This is an ideal question for a trivia quiz because we doubt many will get the right answer. The only problem is that we are a little dubious because the claim depends on how you define Europe. Anyway, according to figures for last December, the largest “European” flag-carriers are Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways and – guess who – Turkish Airlines.
Whatever the niceties of the definition, there is no question that the airline has made astonishing progress in the last decade. It has doubled in size in just five years. They currently have 150 aircraft and plan to have 200 by 2014. They now have quite a decent reputation for cabin service on European flights and, as their intercontinental flights increase, they are working on bringing the standard there to “at least” the level of the existing major airlines. They have copied the plan of Emirates and much of their custom is from European passengers connecting in Istanbul. Their position between Western Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa gives them a huge geographical advantage. Politically, they can also claim to be “neutral” or “friendly” in certain countries where western airlines are looked on with some suspicion.
They have also shown considerable marketing skill. Sponsoring Manchester United and Barcelona does not come cheap but it you are going to get into sports sponsorship, you should aim for the best. They have also some shrewd sponsorship deals in tennis and basketball. Their advertising has developed a reputation for being quirky and amusing – the Kevin Costner “celebrity” ad became a YouTube hit (and was even featured on this blog!).
So, everything is going swimmingly for Turkish Airlines but just one thing holds them back…
They used to have a shocking safety record. This has greatly improved but there are still far too many blips (not all of which get any form of press coverage). Cabin crew have been trained to smile, airport staff persuaded to be a little less grumpy and aircraft interiors refreshed but it seems that the airline’s management has yet to persuade all their pilots to fly by the book. Without stricter controls on the pilots and an unforgiving attitude to errors, Turkish Airlines can grow as big as it wants but is not likely to enjoy the status it thinks it merits.