Traveling by sky for the Holidays? If so, this post is for you! Being a gluten free traveller can be very challenging. Here are some tips for safe and healthy travels.
The task of eating gluten free becomes monumentally more difficult when internet access is taken away. Personally, I double and triple check ingredients and restaurant menus on my phone (both with GF apps and plain old google). This luxury is not a reality when you are 40,000 ft in the air.
This is a problem I faced very recently on my flight home from New York to San Francisco. I was filled with excitement when I realized that the ticket I acquired by using miles happened to be business class. Not only would my seat be big enough for me to sit cross-legged but I would also get to re-experience the joys of airplane food. Now, I know most people are thinking, “Airplane food? Joy? What???” but let me tell you, as a kid, back when the economy was functional, all long flights had a free food service for passengers. As a child, receiving the mystery lunch or dinner box from the flight attendant was the high light of the flight. You would think, as a seasoned Celiac, I would have known to call ahead to make sure the flight was going to have gluten free options but I did not. In my defense, I did not actually know there would be a dining service until I was already on the plane and they handed me their fancy little menu.
Unfortunately, my options seemed grim. Certainly the Lasagna was off-limits but what about he marinated beef filet over mushroom ragout with roasted potatoes in a merlot sauce? There are several opportunities for gluten in that description:
- Marinade – the fillet could have been marinated in a sauce containing gluten eg Worecestershire, soy sauce or a malt vinegar
- Merlot sauce – this could be thickened with flour
- Mushroom ragout – Ragout could mean mushrooms cooked in a tomato based sauce, but it could also mean it is a pasta dish
- Roasted Potatoes – These could be breaded or dredged
I asked the flight attendant if she knew what was gluten free on the menu. She did not. I asked her if she had a list of the ingredients for the menu items. She did not. It seemed that the flight attendants had NO idea what they were serving to the people on the flight.
Why don’t airplanes have a list of ingredients that are in their food? Do you know how devastating it would be if someone with an anaphylactic food allergy accidentally ingested their allergen eg peanut allergy while on the plane?? For their sake, I hope they have epipens and lawyers on board!
The point is: airplanes are not typically equipped to accommodate the needs of a Celiac unless you call ahead. The steak dish I encountered may well have been GF but I will never know because the food did not come with ANY information on board.
So, what should you do?
Before you fly:
1. Research to see if your flight is providing a dining service and whether they have special meal options
2. Call ahead and ask for GF options
Sometimes your requests can be lost in the hustle of bustle that is the airport business so it is important to prepare yourself for that possibility. Two weeks after my diagnosis, I flew from Los Angeles to Rome and did not come prepared…this is a mistake you do not want to make, trust me!
How to be prepared:
1. Bring your own snacks – Most planes offer peanuts but, when I flew Southwest, the peanuts were coasted in malted barley so it is very important that you bring something to munch on in case you get hungry
2. Bring plastic bags – There is nothing more annoying than a half eaten bag of chips that you cannot close but need to stow away because you have a layover or are landing at your final destination. Pack a few Ziplocs so that you can securely and neatly pack away your snack foods!