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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Airlines are Finally Stepping Up with Vegan and Gluten-free Options

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Major airlines are among the numerous businesses that are shifting gears to cater to growing demand for gluten-free, allergen-free, vegan, and other options from customers.


    Caption: According to Alaska airlines, their data show that about 50 percent of people want to eat gluten-free or vegetarian. Image: CC--BriYYZ

    Celiac.com 10/25/2018 - The surging demand for gluten-free, allergen-free, vegetarian and other food options is changing the way many companies do business. However, food and beverage manufacturers are not the only businesses working to keep up with plant-based and gluten-free demands from consumers. The latest effects of that demand are shaking up food offerings in the airline industry.

    Major airlines are among the numerous businesses that are shifting gears to cater to the growing demand for gluten-free, allergen-free, vegan, and other options from customers. Gone are the bagged peanuts of days past. The new kid on the block avoids gluten, and wants ample vegetarian and other options. To meet those changing demands, airlines are hiring celebrity chefs to devise new menus.

    According to Alaska airlines, their data show that about 50 percent of people want to eat gluten-free or vegetarian. Customers also want better, tastier, and more appealing choices. That means that the days of “chicken,” “beef,” or “pasta” are fast disappearing, as airlines jazz up or change those once ubiquitous pasta options. 

    United Airlines has been developing dishes using quinoa, and chia seeds. Delta Airlines is now offering on-board gluten-free snack selections, and American Airlines has been trying out zucchini balls and stuffed mushrooms.

    Air New Zealand is kicking it up a notch for its business class passengers flying from Los Angeles to Auckland, who can now enjoy the increasingly popular "Impossible Burger."

    Travelers will likely see more gluten-free and plant-based options on airlines as they work to make flying less stressful, and more appetizing.

    Traveled by air lately? Tell us about your food experience in the comments section below.

    Edited by Jefferson Adams


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    Guest Bring a backup meal

    Posted

    I recently flew on Qantas and requested gluten free meals. They provided excellent meals and snacks for me. Except for one meal. They didn't have it and it was on a 14 hour flight. The good news is that I brought a backup: a shelf stable dehydrated gluten free meal called Good To-Go (from LL Bean) with me on board. They were able to prep it for me (add hot water) and I was able to eat. I will always bring my own backup. I was also able to bring unopened gluten free snacks through customs and TSA checks by declaring them. 

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    Flew Delta recently and flying from Amsterdam to Atlanta a 9 hour flight , was told they had FORGOTEN to put my gluten free on board ! not only that the flight attendant tried to give me the meal everyone else had which was chicken and rice assuring me it would be fine ! I told him to take it away , and then he came back later to say oh good job you didn't eat the rice it had wheat in it !!!!!! I thought the cabin crew on Air lines were trained in what gluten free is ? as I am celiac I know what would have happened if I had eaten that meal , so went hungry..................

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    I had the same experience on British Airways, London to San Francisco. The flight attendant insisted that I had not ordered a special meal, even though I had a copy of my request. 

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    As someone who is Celiac and works in the airline industry (in the front of pointy tube) passengers need to realize that meals on airplanes, like those found in restaurants may in fact dangerous for us. 

    The galley ovens are convection ovens that also heat up the breads, and bake cookies.  You're also making a huge assumption that the flight attendants are properly handling your silverware and meal while it is in their possion.  Then there is the Sky Chef or commissary kitchens, are they handling your food properly?  Airline food passes through numerous hands before it is placed on your tray table. 

    For me as a Celiac, it is still too high of a risk, and a risk not worth taking.  Whenever I leave the house I need to avoid international flying and pack 3 square meals a day plus extra just in case I go non-routine and get extended.  And not to mention, the trucks that transport the food and galleys and carts they are stored in are absolutely disgusting.  In fact the entire airplane is absolutely filthy.... don't even get me started.  OSHA and The Health Department would have a field day, but I digress.  

    If you're Celiac, just use extreme caution when eating on airplanes.  Now, if the food or snack is from a sealed package that says 'gluten free', or better yet, 'certified gluten free' simply enjoy.

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    Just ran into this myself.  Was flying home from Denver and had a 3 hour delay (on the runway ugh).  The attendants gave out some pretzels.  I asked if they had some peanuts or chips or something other than pretzels and I got a fairly snide remark back... She said 'Pshh, we haven't had peanuts in a long time.  People have allergies you know?'  Ha!  Indeed I do know.  'People have allergies to more things than just peanuts, you know?' was my less than polite response.  F off I felt like telling her.  She came back about 5 minutes later with a bag of kettle chips for me.  Good times.

    They gave us a nice $10 food voucher as we deboarded the plane and had to wait an hour for another one.... not a damn thing in the airport terminal I could eat.  Wound up getting 2 zip pouches of jalapeno tuna from the newsstand.  Umm mmm.... nothing like jalapeno tuna from an airport newsstand.  

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    Southwest Airlines used to have free gluten-free snacks. I noticed my last 2 flights that they no longer have gluten free choices - pretzels or cookies only and since they discontinued peanuts, those are not available as an alternative.  I am also hugely disappointed in American Airlines as their new arrangement with Zoe's kitchen starting in 2019 with 5 new on-board meals, NONE of the 5 are gluten free 😞  I have tweeted to SW and AA with this info and got back snide comments that they serve to accommodate a majority and I can bring my own snacks (which as we all know is not always an option if running from a business meeting to catch a flight etc).

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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