Three attackers started shooting outside and inside the terminal and immediately blew up themselves after police fired at them, officials say.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early indications indicated the so called Islamic State was behind the assault.
Recent bombings are linked to Kurdish or IS separatists.
Tuesday’s strike looked like an important coordinated assault, says the BBC’s Mark Lowen.
Ataturk airport is definitely viewed as a vulnerable target, our Turkey correspondent includes, reporting from an airplane put on the tarmac in Istanbul.
There are X ray scanners at the entry to the terminal but security tests for automobiles are restricted.
Images in the airport terminal revealed bodies covered with forgotten and glass bags littering the building.