This article is available to read in Turkish (Türk).
The airline industry has grown increasingly competitive over the past several years, and carriers are always looking for ways to distinguish themselves by upgrading their food and beverage options, amenities, and quality of service to retain and attract new customers.
If you're a frequent flyer, you may have noticed some of these upgrades on the customer service side of things. If you dig even deeper, however, you will find that it takes a lot of hard work and extensive preparation behind the scenes in order to make everything come together. Recently, Turkish Airlines graciously offered to provide us here at LoungeBuddy with a tour of their airline catering and flight training facilities at Istanbul Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey. This experience provided us with a glimpse into the highly elaborate preparation process that takes place on a daily basis to create as memorable of an experience as possible for Turkish Airlines passengers.
Turkish Do & Co Catering Facility
To advance their Skytrax 5-Star Airline aspirations, Turkish Airlines has invested significant amounts of resources into upgrading their hospitality and onboard services. When it comes to food preparation, Turkish Airlines has enlisted the help of Do & Co, an world-renowned Austrian catering company that specializes in gourmet airline catering. Do & Co has established a strong and growing presence in the airline catering industry in Turkey, with 9 airline catering units across major Turkish airports.
The most significant of these is the flagship Turkish Do & Co facility at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, which is a joint venture between Turkish Airlines and Do & Co. Having recently been awarded by Skytrax for providing the "best business class onboard catering" experience in 2013, Turkish's efforts have clearly paid off.
The Turkish Do & Co facility at Istanbul Atatürk Airport is staffed by 2,500 food service workers who prepare 150,000 meals daily for an average of 800 flights per day. The majority of these meals, roughly 70%, are for Turkish Airlines passengers, while the remaining 30% go to passengers on other carriers. Turkish Do & Co provides all of the catering for the Turkish Airlines lounges at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, including the state-of-the-art Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge in the International Terminal. Given that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, all foods prepared at the facility are halal-certified.
What's On The Menu For Turkish Airlines?
The kitchen is a constant hub of activity - open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Work is split into three separate shifts throughout the day in an assembly line setting. The hot kitchen prepares all hot food items one day before they are served on a departing flight. After these items are cooked, they are gradually brought down to refrigeration temperature, before they are stored on a flight service cart in the cold storage area. In this area they will remain, at least until it's time to bring them aboard the plane. Before serving, the food is heated up in a warm onboard oven.
The facility has a separate allergen kitchen, in which 15 special types of meals are prepared in order to accommodate passengers with special dietary requirements. Gluten free? You got it. Vegetarian? No problem. Over 400,000 pieces of bread and 40 different types of bread are prepared and served by Turkish Do & Co on a daily basis - pretty impressive numbers. A slight majority, 204,000 pieces, are served on domestic flights, while the rest are served on international hauls. Fresh fruits are delivered daily from the most fertile fields in Turkey to the facility, where they are hand cut and prepared meticulously by the staff. If you think you're on a roll, you certainly haven't met the members of the cutlery staff, who roll up to 2000 cutlery sets per day.
Meal Options: Something For All Tastes
For Turkish Airlines passengers, meal choices vary based on your flight class and trip length. On international flights, there is always at least one national meal choice. If you are on a long haul international flight from Istanbul to Los Angeles (LAX), it's likely that you'll have a Turkish dish and an all-American plate among your options. Turkish Airlines business class passengers may be able to sample a selection of seafood hors d'oeuvres or a delectable traditional Turkish dish of anchovies and rice, hamsili pilav.
For shorter flights, say domestic flights within Turkey and trips from Istanbul to nearby Athens, Greece, your meal could be a delicious cheese sandwich, a fruit cup, and a small plate of mouth-watering Turkish meze (appetizers).
Turkish Airlines Menus: Customized, Creative, and Commemorative
To commemorate inaugural flights on new routes out of the Istanbul mega hub, Turkish Airlines prints specially designed themed menus based on the flight's destination. At LoungeBuddy, we like to think we have an eye for creativity, and we are impressed.
For an inaugural Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Russia, there's a special menu tucked inside a traditional Russian matryoshka doll. For the maiden voyage from Istanbul to London-Gatwick, you'll find a menu based on the ubiquitous red London phone booth.
Turkish Airlines Meal Carts
Depending on the class of travel and the length of a certain Turkish Airlines flight, a single meal cart can hold meals for up to 70 passengers. On a medium haul flight from Istanbul to London, you'll be able to fit 56 standard economy class trays onto a standard cart. And for a longer flight with 2 meal service periods? 28 economy class meal containers for the 1st service and 42 for the 2nd service. On very short flights lasting around an hour, you can fit about 70 meal boxes into a cart, due to the smaller size of these meals.
Cold Storage Room
Before the meal carts are loaded on a flight, they are stored in the cold (and we mean cold) storage room of the facility, which has 26 gates and a fleet of over 100 trucks and 30 cars. This fleet is solely responsible for transporting meal carts from the storage room to the aircraft, and nothing else, making them highly efficient at what they do. After a flight arrives into Istanbul, the fleet will bring in meal carts from the aircraft, which are typically filled with dirty dishes and silverware and any refuse that were reloaded onto the carts. The waste is disposed of, and dishes and silverware are washed and cleaned on-site at the facility so that they are shining and sparkling, ready for use on an upcoming flight.
To maximize freshness, the meal carts are loaded with freshly cooked food and transported by truck from the cold storage facility to the plane within a day after the meals are prepared. Each meal cart is tagged with the flight number on which it will be utilized, as well as a list of the different foods and beverages that the cart contains, keeping confusion to a minimum, if it exists at all. Ideally, the loading process takes place around 3 to 4 hours before a flight is scheduled to depart; however, in extreme cases, this process could happen within minutes of departure if the inbound aircraft has a tight turnaround time.
The Central Command Center
The nucleus of the facility is the catering management office, which oversees the complex orchestration procedure of getting all the meals to the right plane at the right time. Like an air traffic control center, this office is vitally important to making sure that all of the parts are working together as a well-oiled machine. If any one part of the operation breaks down, flights may not receive the food that they need, thereby delaying the flight's departure. Therefore, it is vital that the men and women who work here remain on top of their game.
To make sure that everything at the facility is running along swimmingly, the catering management office monitors all of the activity that takes place at the facility, from the assembly lines where the food is prepared to the locations of each of the trucks that are transporting meal carts from the cold storage facility to the aircraft.
It's Time For The Presentation
An integral part of food service on Turkish Airlines is the elegant presentation of your meal. Depending on your class of service: economy, comfort (also known as premium economy), or business, and length of the flight: domestic, international, and extended range (aka long haul), there are various plate settings that range from a meal box with a cheese sandwich, fruit cup, small plate of Turkish appetizers, and cup of water to more elaborate plate settings. These increasingly byzantine layouts max out with numerous utensils, several glasses and plates, and even a teapot and traditional cezve, a specially designed pot for making Turkish coffee.
Training For Perfection
Another significant part of Turkish Do & Co's operations is dedicated to the Do & Co Academy, which provides cabin crew training to ensure the highest quality of customer service onboard. The Academy proclaims itself as the most modern cabin crew training center in Europe, and we certainly wouldn't second-guess this assertion. After all, they leaves an outstanding impression with the state-of-the-art interior design. The academy provides training sessions, general and personalized hospitality programs, intensive cabin service training, and special galley courses covering food and beverage, heating, and plating (the arrangement of food on a plate to increase a dish's aesthetic appeal) guidelines to ensure that the cabin crew on board is gung-ho and ready for work.
There are over 500 Skychefs working on Turkish Airlines flights and in their airport lounges. These Skychefs are staff members who are specifically dedicated to the on-board catering experience. Skychefs are specially trained for meal preparation, pairing recommendations, and plating on board - experts at what they do. All long haul Turkish Airlines flights, as well as select shorter flights, have Skychefs on board. Before they are allowed to serve, most Skychefs come into training with a background in the culinary arts, and must go through a two month extensive course at the academy.
There are three independent classrooms at the academy, impressive replicas of a section of the typical Boeing 777 cabin, Airbus A340 cabin, and Boeing 737 economy class cabin. Skychef training sessions take place within these classrooms. In order to further enhance the learning experience, the academy provides replicas of an aircraft galley with real equipment, including an oven and a coffee maker. Real food training, service style simulations, and full video training are all available.
Time For Some Flight Training
The Turkish Airlines Flight Training Center occupies an area of over 15,600 square meters on the premises of Istanbul Atatürk Airport, and provides world class training to flight professionals, including cockpit and cabin crews. Trainees come from Turkish Airlines, in addition to numerous regional and international airline companies, including Aegean Airlines, Uzbekistan Airways, and Pegasus Airlines.
The flight academy has an expansive fleet of 14 aircraft, with 10 Cessna-172 S NAV IIIs, 2 Diamond DA 42 Twin Stars, and 2 Mustang Citation Jets. Each aircraft has 2 seats for pilots. The Cessna-172 S NAV III and the Diamond DA 42 Twin Star have an additional 2 seats, while the Mustang Citation Jet has another 5.
CCT: Cockpit Crew Training
There are six full flight simulators, including 2 Boeing 737-800s, 2 Airbus A320s, a Boeing 777-300 Extended Range, and an Airbus A330/A340 convertible with Rolls Royce, General Electric, and Pratt and Whitney engines. Each flight simulator costs well north of $10 million and are exact replicas of the cockpits located in the respective aircraft. As these flight simulators are identical to the cockpit of an actual aircraft, pilots can practice all kinds of scenarios to ensure that they are prepared for anything that may happen onboard, including situations involving engine failure, severe weather, and loss of cabin pressure.
There are also several FTDs, or flight training devices, including a Flight Navigation Procedure Training II/Multi Crew Co-Operation device based on a Boeing 737 Next Generation model. FTDs are similar to full flight simulation devices, though they are not as comprehensive. Other flight training devices include replicas of a Boeing 737-800, Airbus A320, Airbus A330/340, and Boeing 737. Door trainers at the facility, which are helpful for practicing emergency situations involving an aircraft door, include replicas of the aircraft door on a Boeing 777 and an Airbus A320.
More CCT: Cabin Crew Training
Numerous cabin crew training devices are available, including 2 cabin emergency evacuation trainers (CEET): a Boeing 737/Airbus A310/Airbus A340 and an Airbus A320. As these two CEETs are located next to a pool, you can practice water landings on either of them. There are also Boeing 737 and Airbus A340 cabin service trainers, as well as a real life firefighting trainer.
Cabin crew trainees can practice a variety of real life scenarios, including emergency water landing procedures and usage of the emergency oxygen supply or life vests. Other scenarios include those involving fire and smoke, such as cabin, oven, lavatory, or engine fires, pilot incapacitation, crowd control, use of the evacuation slide, emergency and safety equipment, evacuation procedure, decompression, and turbulence.
These scenarios are designed and loaded into the cabin emergency evacuation trainers' computer system, and can be used by cabin instructors during emergency trainings. Emergency trainings are recorded on video so that they can be replayed again and again for future training sessions, allowing trainees to gain a better understanding of the standard procedures for certain situations. One fascinating fact is that the emergency life rafts/slides have an emergency food supply that can last 45 days for everyone on board. Unfortunately, it seems that the quality of this food may not measure up to Turkish Do & Co's standards.
Customized courses at the flight academy are available. These programs are flexible, and trainees from other airlines are allowed to use their own checklists and flight procedures for all courses. In addition, the courses proposed can be modified according to the specific requirements of the client, or completely new courses can be designed for special purposes.
Putting It All Together
The Turkish Airlines catering and flight training centers at Istanbul are extraordinary, world-class facilities that play an integral role in ensuring that everything comes together to provide a first-rate experience for their passengers. The next time you come away impressed by a seamless air travel experience with Turkish Airlines, be sure to remember that none of this happens by accident. Thousands of women and men contribute daily behind the scenes in order to create this memorable experience, and their efforts cannot be overstated. After our tour, it was clear to us that Turkish Airlines has tremendously stepped up their game when it comes to providing a top notch travel experience, and we envision an auspicious future on the flight path ahead.
TURKISH DO & CO IKRAM HIZMETLERI A.S.
Genel Müdürlük Binasi
Atatürk Havalimani B Kapisi
34149 Yesilköy Istanbul – Türkiye
Tel.: +90 (212) 463 5700
Fax: +90 (212) 463 5799
Turkish Airlines Flight Training Center
Turkish Airlines Flight Training Center
Beşyol Birlik Cad. Polis Koleji Arkasi A-Blok
Florya Istanbul – Türkiye
Tel.: +90 (212) 463 6363 / 15150
Fax: +90 (212) 463 21 45