Is It Safe to Eat The Airline’s Gluten-free Food?

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: June 13, 2012

4. Mike De Cicco-Butz, of the blog Gluten Free Mike. As a frequent flyer in his day job in public relations, Mike had lots to say on this topic, so we’ve included it all for readers.

AL: You have celiac disease and you’ve written about eating good GF meals on airlines. Have you had concerns about potential cross-contamination?

MDB: I have had good meals at 35,000 feet and if I said I didn’t have concerns, I would be lying. Cross-contamination is always in the back of my mind. With flying it required taking a proverbial leap of faith that thankfully has paid off.

In the million plus miles I have flown since my diagnosis 12 years ago, I have never had an issues with my gluten-free meals being just that – gluten-free. I am also severely allergic to shellfish and, quite honestly, I worry more about that when it comes to in-flight catering.

[Airline] catering companies around the globe seem to keep their gluten-free meals very basic from an ingredient standpoint, steering clear of other food items that might pose a problem.

AL: Do you have any favorite airlines for gluten-friendliness?

MDB: LAN Airlines, Emirates, and Continental (now United) all do very nice jobs in the long- and ultra-long-haul department. JetBlue is my favorite for shorter domestic hops. Their snack options, both complimentary and buy-on-board snack boxes offer some gluten-free options for Celiac flyers.

Sadly, my most impressive gluten-free meal came from an airline that is not around any longer. It presented me with my first ever in-flight gluten-free roll. Just remember, the main courses of gluten-free meals tend to be relatively basic (read chicken) – even in the premium cabins – but at least you’ll have something to hold you over until you land.

AL: Have you ever gotten ill from an airline meal that was supposed to be gluten-free, and wondered?

MDB: I can safely say that in hundreds of flights and more than a million air miles since my diagnosis, I have never gotten “glutened” on any of my flights.

AL: As a big traveler, what are your best tips for eating gluten-free in the air?

MDB: Be prepared; things happen and your gluten-free meal might never actually make it on the flight. The best advice I can give is to check with a flight attendant as soon as you board to ensure your meal has been boarded.

When my gluten-free meal has gone missing, I have asked flight attendants to make up a meal on the fly – pulling salads, fruit, cheese, and other items from the galleys to help me out. I do always carry a gluten-free contingency pack that contains, depending on the length of the flight, a range of gluten-free nibbles ranging from snack items to “just add water” all-in-one meals.

I also check the website of the airline, as many publish their in-flight menus online (by route). (See also AL’s chart here.) While I love flying, in the end it is just a means of transportation to get you to your ultimate destination – you can always enjoy fine dining options when you are back on terra firma. (See Mike’s blog here.)

Readers: let us know your gluten-free food experiences with the airlines at [email protected]. We are looking for people’s stories for a future issue of the magazine.