Gluten-free travellers reveal their best and worst experiences with in-flight food
Flight crew didn’t understand what gluten-free was (Picture: Getty)

There’s no bigger gamble than asking for your food to be gluten-free when travelling on a plane.

You could end up with a fairly pleasant, almost edible meal. Or you could end up with a single banana.

I decided to quiz a few of the folk from the Coeliacs in the UK Facebook group  and the Gluten Free and Me Facebook group who were brave enough to place their dietary requirements in the hands of their airline.

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of gluten-free food at 40,000 feet.

Virgin Atlantic

Brian Tea: Virgin Atlantic have been terrible. Despite booking GF meals in advance, my wife had no meals loaded for her in either direction when we visited the US last October.

Dorothy Kerr: I forgot about Virgin and agree they were good. Served me at the same time as hubby’s GF so we could dine together!

Virgin Atlantic said:

Gluten free food is available on all our  flights, also in our Premium Economy cabin we have a wonder wall, which includes Gluten free Snacks.

Our Customers can request this up to 48hrs in advance.

We are constantly reviewing and looking for new to market options we can offer and load across all dietary meals, we refresh and update our offering on a regular basis and react to customer feedback.

British Airways

Gluten-free travellers reveal their best and worst experiences with in-flight food
British Airways gluten-free meal (Picture: Simon Bowley-Cornwell)

Simon Bowley-Cornwell: This was my GF meal on a short BA Club Europe flight a couple of weeks ago. Mozzarella and tomato salad, GF roll, fruit salad, and raspberry jelly – all good.

Helena Thomas: I was asked to ‘eat round it’.

BA said:

We do all we can to ensure customers receive a suitable meal during their journey, and on longer flights, we offer a range of 13 specially-prepared meals for customers with specific dietary requirements, including gluten free options.

These are bookable on ba.com, free of charge, at least 24 hours before departure.

Thomson Airways

Natalie Richardson: Flew with Thomson last month to Dominican Republic. The on flight GF food was amazing. Dinner chicken roast. Then afternoon tea blueberry muffin and a cheese salad roll. And on [the] way home was chicken and mushroom with rice and fruit salad, and then breakfast was omelet, tomatoes and mushrooms. Very pleased.

Thomas Cook

Gluten-free travellers reveal their best and worst experiences with in-flight food
Gluten-free on Thomas Cook Airlines (Picture: Maia Hemingway-Wood O’Dell)

Maia Hemingway-Wood O’Dell: Thomas Cook was amazing on our long haul flight! I had afternoon tea/snack type thing, bread rolls and a proper meal. Couldn’t recommend them highly enough!

Air Transat

Holiday Ted: Air Transat gave me small bowl of spinach as had given my GF meal to someone else! I complained after but never had any response. It was a cheap flight though.

Zara Charlotte Wells: It was Air Transat who gave me a banana as a meal once!

Air Transat said:

Air Transat takes its passengers’ needs seriously and recently enhanced the range of special meals it offers.

On flights between the UK and Canada, the airline now provides a choice of 13 special meals, including a gluten-free option, which can be pre-ordered, free of charge, up to 72 hours before departure.

Qatar Airways

Sara Cantello: I flew to Bali with Qatar Airways and they were brilliant. They gave me proper hot meals and they were better than my other half’s normal meals.

Mandy Hill: I flew Qatar Airways in January to Travandrum, India and pre-ordered the gluten free meals. The food was awful and no snacks. I was made extremely ill on the flight home. Not sure if it was a non gluten meal I got or cc. I would take something with you.

Etihad Airlines

Gluten-free travellers reveal their best and worst experiences with in-flight food
Gluten-free on Etihad Airlines (Picture: Riad Harrar)

Riad Harrar: I went with Etihad recently from Manchester to Trivandrum, India. The food was good I would say. I couldn’t have the snacks inbetween as it was biscuits and coffee but instead they gave me business class snacks like almonds and cashew nuts.

Delta Airlines

Monika Ludewig Bradley: After countless back and forth emails with the VP of food service at Delta, we have basically been told there would be no gluten and dairy free meal for our 15 hour non stop to Australia.

YES they do have gluten free. And kosher. And Halal, and baby meal and kids meal and vegan but cannot seem to manage GF and DF.

Delta said:

In total, we offer 14 total special meals for customers with specific dietary, religious or medical needs – full list of our meals are here.

While we are always continuously evaluating our options based on customer needs and feedback, we currently only offer a dairy free and gluten free option, but not an option that is both gluten and dairy free to order as a special meal.

Air Canada

Gluten-free travellers reveal their best and worst experiences with in-flight food
Gluten-free food on Air Canada (Picture: Rachel Manley)

Rachel Manley: Air Canada flight! London to Calgary, I had nothing outbound but had a yoghurt inbound! That’s was all I had!

Air Canada said:

Customers on all of Air Canada’s international flights can order a special meal, including gluten-free to suit dietary or religious needs up to 24 hours prior to departure.

Gluten-free meals, like the oven roasted chicken breast with herb sauce served with rice, carrots and broccoli currently served in Economy Class on our flights from London, are part of the special meals available for order up to 24 hours prior to departure.

On flights within North America, we make every effort to present a variety of choices catering to different tastes and requirements, including a few gluten-free options offered in the Air Canada Cafe:

–      Odwalla mango tango smoothie (for breakfast)

–      Made Good organic chocolate banana granola minis

–      Made Good organic dark chocolate and cherry fruit & nut bar

–      Sabra guacamole with Tostitos Rolls tortilla chips

Here is a copy of the current Air Canada Cafe menu where gluten-free options are clearly indicated. Please note that our yogurt is not marked as gluten-free.

Monarch

Paul Murdock Spink: Monarch offer GF snacks and a wrap on even short haul flights.

Qantas Airlines

Rebeka Ann Kings: Qantas are the best airline for GF/DF onboard meals I didn’t have an issue at all and very accommodating!

Korean Airlines

Lakin Bronkar: Korean Air is great with GF meals. They work with one of their big hospitals to provide safe meals. I had chicken, potatoes, salad, rice cake, fruit for one meal. Fish, salad, rice cake, mashed potatoes, fruit for another meal. For the snack I got a piece of fruit.

KLM

Sarah Preston: Had a bad experience with KLM, flight crew didn’t understand what gluten free was. Given bread, challenged it, was told it was gluten free, but exactly the same as my husband’s!

Then given wheat crackers as an alternative, then gave up. I would always take food on the plane just in case.

Emirates Airlines

Gluten-free travellers reveal their best and worst experiences with in-flight food
Gluten-free food on Emirates Airlines (Picture: Lauren Llewellyn)

Lauren Llewellyn: I have flown with Emirates London to Dubai and back again and Singapore to Dubai. Meals were OK; varied really. Had some kind of fish and rice on the first one, quite plain, it was OK though, and the roll was nice.

Jess Standing: I had a good experience with Emirates Airline. I had four flights with them last month. Delicous food, I was delighted with it.

United Airlines

Danielle Butler: Horrendous service with United where twice they ‘forgot’ and in my nine hours I got given crackers… that weren’t GF.

United said:

We do all possible to cater for the dietary requirements of our customers and apologise that on this occasion the service provided did not meet our usual standards.

The takeaway:

So there are a few things we can learn from this.

  1. Always pre-book your gluten free meal in advance.
  2. A lot of airlines seem unable to combine dietary requirements for meals.
  3. Maybe consider bringing your own food, just in case.

The biggest shock for me is how airlines are unable to combine dietary requirements. Gluten-free and veggie? You’ll likely end up with meat or fish. Gluten-free and dairy free? I wouldn’t risk it.

Perhaps the best advice here is to take your own food just in case. Happy holidays!

Metro has contacted Qatar Airways and KLM for comment.

Becky Excell is a London based food/travel/lifestyle blogger. You can check out her gluten-free recipes, travel guides and vlogs over at www.glutenfreecuppatea.co.uk.

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