This is a hot topic in the allergy world, flying with allergies. I have a very interesting blog here from my friend Jacqui 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 when you have allergies
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)
What about ordering allergen or gluten free meals on a flight?
What about actually eating on the plane? Can you easily order a gluten free meal?
My flight to America 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 highlight of my flight back then, supplied from one of the flight attendants own handbags! I just didn’t eat the food and was grateful for oatcakes and safe snack bars.
What are airline allergen meals like?
So what is airline food like these days? In my own experience you can select gluten free, or lactose free, or nut free, but you can’t select all three or numerous dietary requirements. It makes it almost impossible for those with more complicated allergies and sensitivities.
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 Jacqui’s story is anything to go by.
They gave me rice cakes as a special treat..
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.
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 with 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 anger 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 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!
Ask for the meal breakdown list
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.
All BA offered as an apology was flight points
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.
Is this discrimination?
A huge thanks to Jacqui for sharing this story and let’s hope things have improved since then. What about you? I can’t believe I am alone in this; inferior discriminatory treatment makes my blood boil. Have others had similar experiences? What do you do to stay safe when you fly? Should there be more choice for thost with allergies?
How to prepare for your flight if you have allergies
Thanks to the lovely people at Creative Nature, here is a handy flight check list! with some of my own added for good measure… I can’t resist, I love a pre-prep list! Visit them on instagram for more handy tips on airlines and flying at CreativeNature.
- Speak to them about their allergen food processes and what they can and can’t do for you
- Inform them of your allergies when you book
- Look up local restaurants, do some research and contact them before you stay. Perhaps even book some restaurants in advance
- Research allergy protocols so you know what to expect
- Take a printed copy of their allergen protocol to show staff if they don’t cooperate.
- Inform them of your allergies when you book
- Request an allergen safe meal
- Inform staff on boarding and ask them to make an announcment on the plane
- Request pre-boarding so you can clean your seating area with wet wipes.
- Take safe snacks and meals if you’re not sure food will be safe
- Always carry your medication (two adrenaline auto injectors and your Action plan
- Check pens are in date and order new if not
- Make sure you have your insurance details and any health forms and letters from your doctor. I used to carry a letter stating why I needed to carry adrenaline but this doesn’t ever seem to be an issue any more
- Request Allergen Translation cards in the language of the country your are travelling to and take your English ones too. Check out Equal Eats and use my promo code WHATALLERGY for 10% off.
- Take ambient snack bars, pouches of tuna, lentil and rice ready cooked pouches, olives, jerky – anything that doesn’t require a fridge, just in case you can’t buy safe food
- Check our local supermarkets Free From aisles, they can be surprisingly helpful. Use Google Translate to understand allergen labelling.
- Google translate can also help you speak to staff, waiters etc.
But above all, play safe. Trust your instinct, and if in doubt, don’t eat it. Ask as many questions as you like and check, check and check again. Happy travelling allergy family.
You may also be interested in reading
- 15 reasons to get an Equal Eats allergen translation card – suitable for allergies, intolerance, coeliac disease etc.
- 30 tips for eating out with allergies
- 20 life saving anaphylaxis tips
- Buy Anaphylaxis – The Essential Guide