Gone are the days when flight attendants roll out their carts, asking their captive audience of passengers, “Chicken or Beef?” The commercial airline industry has attempted to evolve over the years in order to accommodate people with dietary restrictions based on preference, religion, and/ or health issues. After all, the last thing any airline wants is an allergic reaction 40,000 feet in the air – talk about bad press!

It is now a standard for many airlines to offer special meals for people with different kinds of dietary requirements. On top of the typical vegan, diabetic, kids-friendly, diabetic, lactose-free, and kosher meals, most international air carriers also now include a gluten-free option on their menu. Passengers can request one of these special meals in advance by calling the company’s customer service hotline or by making a note during their online flight reservation details.

A List of Airlines that Can Provide a Gluten-Free Meal in Coach

Thanks to Reservations.com, we have this infographic showcasing some of the most popular airlines in the world and their gluten-free airline food policies:

gluten-free airline policies

After conducting extensive research on more than a hundred airline carriers around the globe, here under is a list of popular carriers that provide a gluten-free meal in the economy class. The focus of these flights are those that ply the North American route. People who struggle with celiac disease due to their intolerance to gluten ought to take a look at the infographic that comes with this article to help make their air travel experience informed, as well as a lot more pleasant.

One should note all airlines require at least a 24-hour advance notice to avail this gluten-free meal option. The airline that requires the most advance notice is Air Europa, which needs  at least 72 hours to guarantee a specialty meal. On top of that, airlines such as Condor, Alaska Airlines, Iceland Air, Norwegian Air, and Lufthansa also charge extra payment for you to request a gluten-free meal option.

Other airlines offer a low-gluten meal option only. Those who are super sensitive to gluten should be forewarned that meals on these flights are not completely free of gluten. These airline are: Air Italy, Air New Zealand, Avianca, Finnair, Kuwait Airways, and Philippine Airlines.  Proceed eating with these airlines at your own risk!

Take Necessary Precautions

Those who suffer from an intolerance to gluten or have celiac disease should take necessary measures and precautions to ensure that whatever lands on their tray tables are food items that won’t cause their stomach grief. Triple check those heated tins and their contents. It may be a bit exaggerated to flip around those food items with a fork to investigate them, but safety reigns supreme. After all, no one wants to suffer any unexpected symptoms while airborne.

The infamous quality of airline food has received quite some backlash over the years. Some say even options offered for their “regular” clients look like microwave dinners turned to mush. In actuality, airline food is indeed food that has been reheated, so manage your expectations and do not anticipate a Michelin star dish right from the start. Since this food is included in your air ticket, you might as well count your blessings and get the most out of it.

Although some airlines undermine the value of serving a decent meal, others do try hard to offer quality options. Just like fast-food chains, not all are created equal. And just like the fast-food chain industry, commercial airlines have mimicked their recent move to breakdown and elaborate the details on their menu items for those people with sensitivities and dietary restrictions. As such, airlines have become more empathetic and considerate of those with specific diet needs because no one wants to be hungry in the sky for a long-haul flight. This can easily lead to testy passengers out of feeling “hangry.”

Those who battle celiac disease understand that each time they venture outside of their own kitchens, they end up being at the mercy of someone else’s hands. Eating out means placing their gastrointestinal health at risk, no matter how reputable a restaurant is, or in this case, an airline. This can be a huge gamble because aside from just the ingredients alone, food preparation and cross-contamination are some issues that they also have to consider.

Though most do appreciate gluten-free menu options on international flights, there have been noted instances where their meals just did not make it into the kitchen cabin of the flight. There was even one instance wherein a passenger was given just a plain banana as his meal for a 9 hour flight. Those who are gluten intolerant must do their research before their long haul flight to ensure they do not go hungry or to eliminate all possibilities of unintentional gluten consumption while they are captive in the skies.

The Lowdown to Flying Gluten-Free

Those that live with gluten intolerance are used to doing their own due diligence when they have to consume food that comes from a variable food environment that is not their own kitchen. Most airlines have been trying their best and they have indeed been moving in the right direction. However, there are still so many factors that can influence these outcomes, especially whilst on air.

After reading through so many reviews and wading through hundreds of testimonials on people’s perception regarding airplane food, this mini-guide came to life with the goal of helping those sensitive to gluten.

Consider the following tips for flying gluten-free because they can actually make or break that flight experience.

Research is key.

Passengers who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance must do their own research ahead of time. No one wants to be a panic button and wait just hours before the flight departure. It is critical to read the airline’s special policies, requirements, and ingredient lists to deter potential headaches. Take note of the crucial nuggets of wisdom here under to help with your planning: 

  • There are many key factors that affect the availability of a gluten-free meal, such as the airline operator, the air route, the hours of flight time, the departure city, and even the destination.
  • Be vigilant about what goes into thy mouth because cross-contamination is a possible issue. Some airlines actually have a disclaimer that they cannot guarantee that their gluten-free meal offerings have not been exposed to gluten during food preparation. Some other airlines do not even give this kind of disclaimer, but that doesn’t mean those with celiac can be complacent because it is not a hundred percent guaranteed that the food is indeed free of gluten.
  • Adding additional restrictions will make things cumbersome. Often, most airlines will only be able to accommodate one dietary restriction. Remember, most of their food comes from a catering company and their large commissaries. Thus, combining gluten-free with vegetarian or gluten-free with Kosher is quite an impossible feat.
  • Various airlines have different policies, ergo, they provide a different set of experiences. Flights, airline staff, protocol, and experience will really vary. Some people praise specific airline, while others have a long list of complaints about the very same compan. The key is to take reviews with a grain of salt. Don’t completely cast off an airline because of one bad client review.

Reserve ahead of time.

It is vital to remember to give the airline of your choice advance notice. The more amount of time you give them, the better food offerings they can give you. The cut-off requirement of most airlines is 24 hours notice, while other airlines need longer than that. Though there is this requirement, it is recommended that you do not wait until the very last minute to place your request. You want them to have ample time to prepare, and you most certainly do not want them to forget your order.

Those passengers that book through the airline online reservation site can select their gluten-free meal option just before they checkout. Those that booked their tickets through a third-party site will need to get in direct contact with the airline. They need to ensure that they make a gluten-free reservation with their confirmation number. As you can see, those are fairly simple steps which you can do way ahead of time. You will be notified by the airline as you make the request whether you need to pay any extra for your dietary request.

Remind the key players.

Upon check-in, be sure to remind the gate agent about the request. It may seem a tad pushy and annoying to keep repeating about a gluten intolerance. But in this case, it is better to be safe than to be sorry because health and wellness are at stake. A simple reminder to ensure that the gluten-free meal is not forgotten on board will not inconvenience anyone. Just be forewarned that many who don’t suffer the same affliction may not be as understanding. However, those that suffer from celiac disease have to be their own best health advocate. Health is not something to be flippant about or to toy around with.

On the plane, it is also critical to double check with the flight attendant regarding a gluten-free request. All it takes to get this done is just a simple verbal reminder with a smile. A “please” and a “thank you” will also go a long way, so remember to be courteous and friendly to your flight attendant, so they will not get annoyed. It is better to sound like a broken record than to have a miserable time up in the sky. It’s not like the airplane is a bus that can be stopped once a person begins to feel sick to his stomach. Vigilance is key to ensuring a happy time in the sky.

Look for the Gluten-Free label.

Those that ordered a gluten-free meal in advance must double check for a gluten-free sticker or its equivalent. Sometimes, a GFML sticker is attached because airlines have been known for using abbreviations. To ensure that the right meal is with the right person, re-confirm with the flight attendant. The best part about ordering a specialized meal, it gets served in advanced as opposed to the regular meal run. 

Watch out for these possible contaminants.

As noted above, gluten free may not be totally safe from cross-contamination. Those who feel in doubt, even if the meal has a gluten-free tag, should not proceed with their meal at the expense of their gut health. Food items to watch out for that may be prone to cross-contamination are the following: 

  • Sauces and marinades
  • Salad dressing
  • Sausages
  • Cold cuts
  • Roasted nuts
  • Puddings
  • Chocolate
  • Other deli items

Here’s the most important consideration, trust those gut instincts (pun intended). If something really feels off, just don’t proceed. Wasted food is better than being miserable the entire time. Everything feels even more toxic whilst on air. 

Prepare food ahead of time.

Now, those who are really concerned about the quality of the meals need to be prepared. As the popular adage goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. It is critical to pack food ahead because things can go wrong. Airlines are notorious for making last minute changes. There are numerous delays, flight cancellations, and quick crew changes that can lead to a forgotten gluten-free meal. Thus, it is imperative to prepare for the worst case scenario.

For those that would like to eat something warm on their flight but do not trust the airlines meal offering, then there are actually quite a number of safe instant meals available. Take note: flight attendants cannot heal a meal for their clients, but they can provide them with hot water and utensils. Consider bringing organic rice-pasta instant mac and cheese or a gluten-free instant oatmeal packets for something to warm the belly.

Don’t get stuck with nothing to eat and pack food that is one hundred percent safe from thy own kitchen. With so many variables and issues at play, it cannot be ruled out that a celiac may be given just a banana for an in-flight meal. The last thing anyone wants is to be starving on a transcontinental flight. Packing food is the smarter and safer way to travel because it is more delicious and definitely more nutritious, too. 

Final Word on Flying Gluten Free

Thanks to massive awareness campaigns, knowledge about gluten intolerance is undoubtedly growing. With this, people and businesses are becoming more sensitive and considerate, so they have added gluten-free options to their menu. Today, gluten-free airline food may not be at par with Michelin standards, but they have improved by leaps and bounds over the past years. A pleasant in-flight dining experience is no longer an urban legend for those with gluten intolerance. Those with celiac disease can now enjoy a smooth flight with some bit of researching and planning ahead.

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