Revealed: almost 34 million passengers connect with Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines carries almost 34 million connecting passengers, with international – international connections accounting for nearly two-thirds of its total. Interestingly, it seems to receive less attention than the MEB3, despite arguably posing a greater risk, depending on the traffic flows in question.

Turkish Airlines’ strong network from Istanbul Airport has many benefits, including:

  • Its geographic location, sitting atop various key traffic flows
  • The country’s area and population
  • The popularity of the Turkish Mediterranean and Istanbul itself for tourism
  • The large Turkish diaspora across Northern Europe
  • Turkish Airlines’ strong use of narrow-bodies, playing a key role in serving 124 countries and serving over 290 cities. They enable smaller cities to be served – including across Africa, with 52 passenger destinations in W19 – and often permit high frequencies, especially domestically and to Europe and the Middle East
  • An exceptionally strong presence in Europe, the airline’s core, with 115 cities served – accounting for 55% of its passengers in 1H 2019

In the year to September 2019, OAG Traffic Analyser estimates that Turkish Airlines carried 33.5 million connecting passengers over Istanbul Airport.  (This articles only looks at the airline’s connections Istanbul Airport, not others.)  This 33.5 million includes all connections, but this article focuses on international – international connections, which are responsible for an estimated two-thirds of the total. 

The strength of Turkish Airlines’ network from the new Istanbul Airport -– only international routes are shown in this map -– is clear. And yesterday, 15th October, it announced a new service: a three-weekly Istanbul – Vancouver service from S20. Source: OAG Mapper.

Turkish Airlines’ top-20 connecting international-international country markets

The table, below, shows that the USA features in seven of these top-20, generating 500,000 connecting passengers, while Germany features in six (439,000).  Germany is Turkish’s key international country with 11 destinations and about 37 daily flights from Istanbul Airport (each way).  However, when extended beyond the top-20 international – international markets, Germany increases to 1.5 million (USA: 1.1 million).  When Germany – Turkey connections are included, it increases to 2.3 million (USA: 1.4 million). This is partly the result of high numbers of Turkish diaspora in Germany and also the popularity of Turkey as a holiday location for Germans.

Country market Est. two-way connecting passengers over Istanbul Airport* in the year to Sept. 2019
Germany – Iran 128,000
Israel – USA 117,300
Pakistan – USA 75,900
Germany – Thailand 70,900
Greece – USA 68,600
Germany – Egypt 66,500
Germany – Israel 66,100
India – USA 65,600
Iran – USA 65,000
Bangladesh – Italy 63,900
Iraq – UK 63,800
Germany – Lebanon 59,200
Pakistan – UK 59,100
Iran – UK 58,100
Iraq – Sweden 55,800
Ukraine – USA 55,500
Saudi Arabia – USA 51,800
Italy – Pakistan 50,500
Germany – Georgia 48,800
Saudi Arabia – UK 46,700
Source: OAG Traffic Analyser. * Based only on Istanbul Airport and not Sabiha Gökçen.

There are some country-pairs that might not have been expected to be so important, such as Bangladesh – Italy.  This is from over 140,000 Bangladeshis in Italy, making them one of Italy’s largest immigrant populations.  The relative lack of India versus the MEB3 is apparent, which is partly from Turkish’s small presence there – it only serves Delhi and Mumbai with passenger services – as it is heavily restricted by bilaterals. 

Turkish Airlines’ top-20 international-international airport-pairs

Interestingly, Germany is almost absent from its top-20 airport-pairs. Tel Aviv features five times, especially from the USA.  Turkish serves Tel Aviv nine-daily from Istanbul Airport, with three of these often by wide-bodies.  Tel Aviv is Turkish’s most-served international airport.  Islamabad – Jeddah stands out as it is almost twice as far as the non-stop distance despite up to four-daily non-stops – including by B747-400s and B777s – and a myriad of easy one-stops over the Gulf.

Top-20 international connecting routes Est. two-way connecting passengers over Istanbul Airport* in the year to Sept. 2019
New York JFK – Tel Aviv 34,300
Amsterdam – Tel Aviv 24,100
Islamabad – Jeddah 20,600
London Heathrow – Lagos 20,200
Tehran – Toronto 20,100
Dhaka – Rome Fiumicino 17,900
London Heathrow – Tehran 16,900
Beirut – Berlin Tegel 15,300
Los Angeles – Tehran 15,000
Los Angeles – Tel Aviv 15,000
Copenhagen – Tehran 14,900
Casablanca – Tel Aviv 14,400
Miami – Tel Aviv 14,200
Dhaka – Venice 14,200
New York JFK – Tirana 14,000
Erbil – Stockholm Arlanda 13,900
Beirut – Stockholm Arlanda 13,600
Baghdad – Stockholm Arlanda 12,800
Hurghada – Moscow Vnukovo 12,600
Delhi – San Francisco 12,600
Source: OAG Traffic Analyser. * Based only on Istanbul Airport and not Sabiha Gökçen.



  1. Bill Koumarelos says:

    Actually some(but not all) of the answers why Turkish is successful, are easy to figure out.
    (1) Easier to get to odd destinations in Africa that most carriers don’t fly to.
    (2) They go to secondary destinations in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, etc. and it is easier to connect via IST, than multiple connections elsewhere. They have the only international flight into Kherson, Ukraine, for example. You don’t need to deal with going through the capital city, and worry about air/ground connections.
    (3) Aegean—for whatever reason—-is adamantly against buying long-range, wide-body planes. So TK is “cleaning up” in the Greece to USA and South Africa markets.
    (4) Also a safe and comfortable routing to get from USA and Europe to Iran and Iraq.

  2. Istanbullu camci says:

    Well done THY the future is bright

  3. Siobhean says:

    Apart from the obvious advantages such as geograhical and fleet choice, no one is mentioning that they run an impressively sleek operation with excellent service, catering and enviable time keeping. There are many transit options but people will return and even pay more over the competition if they know they are getting quality.

    • James Pearson says:

      Hi Siobhean. Absolutely! Enormously important. On a personal level, I like their proper business class even within Europe, not that I fly it much. But it goes to the heart of what they are doing.

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