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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 Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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 this article. The facts indicate that the man received a gluten-free meal for dinner. He received a banana for breakfast. The banana has been repeatedly reported as the only food the man received. This is simply not true. Should the man receive a full breakfast? In a perfect world, yes. But when I read the facts of this article, I see an airline attempting to accommodate a passenger's dietary request, perhaps imperfectly. The man asked for, and received, gluten-free food for both meals. News agencies covering this story did their best to hide that fact, and to give the impression that some horrible injustice took place, when what happened seems much more like an inconvenience. Such sloppy reporting does not help people with celiac disease get better treatment or service.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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!

    I'm on the side of accuracy and facts. Several news agencies attempted to spin this as some horrible outrage, in which a man on a nine-hour flight was given a banana as his gluten-free meal. That's only true if you forget the actual gluten-free meal that they served him. The man was expecting two gluten-free meals. He received one gluten-free meal for dinner, and a banana for breakfast. Inconvenient, yes, and perhaps bad customer service, but hardly the outrage that is being presented.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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.

    I have tremendous empathy for the struggle faced by people with celiac disease in trying to eat gluten-free food outside of the home, especially when it comes to travel. When I initially read the headlines and first looked at news accounts of these incidents, I, too was offended. I thought it was outrageous that a passenger on a nine-hour flight would be given nothing more than a banana to eat. However, on closer inspection, it became clear that the news accounts, especially the headlines, were misleading. The passenger requested, and received a gluten-free meal. He expected more than a banana for breakfast, and I don't think he's wrong to feel that way. However, given that he had a full dinner, his banana for breakfast was more of an inconvenience than the outrage it was being portrayed as. I feel that accuracy serves everyone better than sensationalism, including people with celiac disease.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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.

    You are correct about the answer to the headline question. However, my issue with the news accounts of this story was their effort to spin this as some terrible outrage in which a passenger got nothing more than a banana on a nine-hour flight. That is simply not the case. The airline clearly attempted to accommodate the passenger by providing a full gluten-free meal for dinner, in addition to the banana he received for breakfast. That fact is not made clear in any media account. There's a huge difference between the story presented in the news headlines, and the actual facts contained in the articles and the man's own statements. When one considers that actual facts, the story becomes one about inconvenience, rather than justifiable outrage.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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.

    A banana may not be a meal, but it is gluten-free. What many people seem to miss here is that the airline clearly attempted, perhaps poorly, to accommodate this passenger with a full gluten-free dinner (which the man and every article conveniently glosses over), and a gluten-free option for breakfast. Without being privy to the fine-print on the man´s ticket, or the company's website, or knowing what may have transpired in catering, it's difficult to know if his options included a full gluten-free meal at breakfast. That said, the airline probably can, and should, do more for their gluten-free passengers. My issue was with this story being presented as some poor guy who only got a single banana for a nine-hour flight, rather than being presented as a story about a guy who got a gluten-free dinner and expected and wanted something more than a banana for breakfast.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    I am appalled by this article.

    That is your prerogative. I was appalled by the way a rather mundane inconvenience was spun into something it was not. Clearly, the airline took the man's gluten-free status seriously. They provided a full gluten-free dinner and made sure he did not receive anything with gluten for breakfast. Perhaps the airline can and should do better, but it's disingenuous to pretend that he only got a banana.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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!

    Agreed. However, there's no indication that the man asked for yogurt, or any other food. I'm pretty sure ANA would have accommodated such a request, if possible.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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.

    Ten years ago, those inequalities included ZERO gluten-free options on airplanes. Today, they include a full gluten-free dinner and, in this case, a banana. However loudly people want to shout about such an 'injustice,' I see it as a major improvement in the plight of people with celiac disease. The airline clearly fed the man a gluten-free dinner and made sure he didn't get any gluten for breakfast. No, a banana is not a 'meal,' but it's better than no option at all. It is also likely that he could have asked for yogurt, or other items, but ANA will hopefully learn from this.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    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).

    The eggs served in many airline meals contain powdered milk, and often contain traces of wheat. They are packed by the catering company, and are not guaranteed gluten-free. Like you point out: Many US airline offer no gluten-free option. ANA provided a full gluten-free meal, and made sure the passenger was not fed gluten for breakfast. They got the gluten-free part right. I see this as an inconvenience, rather than as some horrible affront to people with celiac disease. I do hope ANA learns from this and improves their gluten-free meal service.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    And yet - Jefferson Adams used the same headline as his own click bait. Sad.

    The headline is phrased as a question. The answer to my question is likely 'yes.' I don't take issue with the fact that the passenger received a banana for breakfast. If I wanted to go with clickbait, I would have simply repeated other inaccurate headlines, and hidden the fact that he asked for, and received a gluten-free meal. To my knowledge, I'm the only one to clearly point out the fact that the man received a full gluten-free dinner a few hours earlier.

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    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.

    Thanks for your comment. I think we often spend a great deal of time pointing out what airlines do wrong, and very little time pointing out what they do right. In this case, they actually fed him a full gluten-free dinner a few hours before. Without knowing more about what their gluten-free breakfast options really are, it´s hard to know if they this is standard gluten-free breakfast on that ANA flight, or simply the airline doing their best in a pinch. I feel that many are quick to assume the former, rather than the latter.

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    Guest Richard James

    Posted

    In 2016 I was on 110 domestic flights. I am a Delta Platinum frequent flier, and am upgraded to first class frequently. I have only been fed two gluten free meals on Delta, both consisted of a small bowl of Rice cereal. That is two meals out of literally dozens of meal flights. Most upgrades are at the gate, (~45% of all my flights), and one can hardly expect an airline to have gluten free meals on stand-bye in case a celiac sufferer happens to get upgraded. There have been many cases where I was on first class award travel, confirmed regional upgrades, or occasionally an upgrade a week in advance. I always go to the Delta web site and specify a "special" meal. Result - 2 bowls of Chex. Yesterday I flew Delta from Orlando to Denver on a confirmed regional upgrade that I had used almost a month in advance. The usual resultant circumstance...no "special" meals loaded. I did get a Banana and a Kind bar, but was quite hungry since it was a late afternoon into evening flight. OK, no problem. I always carry protein bars or trail mix in my computer bag just for such instances. Problem is that in this case, there was also a peanut allergy on board, and everything I had contained either peanuts or processed peanuts. The flight attendants were even giving me hints that they either could not, or would not, notice me eating something out of my bag if I chose to. But let's be real folks, I was just hungry, the poor bloke sitting 20 some rows behind me could get seriously ill or seriously dead! Outraged? Hardly. The flight attendants did everything they could for me, including (yet another) a write up to the airline. They usually go out of their way to find fruit, yogurt, etc., as replacement. Why not incensed? I have come to the firm conviction that even though awareness of celiac sufferers has grown significantly over the years, we are still an oddity in most public situations, and MUST take care of our own interest. A hotel and several restaurant meals are attached to each of those 110 flights, and the struggle is not just on airplanes, but if you have a need for gluten free food, you are your own best provider. Making a scene and acting as if we are a helpless, needy group of people only invites scorn and derision, which we then all face regardless of our own personal attitudes. Be patient and kind. Educate cooks, chefs, and wait staff patiently, and if you don´t feel like risking it, provide for yourself with something that won't keep you up 1/2 the night bent over the toilet which is what happens in my case. Making a press release out of only getting a banana on a flight which you have already been fed once is not the same as Rosa Parks getting kicked off a bus. Making a scene and acting as if we are a helpless, needy group of people only invites scorn and derision, which we then all face regardless of our own personal attitudes. Be patient and kind. Educate cooks, chefs, and wait staff patiently, and if you don't feel like risking it, provide for yourself with something that won't keep you up 1/2 the night bent over the toilet, which is what happens in my case. Do everything to provide for your own needs, and be grateful when others cooperate. You will be a lot more at ease with your plight when you can make peace with the situation and concentrate on enjoying life.

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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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