Three weeks back when we were flying to Italy, our flight was leaving from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side of the city.
On the rare occasion we’ve flown into Istanbul (we’re fond bus travellers, as you know), we’ve landed at Atatürk Airport on the European side, so our Sabiha Gökçen experience was going to be a first.
We all know that airports are not what they used to be. Gone are the days when you could just wander in, check in, wander to the bar, do a bit of shopping and enjoy the airport as part of your holiday.
At least in the airports we’ve used, anti-terrorist security measures coupled with too many planes taking off, means long queues and being searched and searched again.
By the time you get through passport control, your gate is being called. It all adds up to us avoiding airports where possible.
Enter Sabiha Gökçen Airport, the doors in Departures proudly welcoming you to the ‘World’s Best Airport.’
When we first saw this, we smiled. Market traders in Turkey are no strangers to telling the potential customer that their goods are the best in the world but the airport getting in on the act, too?
Why the ‘world’s best’ statement?
Well, you may remember that on take-off, the passenger is treated to a magnificent aerial view of Istanbul but that can’t be enough.
Let’s go pre-flight. A welcome statement like this certainly makes you take in an airport with different eyes. As we entered, we were already on a mission – and the thoughts of getting tetchy in long queues had temporarily subsided.
Architecture & Design
The airport is a prime example of modern architecture done well. Of course, that’s purely subjective; this massive hangar is a work of art and you need to stand and take it in, appreciate it for what it is and then decide if you like it.
The angular criss-crossing of the exposed metal framework against the flowing curves of the entrance facade were already a winner for us.
And when we went inside, even better. The waves of the roof continue and the businesses and check-in desks are housed in pods in the middle of a polished, marble floor.
Everything is visible and it all makes for an experience of feeling like a very small person in a huge, open space – which, of course, is exactly what you are.
Facilities at Sabiha Gökçen Airport
Let’s get to the nitty gritty. If you’re familiar with the eye-watering prices for drinks and snacks at Dalaman Airport, you’ll be pleased to know that’s not Turkey-wide.
Before you go through passport control, Sabiha Gökçen has a few places to eat and drink and while the bar/restaurant is pricey, there’s a reasonably priced Simit Sarayı where you can get simits and pastries.
There are also kiosks where you can pick up a newspaper, snack, soft drink or even a can of Efes. And there are seats where you can relax while enjoying your purchases.
And we should point out, even if you don’t need to go, do visit the toilets. Marble tiled walls, black granite sink areas and teak doors – no public toilet fear here. These are much nicer than our bathroom at home!
If you’ve got a long wait for your flight, duty free and other bars and restaurants are through passport control (note: we didn’t check the prices here) or you can just mill around the entrance area.
While we were there, there was a Safranbolu photography exhibition on display and, as you can see from our photos, at least for now, this airport is not overcrowded. You really can chill out while you wait.
The Science Bit – Why Sabiha Gökçen Airport Is Truly Unique
There are no doubt hundreds of new airports around the world that can show off such pleasing architectural design, thoughtful layout and facilities – but Sabiha Gökçen stands out above those airports for another reason.
Designed by Turkish engineering company, Arup, this hangar makes Sabiha Gökçen the world’s largest earthquake-proof airport and places it in the Top 7 largest earthquake-proof buildings in the world.
The terminal sits atop rubber and steel ball-bearings which allow the structure to move back and forth, side to side, in an earthquake measuring up to 8 on the Richter Scale.
In the (sadly) inevitable event that Istanbul will suffer more earthquakes, Sabiha Gökçen Airport should withstand the quakes and therefore, become a crucial hub for the delivery of emergency supplies.
Does all of this mean Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport is the world’s best airport? Who knows, but it surely puts it up there.