What’s it like to fly as a gluten free passenger on Turkish Airlines?

When a coeliac books a flight, their first question is usually will their airline offer a gluten free special meal (rapidly followed by, will it be edible?!), rather than seat pitch or in flight entertainment.

The press often report stories of terrible gluten free meals on planes – such as this recent example where the gluten free passenger was served “nothing but popcorn and crisps” on his 10 hour flight from Mexico to the UK.

But what about when airlines DO offer great gluten free meals? Is that not a bigger story? On my recent trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, I flew with Turkish Airlines. I’d previously had a great experience flying as a gluten free passenger with them in 2010, back when I’d just started writing this gluten free travel blog.

For my flights to and from Tbilisi I flew outbound in Economy and then I flew the return legs in Business class.

Since the flights were not direct from London to Tbilisi I changed planes in the stunning new Istanbul airport.

I had pre-ordered my gluten free meals at the time of booking. According to the Turkish Airlines website, special meal requests should be made no later than 24 hours in advance either via the TA website, mobile app or their call centre.

However, although you can leave it until 24 hours before your flight, I would strongly advise always booking any special meal with your airline at the time of booking, with a reconfirmation in the days before your flight.

The Turkish Airlines website also helpfully explains what special meal options are available for customers with a dietary restriction. For gluten free passengers (special meal code GFML) the special meal does and does not contain the following;

Prepared for passengers with gluten allergy or intolerance. This meal does not include any wheat based products.
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.
Contains 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 oily products.

Some of the specific does / does not contain items seem a little strange to me. Note the exclusion of caviar (!) and nuts and inclusion of “oily products”. I was happy to see nuts are not included according to the website but more on that later…..

On certain international and transatlantic flights, Turkish Airlines offer a ‘flying chefs’ service in Business Class where your meals are prepared onboard by a chef – complete with his chef’s toque blanche. Sadly, this wasn’t the case on my flights but it does look fun!

Since I was flying via Istanbul to Tbilisi I was served 4 meals. I’ve detailed below what I was served on each leg and in which cabin onboard.

London to Istanbul (~4 hour flight) – Gluten Free meal in Economy on Turkish Airlines

This gluten free in-flight meal consisted of:

  • Vegetable salad
  • Lamb and aubergine with rice
  • Fruit salad for dessert (sigh)
gluten free meal Economy Turkish Airlines

Genuinely, the hot main meal was so delicious.

I also really appreciated the shaped dish it was served it. I thought it was a nice touch to do something differently.

Not pictured in the photo: The couple sitting immediately next to me chomping through an enormous tin of peanuts.

Although I’m not allergic peanuts, WHY do people insist on bringing nuts on planes? There are SO MANY other snacks which can be brought on board.

Am I just more alert (since I’m allergic to a couple of tree nuts) to stories in the press about taking nuts on planes?

Please. Don’t do it.

Right, rant over, back to Turkish Airlines and their gluten free meals!

Also not pictured above – but you will see it in the next photo – is the gluten free bread roll provided on Turkish Airlines in flight meals.

I am not sure why I asked (possibly prompted by the peanut munchers next to me) but I asked the cabin crew on whether she had an allergen list for the gluten free bread. In truth, it looked amazing and it was hard to believe it was gluten free.

The good news is the cabin crew held allergen lists for all meals served on board (hurrah for Turkish Airlines!).

The bad news was it contained (or contained traces of) hazelnuts, to which I’m allergic.

The peanut chompers halted mid-chomp and turned white. Then quickly packed away the peanuts whilst the stewardess swiftly removed the bread.

Istanbul to Tbilisi (~2 hour flight) – Gluten Free meal in Economy on Turkish Airlines

Lucky that I liked the in flight meal last time because, look, it’s the same gluten free meal here again!

  • Vegetable salad
  • Lamb and aubergine with rice
  • Fruit salad for dessert (sigh)
What is the best gluten free airline meal?

Note the gluten free bread on the side. This has been WARMED in its packaging and served hot.

Obviously I didn’t eat so I’m afraid I can’t say if it was good / held well together etc.

Tbilisi to Istanbul – Gluten Free meal in Business Class on Turkish Airlines

The seat configuration on the flight from Tbilisi to Istanbul was similar to Club Europe on British Airways with a blocked middle seat in Business.

Business Class Turkish Airlines

I loved the freshly made-on-board lemonades offered on Turkish Airlines.

Fresh lemonade on Turkish Airlines

And just then, the unexpected happened.

gluten free menu card on Turkish Airlines

Yes, I was GIVEN MY OWN GLUTEN FREE MENU!

The first time this has ever happened – my own dedicated gluten free menu.

gluten free menu card on Turkish Airlines

When I was presented with the gluten free menu I assumed it was a choice of either chicken salad or lamb chops…..

can coeliacs eat on airplanes

….but in fact it was both!

gluten free business class meal turkish airlines

This meal was wonderful; the lamb was more succulent than I’ve had in many restaurants.

Istanbul to London – Gluten Free meal in Business Class on Turkish Airlines

For this flight I flew on the A321 neo with the new Turkish Airlines business class seat fit-out.

Turkish Airlines A321 neo
Acres of leg room!

I was again presented with the gluten free menu card on this flight and the meals were the same as I’d enjoyed on the Tbilisi to Istanbul flight.

Business Class Turkish Airlines

As on the outward flights, I was thankful that I enjoyed the meal so much.

Do Turkish Airlines offer a gluten free meal?

Once again the lamb main course was incredibly tender.

gluten free lamb inflight meal

Would I recommend travelling on Turkish Airlines as a gluten free passenger?

Not only was the quality and presentation of the gluten free in flight meals on Turkish Airlines impressive in both Economy and Business (for airline meals), so was the very friendly customer service by all the Turkish Airlines crew.

Additionally, the Business Class cabin on the flight from Istanbul to London was far more impressive than the equivalent seat on the route on British Airways. The seat was huge with much more space than the equivalent on BA in short haul, plus the whole cabin felt very spacious.

If you were flying to Istanbul from London, I would certainly choose Turkish Airlines over British Airways.

Turkish Airlines is the main airline of Turkey and as of the time of posting, they are the largest mainline airline in the world, carrying passengers to 315 destinations in over 120 countries.

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