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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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    Guest Bozena Benton

    Posted

    I would have been happy with a banana. I travel both short and long haul and have used many airlines. My problem or rather it is the airline's problem is that I need not only a gluten-free meal but a vegetarian one. No airline can cope with this dietary combination so I never get a meal on any flight and have to take my own. I would welcome a fruit platter or any fruit but this seems to be beyond most airlines lateral thinking.

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    I had a similar incident in March of this year, when traveling from the US to Italy. Although we had phoned American Airlines weeks in advance and spent more than 30 minutes on the phone to insure our 12-year-old son would have a gluten-free meal, no meal was available on the flight. The Flight Attendant told us it was our fault for not confirming at the ticket counter, and proceeded to give us two "salads" which consisted of only lettuce! This is simply heartbreaking.

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    For celiacs, this is our life. People without celiac just don't understand how hard it is to be expected "to be grateful" for the inequalities that we endure.

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    Clearly ANA paid you to write this article. The banana was an insult to all celiac sufferers. The man paid for an actual meal. Whose advocate are you?

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    Guest Carol Zimmel

    Posted

    Okay, so the news story was a bit exaggerated. Nothing unusual there. But the only thing that makes it "not news" is that thus sort of thing happens all the time. It is a real problem, though one many of us have learned to just accept live with. Two meals on a nine hour flight is minimal, and a banana does not constitute a meal. It is ridiculous that they could not come up with something more.

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    Guest Nancy Christine

    Posted

    I travel on airlines many times a year, I have celiac disease and order gluten-free meals ahead of time. However, problems do occur and I ALWAYS carry my own food. One should take personal responsibility when you have a condition that may cause diet difficulties. Celiac disease is not that well-known and for the sake of your own well-being, physical and mental, it is really simple to take some of your own food. This should not be the cause of great drama. And I, too, have been offered as little as an apple at times. Now move on.

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    Only a banana? The full breakfast meal consisted of eggs, sausage, mushrooms, bread, and yogurt. They couldn't serve him that without the bread? Unless they were all packaged together, there is no gluten in eggs, sausage, mushrooms, or yogurt. They did a lot better than some flights I've been on, though. Most US airlines don´t have any gluten free options available. I have to make do with what I bring along. Even when I fly first class I have to pick out the offending parts of the meal (eat the salad & meat, but not the potato which was prepackaged with gravy).

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    Mr. Adams, Sometimes I wonder if you have celiac disease, I want to know, do you? This is the most dismissive article I have seen you pen in a long while. Not being fed a proper breakfast IS a big deal! He may have had dinner, but he ordered meal(s) for the flight. Many celiac disease sufferers have things like diabetes or hypoglycemia, blood sugar dropping can be deadly. He paid for the meals; the airline needs to take responsibility for their mistake and at least apologize. At least he didn't get beaten up and thrown off the flight! You Mr. Adams also owe the people reading this dismissive article an apology as well.

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    Clearly ANA paid you to write this article. The banana was an insult to all celiac sufferers. The man paid for an actual meal. Whose advocate are you?

    ANA did not pay anyone to write anything on this site.

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    Isn't a huge part of learning to live with celiac advocating for yourself?! The customer had every right to complain! Yes, the British press exaggerated the headlines as they often do. But to receive a banana in the place of a meal, especially one that was likely naturally gluten free besides the bread and possibly the sausage is ridiculous!!! Just a little prior planning and label reading, and they at least could've provided him eggs and yogurt in addition to the banana.

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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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