Derek Cheng flies Turkish Airlines from San Francisco to Naples via Istanbul.
Turkish Airlines Boeing 777-300ER.
Price: From US$817.56 ($1142), San Francisco to Naples via Istanbul, return.
Luggage: 20kg allowance for checked baggage.
Public transit to San Francisco Airport: Super-easy. I walked to the underground BART system, bought a ticket to the airport, and followed the map. Took about 90 minutes and cost about US$10.
Check-in: I used my cheekiest smile and asked for seat by the emergency exit door.
These seats don't usually cost any extra, so I was confused when the woman behind the counter said she had given me the seat at no extra charge, along with a cheeky smile.
Airport experience: San Francisco Airport is easy to navigate, with free Wi-Fi and a tonne of charging stations for your phone. Like most American airports, security is an area where you make jokes about bombs at your peril. I was pulled over to have my shoes inspected. They had recently been at Burning Man, and needed to be tested for toxic substances. My dahl curry, security assured me, was not what triggered the alert.
Flight time: 12 hours and 55 minutes.
On time: Yes.
Seat: When I boarded, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself upgraded to business class. Score!
Entertainment: A huge selection of movies, games, TV shows and music. I happily toggled between watching new movies, working on awe-inspiring travel stories for the Herald and eventually some comfortable sleep.
Food and drink: A selection of a Turkish meal or a Western alternative, and the food was good.
Free hotel: On leaving San Francisco, I asked at the airline desk about sleeping in Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where I had to overnight before flying to Naples the following morning. I've slept on the floor in many airports before, but have been occasionally thwarted by airports that close and do not allow it.
I was told the airline provided a free hotel to transit passengers in Istanbul. I made further inquiries when we touched down and was told it was true. If I were Canadian, for example, I would have had to buy a visa to enter Turkey, but as a New Zealander, no visa is required. I passed through Customs and after waiting about half an hour at the neighbouring Starbucks (sidenote: you can't get free Wi-Fi at Istanbul airport unless you have a local mobile number) I was piled into a van along with a dozen other travellers and treated to the casualness with which Turkish drivers deal with frenzied traffic. We were taken to a decent three-star hotel. When I asked at the reception how much the room was, he seemed surprised. "You have to pay if you want to eat at the bar," he said. "I have dahl, it's ok," I replied with an smile that usually accompanies getting free stuff. He didn't understand my reply, nor why I started laughing.
Airport shuttle: The following morning, a van picked me up and took me back to Istanbul Airport.
Second airport experience: Coming back into Istanbul takes a bit longer. After the attacks at the airport in 2016, airport security here is not to be taken lightly. Once through, however, the shopping opportunities are plentiful.
Would I fly again: Absolutely. Free extra leg room with a free cheeky smile. Free hotel room. The free hotel is only available if your transit time is more than 10 hours for an Economy flight, and more than seven hours for a Business Class flight. And both flights have to be with Turkish Airlines. I had a different hotel room when I flew back to San Francisco, again with free shuttles to and from the hotel. I'm not even bitter that the jet lag of my first flight prevented me from sleeping at all in my first free hotel room.