is 90 minutes.
Note that there are two security check areas at Istanbul airport, one for landslide and one airside. Thankfully you don’t have to remove your laptops or liquids as the airport has new generation CT scanners in place. Nonetheless it remains busy – on my departure, there was a one-hour snaking queue for security.
Locally inspired design
Designed by London-based firm Grimshaw, the airport draws inspiration from the local surroundings. Sparkling vaulted ceilings pay homage to Ottoman and Islamic architecture, and I’m told that light coming through these dome-like structures reflects crescents onto the marble flooring on a sunny day.
On the sustainability side, the airport is LEED Gold certified and features greenery throughout as well as wooden beams and floor-to-ceiling windows connecting you to the outside world. There are also cold and hot water dispensers throughout the terminal to refill your reusable bottle.
The seven entrances to the terminal, meanwhile, nod to Istanbul’s moniker as the City on the Seven Hills, and the main thoroughfare in the departures hall is named after the Bosphorus Strait, with the undulating design of the outlets mimicking the shape of the strait.
Even the Air Traffic Control tower has links with the country, designed to resemble a tulip – Turkey’s national symbol.
The airport has short-stay accommodation within the terminal, boasting both YOTEL and YOTELAIR properties. The former is located landside (before security and passport control) and the latter airside. Both properties have communal spaces (known as Komyuniti areas) and the landside property also features a bar, restaurant, meeting rooms and gym.
YOTEL is located near entrance 7 and check-in counter R. Its 171 cabin-style rooms are bookable by the night.
The 280-room YOTELAIR, on the other hand, can be booked nightly or for a minimum of four hours. It is located in the Duty Free area of the international area on the second floor of the departures – follow signs for Gates A and B and you will find it next to the LCW store.
For those that are simply after a quick nap, YOTELAIR also has a series of Recharge Cabins, located opposite the entrance to the iGA Lounge, which are bookable by the hour on a walk-in only basis. These include a private bed, TV and desk – so you can catch up on work too – but shower and bathroom facilities are shared.
At the other end of the scale is iGA Sleepod – 25 sleeping cabins, open 24/7 and designed for passengers to have a quick nap in a private, quiet space. Located at Gate D in the departures terminal, the cabins include a blanket, a charging point and storage space for carry-on luggage. Additional pillows and blankets are available for purchase. Prices vary from €15 to €20 depending on the time of day.
The airport has a series of well-designed spaces for business travellers, while seats throughout the terminal and at the gates feature built-in USB and plug sockets. There are also long, communal high-top tables where passengers can co-work, again complete with USB and plug sockets.
The wifi is provided by Turk Telekom and, as such, it’s not that simple to sign up to free wifi. Passengers must scan their passports at kiosks dotted around the terminal to receive a password to login to the service.
The wifi is free for two hours, though you can pay for further time. Some passengers might not be too pleased with providing this information, and may instead choose to use a portable wifi device or 4G.
iGA Business Pods
These soundproofed cabins can be rented on an hourly basis for €6 so you can get some work done in peace and quiet, or make a phone call.
iGA Business Room
This meeting room located next to YOTELAIR can accommodate up to eight people and includes wifi, drinks and snacks, a projector and flipchart. This can be booked 24 hours in advance for €100 per hour.
Retail and dining
The first sight as you enter departures after security and passport control is the ‘Diamond’ area, a glitzy space filled with designer shops such as Gucci and Dior.
On the dining front, the airport offers everything from grab-and-go outlets and fast food to high-end international cuisine and Turkish-inspired restaurants. I had an excellent mezze-style meal at the typically Anatolian restaurant, Omur Akkor, during my visit.
The team explained that the airport has recovered very fast from the Covid-19 pandemic, with business booming and commercial areas “popping up like mushrooms overnight”. During my visit, for instance, a bakery had just opened that week along with the less fancy but highly popular McDonalds.
The day of my departure, meanwhile, coincided with the opening of Salt Bae Burger from Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, which has seating for almost 200 people.
Leisure and entertainment
The airport is big on leisure facilities, with six foliage-strewn napping zones with lounger-like chairs throughout the terminal, terraces for both non-smokers and smokers, express spa stations and the larger Ambassador Spa & Beauty Salon next to the iGA Lounge which offers treatments varying in length including a hammam experience.
For those after some entertainment before or between flights, the airport has various facilities to cater to a range of passengers.
A highlight is the 1,000 sqm museum on the international departures floor, which is the largest airport museum in the world. Operated by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry, the museum aims to introduce passengers to the country’s rich culture, with 316 works on display from the prehistoric period to modern day. The museum is open from 8.30am until 11pm daily, with admission from €13.
There are also five kids’ playgrounds throughout the airport, each based on a different theme, and a virtual experience centre is set to open in the coming months.
The airport has several lounges in departures, both for those signed up to loyalty schemes for specific airlines, alliances and pay-per-use. There are also various pop-up lounges closer to the gates, so passengers can still get some privacy just before their departure.
Located on Level H of the international departures area above the main concourse, this lounge can be used by iGA Pass members, passengers of a contracted travel programme (Priority Pass, Dragon Pass, High Pass and LoungeMe) or you can pay on an individual basis. It’s a huge space with plenty of seating areas for 585 travellers.
Given the lounge’s size, there’s a map as you enter so you can plot your visit. Amenities include relaxation zones, shower facilities, worship areas, an outdoor terrace, foosball table, massage area, plus two “terraces” overlooking the main concourse and flanked in greenery.
It’s a busy space but there are plenty of seats with built-in plug sockets, or standalone charging points.
In terms of dining, there are two large buffet tables with cold dishes – several salads and appetisers, plus lots of cakes – as well as two stations for hot food on either side of the room. There is also a dedicated freshly cooked pide (Turkish pizza) station, though this had a queue throughout my visit.
There are also two circular bars offering complimentary spirits, wines and beers, while Turkish tea and coffee and fridges of soft drinks are stationed throughout the lounge.
There’s also a Duty Free shop as you enter, exclusive to lounge guests, should you need some last-minute supplies.
Lounge access is valid for four hours and costs €75 for adults (€37.50 for children between the ages of 7 and 12, and free below this age range). The lounge is also free of charge for Priority Pass members.
iGA Youth Lounge
Located between gates A and B, this is a colourful, playful space open to passengers aged 15-30. The lounge offers free food and drinks, board games, video games, large TV screens and four hours’ free wifi (as opposed to two in the main terminal). It has an ampitheatre-style set up, with cushioned seats and greenery. Guests can use the lounge for up to four hours for €15.
Turkish Airlines lounges
The airline has three lounges in the airport: the Business Lounge and Miles & Smiles Lounge are both located on the international departures floor and each measure 5,600 sqm with capacity for 765 people. The Domestic Lounge is located on the departures floor of the domestic area.
This lounge next door to the iGA Lounge is open to first or business class ticket holders or Elite Plus Frequent Flyers travelling on an international flight operated by Air France, KLM, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, TAROM and Saudia.
The airport has made an effort to cater to older passengers and people with disabilities, with staff members stationed within the terminal to provide support to passengers in need.
As with many other airports, passengers can request a sunflower lanyard which signals that they need greater support within the building.
There is also a peaceful room designed for passengers with invisible disabilities, such as dementia, autism and anxiety, or for those who feel overwhelmed in crowded areas. Known as the ‘Very Special Guest Room’, you can apply for a guest badge before arriving or request use of the space once you’re there. The room features a kids area, a TV and plenty of seating areas – plus a separate small room with cushioned walls and a choice of different coloured lights.
Passengers over the age of 65, meanwhile, get free fast track service at the security and passport zones and complimentary buggy service.
ISTANBUL AIRPORT IN NUMBERS
76.5 million sqm
53,700 sqm duty free area
1,500 daily flights
108 restaurants and cafes
99 airline companies
315+ destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas