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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Did Japan's ANA Airlines Really Give a Single Banana as a Gluten-free Meal?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Image: CC--yamaguchi yoshiaki

    Celiac.com 05/04/2017 - Japan's ANA airline is catching some public relations heat this week after reports that a man flying from Tokyo to Australia received a banana instead of the gluten-free meal that he booked in advance.

    London resident, and celiac disease sufferer, Martin Pavelka flew All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo this week, a nine-hour flight.

    Numerous media have reported Mr. Pavelka's plights in glaring terms, such as the Independent's alarming headline: Man Given Banana as Gluten-free "Meal"Â on Nine hour Flight, with the equally sensational sidebar: Londoner flying from Tokyo to Sydney was handed a banana as the gluten-free inflight "meal." However, a closer reading shows those claims to be pretty misleading.

    The fact is that Mr. Pavelka did receive his specially-ordered gluten-free meal at dinner, shortly after departure. The banana was part of the breakfast meal, the second meal service for the flight, which is where the trouble began for Mr Pavelka, who said he was "expecting something more substantial."Â

    "All other passengers were served full breakfast meal consisting of eggs, sausage, mushrooms, bread, and yogurt,"Â Pavelka told the Standard, while all he received was a single banana,"Â which though "definitely gluten free…did not keep me full for very long."Â

    So, let's add this all up. On a nine-hour flight, Mr. Pavelka received his special gluten-free meal for dinner, and then about 5 hours later, about 2 hours or so before landing, he received a banana in lieu of a full breakfast? But he wanted more? And this is a new story?

    In the account given by the Standard, Mr. Pavelka's first words to the flight attendant were "is this some kind of joke?"Â Not exactly diplomatic language. Nor, by the Standard's account did Mr. Pavelka ask for anything more, such as a yogurt, or additional fruit?

    Clearly Mr. Pavelka received less food at breakfast than the other passengers, but the food was gluten-free, as was his earlier dinner. It's entirely reasonable for Mr. Pavelka to expect to be treated like the other passengers, and to receive more for breakfast.

    However, without more detail, it's hard to know exactly what ANA offered at the time of booking, or whether there was some kind of mix-up with the caterers who provide meals, including specialty meals, to ANA. Do we know for sure that ANA actually offered a full gluten-free breakfast on that flight? Or that Mr. Pavelka was promised one? That said, both Mr. Pavelka and the newspapers covering the story owe it to the public to be more clear and less sensational about the actual facts. Expecting two gluten-free meals, and receiving one gluten-free meal and a banana is a very different story than just receiving a banana.

    Reports that the banana was the only gluten-free food ANA provided Mr. Pavelka for the entire nine-hour flight are simply wrong. ANA in fact provided Mr. Pavelka with a gluten-free dinner. The Standard managed to bury that important detail in paragraph ten of an eighteen paragraph article, while the Independent slipped it into paragraph seven of a thirteen paragraph article. Both papers carefully avoid mentioning the fact that the dinner was gluten-free.

    The paragraph in the Standard reads: "Although he had been given a larger meal the previous evening when his flight left, Mr Pavelka said he was expecting something more substantial for breakfast."Â

    Yet, somehow, the Standard published the story under the fact-mashed title, "Londoner who ordered gluten free meal on nine-hour flight is given a single banana to eat with knife and fork."

    Both the newspapers and Mr. Pavelka seem focused on spinning a story that the banana was the only food ANA provided Mr. Pavelka during the flight, which was simply not the case.

    Such obfuscation, presumably in search of readership, does little to provide clarity on the actual details, and much to cause doubt and confusion about what are actually fairly simple, if inconvenient, facts to a fairly mundane, and not-altogether newsworthy, story.

    If Mr. Pavelka received only a banana for his nine-hour flight, that would truly be an outrage. If he received a gluten-free meal, plus a banana, that would be an inconvenience. The story was presented as an outrage, when the facts indicated it was clearly more of an inconvenience.

    This article was revised for clarity by the author on 5/10/2017.

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    That actually IS a big deal. He WAS given a banana instead of a meal, which is ridiculous. Sir, one banana is NOT a meal! Surely they could have at least boiled a couple of eggs and some form of gluten free cereal or yogurt. Breakfast, more than any other meal, needs to provide a hefty serving of protein. Many sufferers of Celiac have sugar control issues or other problems because of their autoimmune state. Never being guaranteed a safe food source is frightening, as this can lead not only to discomfort, but sudden drops in sodium or blood sugar, resulting in physical weakness, trembling, unsteadiness, panic and emotional meltdown. Not only was this passenger in need of a meal at the expected time, but even if he landed an hour later, he had no guarantee of substantial available sustenance. Packs of nuts and berries in ones pocket does not truly energize and satisfy, especially if one has not had sufficient nutrition when needed. If you claim to be Celiac yourself and write an article​ this lacking in solid research and compassion for the people who struggle with it 24/7, I must call you out. If you do not have celiac, it's obvious you are in no way qualified to "report on" something you are so ignorant of and so calloused about. As for the airline... it's not as if they had no chance to prepare. It's the job of those responsible for preparing food to always be prepared to meet the dietary needs of passengers with known handicaps unless they require tube feeding or some medical intervention in their feeding process. An American or European company who pulled a trick like this would be in violation of their nations laws. As backwards as the US is about things like this, even we finally have some legal standards set in this area.

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    It wasn't anything. Ok, the headline was misleading. But only a banana for breakfast is ludicrous and deserves to be called out. Yes, he was given a gluten-free dinner but humans need feeding at regular intervals - especially over a 9 hour time span. OTOH, this is why most Celiac veterans will advise you to never travel without taking your own snack stash along. A gluten-free granola bar may not be ideal but it would have made that banana go farther.

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    At least he did not get the wrong food. A few years back flying 14 hours on Lufthansa SFO to Dubai (and on to parts beyond), I was given a gluten-free, safe but taste-free dinner, labeled gluten-free. However for breakfast I was given a tray with buns looking like the other passengers', and on asking the steward was very sneeringly told that "We don't do special meals for breakfast." I explained that I was still specially a celiac in the morning too, and handed the tray back. Honestly, his voice was so rude that several passengers around me applauded. But what if I'd trusted the airlines? And last week on Avianca they did not provide a gluten-free meal in spite of an advance order. Be vigilant.

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    THANK YOU Robyn for you comment. Tell us again Jefferson, who's side are you actually on again??!! And since 75% of my replies and comments never get published I am not expecting you to post this one either, since everything has to be censored and approved! Even though this may not get published, I still know you or someone else is reading this along with all my other posts that never seemed to make it to the comment section. You're supposed to be an advocate and voice for those of us with celiac and this is ANYTHING BUT!

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    Clearly the articles could have been more accurate. But to the question posed by the article "Did Japan´s ANA Airlines Really Give a Single Banana as a Gluten-free Meal?" the answer is clearly yes they did. And, no, that is not acceptable. I'm disappointed in the tone of the article implying that providing that same level of food to a celiac as to other passengers is somehow acceptable. Presumably the author of this article does not have celiac disease and is unaware of the damage articles like this can do. The fact this article was published on Celiac.com is even more disappointing. Celiacs have major food restrictions which are not granted protection as a handicap or on religious grounds. To state that a token effort is all that is require to meet the gluten-free medical requirements of celiacs is an unacceptable stand for the Celiac.com website to take.

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    I agree with Mr. Adams that the story had been overblown and sensationalized but I also agree that a banana alone for breakfast is problematic. I really don't feel that castigating the author and accusing him of being unaware of the realities of celiac disease is appropriate or fair. Having said that, probably not one of your strongest articles, Jeff. I flew from NY to England in 2015 and got the same thing. I was provided a pretty substantial gluten-free dinner (for an airline meal) but the banana for breakfast was a tad disappointing. Other passengers had these large brioche rolls or croissants with cheese. I had the banana with a granola bar I had on me and it was more than adequate to get me through customs, after which I went out and found a gluten-free full English breakfast. I agree with Mr. Adams that the story was sensationalized but a banana alone truly isn't adequate when other passengers are given protein in addition to carbs for a meal. Why the airlines don't give people a choice of a hard boiled egg or yogurt (and, yes, even then there will be folks who can't eat either of those choices) is beyond me. Add a banana or other fruit and that should see most people through for a couple of hours. We were given breakfast about two hours, maybe a little less, before landing. Why this gentleman didn't think to pack some safe snacks is also beyond me. Lots of people are not thrilled with the food on airlines and think to bring something with them -- with or without celiac. I've been dealing with a gluten-free diet since 1989 (good luck getting a gluten-free meal back then -- on or off an airplane!) and even now I still carry a couple of bars in my handbag. Just in case.

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    Good article, and one that bears attention. Some years ago, and I do say some years ago, I was promised repeatedly by Alaska Airlines that they would provide me a wonderful gluten-free meal. I trusted them. when we were on the plane and it was too late for me to go grab - anything! That I might be able to eat, the stewards discovered that my gluten-free meal was the same meal as everyone else's - smothered in gravy, biscuits, no indication that it was not the same meal as everyone else's. the much embarrassed and very kind flight attendants stole the carrot sticks off everyone else's trays and that was my meal. A tray full of carrot sticks. I have never trusted again. A few years ago, Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle repeatedly promised me a gluten-free meal for a hospice seminar. I took my lunch just in case. the meal they provided for everyone else was choice of a several huge baguette sandwiches, choice of mac or potato or green salads (choice of dressing), and beverage of their choice = juice, milk, pop, coffee, myGF lunch was a very small green salad with no dressing, a 1/4 cup of mixed fruit cocktail and a bottle water. the RN I worked with took one look and said, "well, that may be gluten-free, but it's not lunch. I always bring my own food. BTW, I am not a robot; I tried to select around the street signs, but all that was selected was a line from one street sign to another.

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    A banana is not a meal. No matter how you surround it with words, at the end (or beginning) of the day, a banana is not a meal. No matter what the passenger did or did not do, it remains: a banana is not a meal. He ordered a meal and received a banana. I daresay that if you paid for a meal in a restaurant and received a banana, you'd be venting your outrage in an article. Likely you'd say, a banana is not a meal. I grant that the stories were not accurate, but why continue this streak of inaccuracy by claiming that it's not a big deal? Reverse the roles: you are on a 9 hour flight and after eating dinner you awake to a breakfast of a banana. All around you passengers are eating three sources of protein - eggs, sausage and yogurt. You are given a banana. As has been said, eggs can be served boiled. Gluten free sausage is not hard to find; neither is gluten free yogurt. No matter how you spin it, a banana is not a meal. That's the bottom line. A banana is not a meal.

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    Guest Kathryn Sparks

    Posted

    I was on an Emarites flight from Orlando to Dubai then Manila. I pre-ordered my gluten free meals. I did get them, except when they gave my breakfast meal to my boyfriend. It clearly had my name on it but we had switched seats. The night before they gave me the meal even though we were in switched seats. They were very sorry and I was given a meal that I had to decide if it had gluten in it or not. On the return flight they were giving out snacks of pizza. I was given one but told them I couldn't have that, it not gluten free. She didn't know what to do and went back to the galley. I was brought a banana, a pear and an apple. All gluten free, of course! This was a very long flight so I had brought some gluten free things to eat with me, just in case. All my other meals were fine.

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    As others say, he was entitled to a proper breakfast like everyone else. The silly thing is he could probably have had most of what the others had for breakfast anyway!

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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 science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. 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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