Tips For Flying Gluten Free

A mile high gluten free meal!

Air travel can be stressful for coeliacs but with the right preparation getting to your destination need not cause any unnecessary anxiety. Unfortunately more often than not travelling by air is an unavoidable part of international, and frequently domestic, travel. As a result we must always go into it prepared and aware that the world of airports and mile high snacking is filled with expensive gluten. I was filled with anxiety prior to the first few flights I took as a coeliac as I was inexperienced, unprepared and didn’t know what to expect. I’ve since learned a few things, through experience and making lots of mistakes (isn’t that always the way!), which keep me satisfied and anxiety free no matter what the gluten free meal situation when I travel by air. Hopefully my tips for flying gluten free will help you to prepare and relax on your next gluten free flight.

  • If a gluten free meal is offered (which nowadays tends to be on most international flights but almost never on domestic flights) remember to call your airline to book your gluten free meal. Don’t leave it to the last minute though as most airlines require special requests be made at least 24 hours before departure.
  • When you receive your gluten free meal (which we hope you will!), double check that it is actually gluten free. Often it will be labelled with something like GFML (gluten free meal) but other times it won’t. Read the ingredients if they are listed to check that everything you’ve been given is safe. Also be sure to check that nothing extra has been added to your tray that isn’t meant to be there such as a gluten filled roll or a sachet of gluten containing sauce.
  • Come prepared with your own food. We hope the airline won’t mess up your order but you need to be prepared for the possibility that it could happen. On a diet as restrictive as ours it’s going to be extremely difficult for an airline to throw something together if your meal has been forgotten.
  • Don’t bring any liquid foods with you that you are relying on. This may be pretty obvious but I had my yoghurt confiscated before one flight and and my rice pudding before another.
  • Check what the rules are at your destination for exporting things like fruits and meat. Some countries have strange rules about what you can and can’t bring in. Chile for example has extremely strict laws on what you can and cannot bring into the country and you don’t want something you were relying on taken from you.
  • Bring more than you think you’re going to need. If your flight is delayed or longer than expected you don’t want to run out of gluten free nibbles.
  • Include some non perishable foods in your mile high picnic. If everything goes to plan and you get a nice filling gluten free meal, you don’t want your just in case food going to waste.
  • Don’t forget to bring a gluten free treat for yourself to enjoy whilst you watch those mile high movies.

 

My favourite mile high snacks

  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Seed and nut bars
  • Boiled eggs
  • Fresh fruit
  • Chopped up chorizo or sausage and cheese
  • Gluten free crackers
  • Corn tortillas with ham and cheese
  • Travel size packets of jam and peanut butter
  • Rice cakes
  • A couple of servings of my favourite breakfast cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Corn chips
  • Candy
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Comments

  • Great list! I never order the airline meal (I’m dairy free too and they usually can’t do both without it being a salad). I usually just pack a pb&j sandwich. I’ve also started to bring along a gf hamburger bun or bread to eat out during layovers, but I suppose this depends on how concerned one is about cross contamination and what dining options are available.

  • It’s a good list, however I was never allowed to bring ANY food through the security checkpoint, not even food, that’s not liquid! How am I supposed to take my own food then?

  • Stephanie, where in the world are you? Why are you not able to take any food through security? I always take food through security and on to the plane. It’s never been a problem unless it’s liquid.

  • I’m an international flight attendant,so I have it down to a science.First of all,I go to the Dollar Store & buy those quart containers pq of 4 so I can thow them away if I have to,then I get me snack size ziploc bags.I usually pack:
    Chopped fresh pinneaple
    grapes
    mandarin oranges
    humus
    gf pita bread
    my own mix of dried berries & nuts
    celery sticks
    baby carrots
    peanut butter
    rice cakes
    lentil crackers
    Round trip home made frozen meals
    1 or 2 instant gf soups (just add hot water)
    gf bread

    Yes,I carry a large lunchbag & I don’t mind it at all.A lot of prepping but works for me for my 3-6 day international trips.

  • Great suggestions! Thanks! And happy gluten free travels :D

  • Twice now I have flown to Europe in the span of 9 months with Delta. While they do a good job of providing a gluten free meal, twice now they have had Kellogg’s Rice Krispies on the breakfast menu. As you should know that contains malt as one of the prime ingredients. I have complained both times and they have been gracious enough to give me 5000 miles in apology. I took along a supply of Larabars which got me through breakfast with the remainder which was gluten free and edible.
    So the watchwords are be prepared and also careful.

  • Be careful though. I ordered a GF meal ahead of time for my flight to London in March on British Airways. When they brought my breakfast in a cleary labeld GFML package, I was excited to see a muffin and a couple other things. As I was opening the muffin wrap I was thinking to myself “wow I didn’t know that Otis Spunkmeyer makes GF muffins.” Luckily my common sense stopped me and I looked at the ingredients before biting in. The first ingredient was wheat flour. We told the flight attendant who totally understood and really appologized and then got me a fresh fruit cup to replace it.

  • Thanks for sharing!

    Clair, how terrifying that they gave you Rice Krispies. Did they think they were gluten free? I wonder how many poor celiacs have eaten them and gotten sick because they trusted Delta.. :-/

    Debby, another scary story and worrying as it sounds like airlines are pretty clueless about what is safe and what is gluten free. We definitely have to check and double check all the time to ensure we are getting safe meals. I’m so glad that you checked before eating it. A transatlantic flight after being glutened would not be too much fun!

  • I have been offered regular rolls on BA and have been given frozen meals on my last four flights on Air France. I always havev bars, dried fruit, etc. just in case.

  • Dear N
    Please let me know which brand of peanut butter you take. As far as I know most contain hydrogenated vegetable oils – which may not be completely safe for celiac patients.

  • Nam, I like Peanut Butter and Co, Justin’s peanut butter (they do travel size packets), and Santa Cruz organic peanut butter.

  • I’ve flown to Canada twice ( Air Canada) and always had a GF meal. My boyfriend orders GF too, just in case there’s a problem with mine and we need to swap. Good thinking…on the first flight they dropped my dinner! So I had his instead as they had a spare ‘normal’. The only thing I find is that we NEVER get GF snacks. So while my boyfriend can tuck into pretzels or a hot wrap, I just get an apology and have to sit there with the smell :( Once I was offered fruit from 1st class by a nice attendant who took pity on me, but not the other time.
    I have to say I’m incredibly naive, as I’m completely unaware that I could take my own food through security!! I always thought you could only take the food you buy in the terminal? Wow, this is great to know since I’m flying to Kos next week :)

  • Do you know anything about the San Francisco airport food situation? My daughter and I have a 3 hour layover there right at dinner time. She is not only allergic to wheat, but also nuts, dairy, and eggs. Do you think I will be able to find anything there to feed her??? If I call the airport, do you think they would know?

  • Charmaine, I know that Plant Cafe Organic in the airport does gf options. I’m not too sure where else. There are some smoothie places and you can buy yoghurt, etc. I would definitely suggest bringing safe food to eat though rather than relying on finding something suitable at the airport.

  • Two years ago I booked a flight from Miami to Rome on Delta and requested gluten-free meals when I made the reservation on line months before the trip. When I checked in at the Miami Airport, I was told by Alitalia who operated the Delta flight that Delta had not told them that I needed gluten-free meals. Luckily I found enough to safely eat from parts of two regular trays and my own snacks, but I was unhappy with Delta. Alitalia changed the notes for my return flight, so I received good gluten-free food then. However one of the stewards passed his basket of gluten-filled rolls over my tray to offer another passenger an additional roll. YIKES! Last year at the Miami airport, I was pulled off the security line and my small unopened jar of peanut butter was found and I was told that I couldn’t travel with that because it was a “gel.” When I explained being a celiac and that I needed food to eat if the airline let me down, my jar of peanut butter was examined and swiped and then I was allowed to take it with me. I was told that in the future I should put peanut better into very small containers and put them in the bag with my shampoo and other liquids. I’ve bought a big box of 24 0.6 oz packets of squeezable almond Barney butter for future flights. It is made in a peanut free facility so I don’t have to worry about anyone else on the flight who may be allergic to peanuts and it is easy to squeeze it out of its packet.

  • Thanks for sharing, Jean. A definite yikes for evil wheaty rolls getting that close to your gluten free meal!

    I’ll have to check out your Barney Butter – this isn’t one I’ve heard of before but they sound great, especially as they come in small packets :)

  • I live in Suriname, South America and travel from time to time to the USA (international and domestic flights), meaning that I go through 24h travelling with 4-5 security checks. I always take my own food (snacks and liquids, yes liquids). I put them in a ziplock bag with a big label stating: dietary food, celiac disease. They seem to respect the words ‘dietary’ and ‘disease’ a lot, I never had my food thrown away. They do ask permission to swap the bottles though, as is their job. Also, I put my thyroid meds in the same bag to emphasize that I’m a ‘sick’ person (psychological trick!). In my passport I also carry a card with medical information for my own wellbeing (and to make it more convincing to keep their hands off my food). Good luck to you guys.

  • I have not been diagnosed with celiac disease, but I have recently discovered I no longer seem to be able to tolerate dairy or gluten, ugh. I don’t think I’m sensitive to the point that my food needs to be made in a gluten-free facility, but that I just need to avoid breads, etc. I am flying from the UK to the US and ordered a dairy free meal… wondered if there was an option to get dairy free/gluten free, but assuming that is just one allergy too many for the airline to handle, ha! Debating if I did the right thing – maybe I should have requested a gluten free meal instead? Thought any gluten containing items would be easier to pick around than if I had a meal with some sort of cheese or cream sauce. Any thoughts?

    Great website, so much good information for travellers with allergies, thank you!

  • Hi Kelly!

    Some airlines do meals which are free from a whole bunch of stuff like gluten, dairy, eggs, etc. Many though are just free from one thing. My advice would be to ask the airline if you can get a meal which is both gluten and dairy free but if you can’t, go for the gluten-free one as it’s usually easier to tell what has dairy in it than what has gluten.

    Definitely bring your own food on the flight just in case they mess your meal up though or give you something you can’t eat. You don’t want to go hungry! :)

  • Thank you for your response Laura! Since I posted, I have been finding that gluten is the bigger issue for me – more so than dairy. I’ve discovered that gluten can be sneaky and in things you wouldn’t expect (grilled “chicken” at McD’s?! Yuck) Hoping I will be able to switch my meal preference in time. And will definitely take my own food on the plane as well! Thanks again for your advice!

  • Hello! Coming in a bit late, but I’ve just been told I’m pre-coeliac, so I’m reading all the blogs.

    I just wanted to mention, for Australians and people flying into Australia, if you bring fruit into the country, or even carry it between states, do NOT try to take it out of the airport! There will be bins for discarding fruit just inside the airport, and sniffer dogs to make sure you followed the rules. Quarantine is serious business here!

  • I use Handi Rice by Mama – they are little pouches which contain freeze dried jasmine rice, a spoon and a sachet of flavouring. You simply rip open the top, squirt in the flavour sachet and ask the stewardess to fill to the line with boiled water. Zip the pouch back up and wait 7 minutes – open, stir and eat. They are delicious and completely gluten free, cost around £1.50 in my local health food shop and they come in 4 different flavours, the red shrimp curry is my fave.

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