Gluten Free Airplane Travel Guide - Celiac Disease
Mar 1 2009

Gluten Free Airplane Travel Guide

Are you someone with Celiac Disease who is planning on traveling on an airline in the near future?  Airlines are notorious for long lines and delays, leaving people on a gluten free diet in a lot of trouble if they aren’t prepared. 

As with any type of travel, the key is preparation, whether you are preparing for delays in the airport or for your time on the airpline itself! 

Gluten Free Airline Meals

Many airlines offer special gluten free meals (also known as GFML meals). Especially if you are going on a long flight, it is worthwhile to choose a carrier with a gluten free meal available.  Some airlines only offer special meals on long-haul or cross-continental flights, so just because you had gluten free meals on a flight from New York to London (for example) don’t assume the same airline will give you a gluten free meal on your flight from New York to Dallas.

Reserve your gluten free meal in advance.

You cannot ask for the special meal at the last minute. You must request it anywhere from 24 to 96 hours before your flight. (Consequently, if you change your flight home at the last minute, you’ll probably lose your gluten free meal!) If you make your reservation far in advance, you’ll want to call back a few days before the flight to confirm that they’re preparing a gluten free meal for you.

After you’ve boarded the plane, the flight crew will come to look for you to tell you they’ve got a special meal on board for you. If you’ve changed your seat at the last minute, they might look for you at your “old” seat, so let them know where you are.

Don’t assume you can eat everything on the tray.

The special meal will be wrapped and sealed; all the flight crew needs to do is warm it up and place it on your tray. You can safely eat whatever is sealed inside the package. The flight crew, however, cannot be expected to know the dietary guidelines of every disease for which special medical meals are provided. They may “generously” add the regular dessert to your tray, or a roll, or some other unsafe food item. Don’t assume that everything on your tray is gluten free.  Safe items will be sealed and labeled, and you’ll be unwrapping these by yourself. Everything else is questionable and you’ll need to read labels and the common sense you’ve developed since following a gluten free diet.

Bring along emergency food supplies.

Unfortunately, despite the airline’s best efforts to provide a special gluten free meal for you, things can still go wrong. If your flight is canceled and you’re placed on a different flight, or if something is wrong with your original aircraft and they switch your plane at the last minute (after the food service has already loaded the meals onto the original plane), your gluten free meal is not going to follow you to the “new” plane. No matter how far in advance you planned and how many times you double-checked, there’s always a solid risk that you’ll end up on a plane without anything to eat… unless you’ve brought along some emergency food supplies. Never travel by plane without bringing some food along for yourself.

Get a soft-sided insulated lunch packs and a couple of reusable ice packs

These are typically sold in drug stores to be used for bruises.  You can put this item inside one of your other carry-on bags if necessary. Before your flight home, chill the ice packs again in your hotel’s ice bucket, or ask the hotel to freeze them for you in their freezer.

Place everything in zip-lock bags

Cabin pressure changes can cause even well sealed items to leak. (Get as much air out as possible before zipping them closed.) The same guideline is true for any food you pack in your checked baggage.

Bring along snacks and light meals that require no extra preparation

These snacks need to be able to be eaten anywhere (the terminal, on the plane, etc.)  If you’re not sure you’ll be able to stock up on these items while you’re away, then remember to bring enough for your flight home, too.

You can find a large collection of this items here.   Don’t forget to bring along napkins, plastic utensils, etc. (if necessary).

Have any tips to add for airline travel on a gluten free diet?  Let us know in the comments!

Article Written by:

Kyle Eslick is the founder of Gluten Free Media, as well as the creator of the popular Celiac Support Groups page. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+!

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