When I booked my round-trip ticket from Atlanta to Malta on Turkish Airlines, my first thought was, "Mmm... Turkish food!"
The itinerary I selected included a 24-hour layover each way in Istanbul. I knew I'd get to experience some awesome traditional Turkish fare on the ground...but what about in the air?
As I filled out my passenger information, I was beyond excited to see an special option for a gluten-free meal, labeled as "GFML." I booked a standard seat (not first-class or business class) so my reviews are entirely from the perspective of a coach-class traveler.
According to the Turkish Air Special Meals Service webpage, the GFML does not contain: wheat, wheat flour, caviar, oats, barley, pasta, bread, breadsticks, pastry, cakes, pastries, crisp breads containing gluten, cream, meat-flavored additives, dried fruit and nuts, malt products, and chocolate containing gluten. The GFML does contain some or all of: fresh fruit and vegetables, puffed rice, gluten-free crisp breads, soya milk, potatoes, soya and rice flour, dairy products, sago, and oil.
Keep in mind that all special meal requests must be processed on reservations at least 24 hours before flight time. For that reason, it's best to just go ahead and request your meals as soon as you book your ticket. I'd recommend double-checking your reservation a week before, then a few days before, to make sure GFML still appears on your booking.
As an added bonus, special meals are often prepared and delivered to you ahead of everyone else. I requested GFML's for each of my four flights. I had no idea that I would be in for such a treat! Below, I will outline every meal I ate on board, in hopes that this will give you an idea of what to expect as a gluten-free passenger on Turkish Air.
GF MEALS BY FLIGHT
Flight #1: Atlanta to Istanbul - TK32 - 11.5 hours (direct)
First impression: Silverware in coach?! Yes! No flimsy utensils. Two chopped salads, a cup of chopped melon. The grilled chicken breast was juicy and tender. The fire-roasted veggies were awesome, along with a fresh lemon slice and steamed rice. I saved my rice cake for munching on later. It felt a little strange to eat this entire meal at about midnight, since take-off was near 11pm EST, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
Probably due to general fatigue and exhaustion after 10+ hours in the air, I forgot to photograph my breakfast on this flight, which came hours later. I had more delightful fruit, scrambled eggs, vegetables, and a second rice cake.
Flight #2: Istanbul to Malta - TK 1371 - 2.5 hours (direct)
Tender lamb chops, steamed jasmine rice, braised leafy greens, chopped fruits, a shredded veggie salad, a glass of homemade mint lemonade that they make in-flight? WHAT?
But let's talk about the bread. I could write a whole blog-post-ode to the GF bread on Turkish Air.
The flight attendants heat the bread in its own compartment and place it on the tray with tongs. Once it's cooled down, you rip open the plastic and the inside of the bread is dough-y and soft -- just like gluten bread! If it wasn't plastered with the "GFML" branding and labels, I'd be seriously concerned I was eating gluten. But it was just that good.
I wolfed this meal down with very little self-control because it was so delicious and I was starving. Kind of amazing, in hindsight, that I had the forethought to take a photo of it.
Flight #3: TK1372 - Malta to Istanbul - 2.5 hours (Direct)
This was a super satisfying meal, especially because they delivered it just as the dinner-hour was approaching at local time. The chicken kebab was juicy and delicious. The charred veggies were awesome and I put a little balsamic dressing on top. There is a laughably huge grape in the cup, which you can sort of see, but it was freakishly big.
I was elated to eat more of my all-time favorite airline bread, especially with the melty vegan butter (sounds strange, but it was incredible).
Flight #4: TK31 - Istanbul to Atlanta - 12.5 hours (direct)
Kind of funny that I received the exact same meal as I'd had on the Malta flight one day earlier, but no complaints, because it was really good and I got my bread for the third time. Heavenly.
One big highlight of this particular meal was the Ancyra Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah wine. Medium-bodied with low acidity and medium-short finish, this wine paired well with poultry. Bottle was a decent size as well.
I should add that Turkish Airlines provides a tea and coffee service after each meal. On one of my flights, I'm pretty sure I ordered a cup of each. No shame. You really can't beat Turkish coffee OR the steaming hot tea. I like mine with one sugar. Pure beverage bliss!
Without hesitancy, as a celiac traveler and just in general, I highly recommend Turkish Airlines.
In my four Turkish flights over the course of 15 days, the general level of service was truly fantastic. On a non-food-related note, the zippered in-flight amenity kit was one of the nicest I've ever seen. It even included Turkish Airlines branded-slippers, which I enjoyed wearing throughout my trip.
Above all, I'm incredibly grateful to Turkish Airlines for making my trip completely smooth (and delicious!) as a gluten-free traveler. As I plan my next adventures, I keep trying to find ways to fly Turkish again. After this experience, I know I'll be back in the air with them soon.
Views expressed in this blog post are entirely my own. At no point was I offered compensation or sponsorship. In other words, I funded this trip with my own money and was satisfied enough to write this totally impartial review, particularly to offer insight to fellow gluten-free travelers. Hope y'all enjoyed!