Ordering a gluten free meal on a BA flight – rubbish!

This is a hot topic in the allergy world, flying with allergies. I have a very interesting blog here from my friend Jaqui who recently flew to the good-ol-US-of-A for a holiday of a lifetime. She asked me for advice about the trip, where to go when she got there for gluten free food and I have to admit, apart from saying “Take your own supplies” I wasn’t really much help. I haven’t traveled much in America and when I did, some ten years ago, they didn’t seem to have ANYTHING nut, dairy or wheat free. It was a struggle even to buy dairy free milk and bread but we managed.

Planning a trip abroad is daunting. With allergies you have the whole ‘nuts being served on a plane’ problem which is a whole other subject. Some airlines are better than others but many are still not flexible, with the very shocking news of a child having an allergic reaction recently on a flight and being saved by another passenger who happened to have an adrenaline auto-injector available. (google girl has allergic reaction on plane – it was in the Daily Mail and Mirror online)

The Anaphylaxis Campaign have some advice about flying with a peanut allergy here.

What about actually eating on the plane? Can you easily order a gluten free meal?

The flight to America, when I went, involved being woken at very regular intervals to be offered more and more mostly wheat based and dairy stuffed food, very little of which I could eat. This was a while ago, before I became more savvy about asking for a safe meal. I seem to remember a cuppa soup was the hightlight of my flight back then, from one of the flight attendants own handbags! I just didn’t eat the food and was grateful for oatcakes and safe snack bars.

So what is airline food like these days? Having only flown EasyJet recently I’m not the best person to ask.

So here is Jacqui’s story about flying with a wheat and gluten intolerance. How hard can it be to get a meal without that one food group? Let alone those of us lucky souls avoiding numerous allergens. Best to pack a picnic if Jaqui’s story is anything to go by.

Rice cakes and more rice cakes

I was just wondering what kind of treatment you people out there with assorted allergies have received from airlines and how you got on with the food? Having been diagnosed by my homeopath to have intolerances to everything in the gluten group earlier this year, (after my GP said I was fine!), it suddenly occurred to me that holidays and even getting there would be more problematic in the future.

In February, we flew Easy Jet to Spain. My husband got the proverbial meal deal from Boots; I arrived with picnic in hand and off we went. On a short flight this was fine, all we needed to do was check that my hot drink (made from a sachet) was not containing anything my tum no longer likes.

In April, we flew to Canada. We tend to use B.A. Club World on long-haul flights (using our flight points). Prior to flying, I had altered my profile online to request a GF meal. We duly arrived at Heathrow and spent a nice couple of hours chilling in the club lounge with me copiously checking food packaging – recognise that activity? Our flight was called and we clambered aboard. We took off and all was fine and dandy; we sipped Champers and I found that I was able to nibble on the mixed bag of nuts provided. Happy face!! [Ed:Not so happy face if you have a nut allergy 🙁 ]

I sat back and began watching my chosen film.

Then lunch arrived. Probably sounds silly but I become extremely excited at the thought of food on a long-haul as it breaks up the monotony. Hubby was given a delicious looking fish starter, and then fillet steak. Dessert was a chocolate torte.

Rice cakes served on BA flight to America

Rice cakes served on BA flight to America

Mine was… a wilted looking green salad and then a chicken breast which sat upon a bed of mash and runner beans looking as dry as it tasted. Oh! And a rice cake! Dessert was a few strawberries; the cabin crew kindly found me a vanilla ice-cream to accompany it. I called a cabin crew member over and asked if she felt that my meal compared with my husband’s in any way as I was feeling quite discriminated against. She agreed with me that it did seem unfair. I asked what people on Economy class were being fed, she admitted that it would probably be the same-minus the rice cake, which was my special treat.

Happy face was long gone by now. But later on Tea arrived; the other half had neat triangular shaped sandwiches, scones cream and jam.

I had a tiny fruit salad and ta dah… Two rice cakes…

The gentleman opposite was also the recipient of a GF meal. He returned his untouched. I was leaping up and down in temper and asked if he would also complain alongside me. He just yawned and said it wasn’t worth the effort.

The same more or less happened upon our return flight except that at the Toronto Club Lounge they provided an amazing sit down meal (with many GF options) so I wasn’t hungry anyway and grabbed a few hours kip before being awoken to rice cakes and fruit salad again the following morning.

We were fortunate enough to be flying off again to the USA in June, again using BA. Two months on I foolishly had high hopes of nicer food- after all these flights would cost quite a bit if you were paying cash and the airport taxes had cost a fortune by themselves.

Tingling in anticipation I awaited my meal. Again my husband’s meal had me drooling whilst mine was… yes you’ve guessed it… a cold roasted veg starter accompanied by another with a wilted salad.

And then, surprise surprise… Dry chicken, dry mashed potato and limp green beans reared their ugly heads once again.

Bearing in mind we flew to Canada in April and this was late June there was no change at all in the menu and the standard of food was absolutely diabolical. As my husband said, you wouldn’t feed it to your dog! Our cabin Steward did whisper to me that if next time, I ask for the meal breakdown list for the normal menu, there were actually several choices that I could have elected to have, that were GF.

I asked why then I’d been fed this c**p, he explained that it was a “one menu first all type of operation due to lack of space in the on-board kitchen”. I put in an immediate written complaint and was assured by staff I would receive a reply. We were in the USA five weeks… did I receive a reply from Customer Services? What do you think!

On the fight home, we were fortunate to have a very experienced Cabin Manager, I asked her if I could see the meal breakdown list and she showed me. There was a starter and two main meals that contained no gluten, (except for the sauce accompanying one meal, which the staff informed me was in a sachet poured on separately) – so no problem. I had a much nicer meal with no problem at all. Yes it was my choice and it could have been polluted but I was fine after it.

After grabbing a few hours shut eye, the crew woke everyone for breakfast. I was presented with… a fruit salad and… wait for it, this is the best bit… A cold individual quiche with cold peas accompanied by a cold CURRY sauce. Just looking at it made me retch and the cabin staff just couldn’t believe it either. They offered to warm it but I declined the offer.

I again filled in the complaint form. The Cabin Manager told me that she was empowered to offer me a few flight points in compensation, but if she was me, she would continue it with Customer Services. So I did and after several more weeks of waiting, B.A. Customer Service eventually deemed to reply. It consisted of a spun out a generalised letter which I was not going to accept. We ping ponged emails back and forth for a few weeks and in the end I received an email stating that they had reviewed my case and were awarding me flight points. I was so sick and tired of it by then I accepted them without further response.

What about you? I can’t believe I am alone in this; inferior discriminatory treatment makes my blood boil. Have others had similar experiences?

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


  1. Thats awful to treat you like that especially watching nice meals come out for everyone else. It can’t be that difficult for them to have an alternative ready if they know in advance. Time for airlines to smarten up their act. Nothing against rice cakes, but they aren’t quite the same as a meal!

    • Yes I agree, why couldn’t you have had fillet steak? No gluten in that. Very shoddy, and not at all what I’d expect from BA. I am going to forward this blog onto them and see what they have to say about. Probably very little but I wonder whether they bank on the power of social media? Watch out BA!

  2. I didnt choose a ” safe ” meal when I flew with BA in march( 9 hours ), due to the fact the last time I ordered something safe it was far less safe than the ” normal ” food served to everyone else ! At least I could hopefully have picked at stuff that was safe for me ,by recognition !
    But when I questioned the cabin crew regarding the content of a meal I was offered , they had no idea and admitted there was no other choice left !
    So I ended up without anything to eat as the crew were too” scared ” to let me have the meal !
    To be able to even do a lip test at my risk ! ( which my consultant has advised to do )
    So dont hold your breath for any airline having any care for people with allergies ,its too much trouble for them to have passengers on their aircraft let alone ” Fussy ” ones !

    • I feel the only safe and reliable option might be the handbag picnic, probably a damn sight better than what they’re offering but I’ll bet that security/customs would probably confiscate it… I must find out what you can take on a plane with regards food on a long half flight. Probably not meat. And I also think, if they can’t offer any food the price of the ticket should be reduced.

  3. So answers on a blog comment please. Did BA respond to my tweet to them regarding their GF food offering?

  4. When it comes to BA and Gluten free I have given up. It’s stated in my account since I opened it years ago and every time I fly with them within Europe it is a disaster.
    I upgraded to Premium Economy once with my points hoping for a better outcome but they only had been given one Gluten free meal and I was second in line. So even on paying more for better service etc nothing from them. Ok, it’s only 2-3 hour flights but generally you look forward to a snack or get picky when everyone around you is enjoying food – or at least I do.
    I enquired on several occasions on the why and how at the Airport and online but it didn’t help. At the Airport the staff was shocked that there was no GF option for everyone and ensured me it should be. Online I was only thanked for my feedback and told other passengers are happy with the range of food choices on board. Even after changing my feedback to a complaint, as my questions had been either ignored, someone said they have a look and forgot about it and my favourite ‘there is no GF/special food requirements available for Economy’ BA didn’t seem to be able or willing to understand the information and fobbed me off with the usual thank you reply.

    I have come to the conclusion if I have to fly BA I’ll do it and buy food at the Airport and make the most use of the free bar. But otherwise any European Budget Airline will do, as BA now charges extra for hold luggage anyways.

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