Flying can be a stressful experience for coeliac’s. After all, once we’re 30,000 feet up in the air, the options for food are pretty limited. But air travel needn’t be an anxiety-riddled experience with the right preparation. Some gluten free meals are even yummy (check out the below!)
That said, here are my top tips for flying as a coeliac:
Book a gluten free meal when booking the flight and then CALL 72 hours prior to your flight TO CONFIRM IT.
I’ve been caught out here where my GF meal request somehow wasn’t communicated to the airline. I was told by the staff on-board in my panicked state, that in future, always call to confirm at least 49 hours before flying. That way, if your special meal request has somehow been missed, this will be enough time for any airline to rustle up a GF meal for you. ALSO, when booking or confirming this meal make sure it’s suitable for a coeliac and not just LOW GLUTEN.
Make yourself known to the airline staff when on-board.
Sometimes sneaky people will try to steal your GF meal – because they are on a diet or just decided it looked nicer not realising this will result in your STARVATION. By introducing yourself and clarifying your dietary requirements prior to take-off you can relax knowing your meal will in fact land on your tray table.
When you receive your GF meal – double check it’s actually GF.
Meals are often labelled with ‘GFML’ but not every time, and even if your meal is labelled, be sure to read the ingredients of all the items (where possible) to confirm it’s safe. When flying Malaysian airlines, a gluten-filled muesli bar was accidentally placed on my tray, for example. On other flight, a gluten-filled bread roll was very close to landing on my tray thanks to a distracted air-hostess. So always be vigilant – nothing worse than an in-air glutening.
Bring snacks, LOTS of snacks
As I mentioned above, failing to confirm my GF meal meant a 16-hour flight to LA without ANY food – so now I’m always VERY prepared. Some of you may also remember my incident with Air China when despite confirming the GF meal 48 hours before it was still forgotten – thank GOODNESS I had an abundance of snacks. And don’t forget those long stop-overs and potential delays – while many airports have GF options, others have none – so stockpile!
Remember, liquids don’t get past security so forget the smoothie or tub of yoghurt, but otherwise, most foods can be carried on-board. Some countries, however, are very strict on what you can carry in – so eat everything while in the air (hehe) or do a little research (fruit and meat are often the troublesome foods). My go to options: cheese and rice cakes (this is my first snack before cheese goes yuk), nuts, trailmix, dried fruit, muesli bars, crisps, sandwiches, travel sized peanut butter, lollies/chocolate, homemade banana bread and popcorn. Bringing non-perishable items is also wise, just in case you have an amazing GF flying experience, it’s not nice to have to throw away all the emergency snacks on arrival to strict customs. PS: Don’t forget the utensils. Wet wipes and plastic cutlery are essentials – in desperation I once used the handle end of my toothbrush to spread peanut butter on a rice cracker – and then put it back in my bag without thinking (DOH).
Consider a doctor’s note
Admittedly, I haven’t done this personally but I think (for first-time travellers especially) it’ll give some comfort. Most airport staff aren’t concerned that you are carrying a whole cupboard worth of food in your carry-on, but just in case you get a grouchy officer, having an explanatory note will give you peace of mind and eliminate any issues.
If a GF meal isn’t available, eat before your flight.
This may seem obvious but I mean really eat, especially if it’s a lengthy ride. There’s nothing worse than going hungry, and with extreme hunger, comes temptations, and sometimes, bad decisions. Risking a glutening by eating ‘possibly okay’ items off the regular meal tray is destined to end in disaster, so don’t leave yourself hungry enough to even consider it.
If an airline considers a flight too short to offer a meal, even they carry snacks. Let’s face it, we get hungry quick – especially when bored. Oftentimes, however, gluten free snacks aren’t available. In Australia, for example, budget airlines Tiger and Jetstar offer a number of GF snacks, while other airlines have nothing. So eat a big meal before so your energy stores are topped up or remember your snack pile.