I’m sure you know the deal. 4-hour layover. Walking from one terminal to the next, pizza on your left, sandwiches on your right. Hot dogs on your left, bagels on your right.
Oh! A prepackaged salad! You step closer and realize that it is filled with croutons. The skies are not so friendly to those of us who need or want to eat gluten-free. Airline terminals are notorious for breaded and fried junk and airline meals are no picnic either.
How can you prepare for air travel on a gluten-free diet? Do airlines even offer gluten-free meals? What about snacks? And what options are there in the terminal? We’ve compiled this handy list of tips to help you out so that your next flight won’t leave your stomach growling.
1. Gluten-Free Airline Meals: Most airlines give you the option of requesting a gluten-free meal. This means that for every meal served on the flight, they will have a gluten-free option available. Alaska Airlines has even begun providing (for a fee) a gluten-free snack pack which includes multigrain chips, olives, sun dried tomato hummus, almonds, dried apricots and dark chocolate. Yum!
That said, we have heard more than a few horror stories regarding gluten-free airline meals, revolving around quality, forgotten meals and even gluten in the meal itself. Often times, even despite the best efforts of the airline, things like cancelled flights or delays can result in your meal not making it on the plane. There are a few precautions you can take to ensure as much as possible that your meal will arrive.
- Airlines or booking services will usually allow you to specify your meal choice when booking your ticket. We recommend notifying your airline as well, at least 24 hours before your flight.
- Make sure you pay close attention to your meal and what it contains. Your hot meal should be individually packaged and be labelled as gluten-free, but there may be other things on your tray as well. Airlines have been known to serve things like wheat rolls, salad dressings and yogurts along with gluten-free meals so it’s important to stay diligent and check all items on your tray. When in doubt, don’t take the risk! There is nothing worse than a gluten attack on a long flight.
- Bring along snacks or pre-packaged meals just in case (read about snacks below).
- Keep in mind that it’s usually not possible to specify more than one meal request (for example gluten-free and kosher), so in this case you’ll want to bring enough food in the event that none of the meals work for you.
- Lastly, gluten-free or not, we all know that airline food sucks, so don’t expect for these meals to be extra tasty!
2. Always Be Prepared! Snack Ideas: It is always good to stock up on snacks, especially on flights with layovers, as you might not be able to get anything both on the flight and during stops. We recommend bringing both healthy, filling options as well as a couple of junk options so you can have your pick. Good choices are larabars, jerky, fruit, rice crackers and packets of peanut butter, mixed nuts or homemade trail mix with gluten-free chex, nuts, seeds and M&M’s. For longer flights, stock up on our favorite, GoPicnic ready-to-eat meals on the go. GoPicnic makes a variety of gluten-free options, they travel well and are perfect in a pinch. Some of my favorites are the tuna and crackers and the black bean dip and plantain chips.
Also, if you have some time to make sandwiches at home, this is a great way to make a filling, protein packed meal by stuffing your sandwich with things like sliced chicken breast, cheese and lots of veggies. You can also make a batch of savory muffins that will provide some home cooked comfort on your flight. When preparing snacks, keep in mind that regulations concerning liquid on flights apply to food as well, so you may be forced to discard items such as pre-packaged fruit salad in syrup or applesauce.
3. Navigating the Terminal: Airport terminals aren’t known for having very many options in general, let alone for those who need gluten-free. This is slowly changing, however, as the number of people going gluten-free rises. Airports such as Atlanta, Indianapolis, Portland and San Francisco all have restaurants or take-out stations that are either strictly gluten-free or have gluten-free options. Also, chain restaurants with airport locations such as California Pizza Kitchen, Wolfgang Puck Express, Chili’s and Uno Bar and Grill have gluten-free menus.
Take the time to check out what the airport has to offer before you arrive, so you won’t have to spend time searching. It’s also good to know which snacks you can pick up. Chips such as Fritos, Lays, Cape Cod, Ruffles and Tostitos are gluten-free as are sweet treats like M&M’s, Snickers and Hershey’s Kisses. Mixed nuts are another great option, but be sure to check the ingredients as roasted nuts sometimes have gluten added. And if you’re lucky, the Hudson News stands may just have some gluten-free GoPicnic meals!
4. Additional Tips and Suggestions: Remember that getting to your destination is only half the battle. You still have the flight home to prepare for, and this can be a bit more tricky in terms of preparing snacks. Make sure to bring extra food with you, such as GoPicnic meals, nuts and jerky, that you can keep with you during your trip and save for the return flight.
Keep in mind when traveling internationally that you can’t bring things such as fresh fruit into the United States. Also be prepared in case you do have a gluten attack on the plane. If you have any medicines or other methods of dealing when this happens, make sure to pack them in your carry-on. Don’t forget to bring vitamins and supplements as well!
We are planning on doing an airline guide in the future, so please send us your experiences with gluten-free meals: the good, the bad and the ugly!