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  • Daniel Moran
    Daniel Moran

    Gluten-Free Airline Travel

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 05/08/2008 - I am here to help you with your needs as you travel, and to be able to keep the "Gluten Monster" away, so you can enjoy your trip.

    When getting ready to fly you have to expect long delays.  As a celiac that means you have to try to find food.  If you haven’t traveled by plane before you will be in for a big surprise.  The restaurants that are in the airports are always busy.  This means that it is like going to a restaurant at peak time, and, in my opinion, that is not the best time for celiacs to eat in restaurants.  You might want to try the fast food places that are chains if they are in the airport.  The usual method is to try to get the manager to help you.  Give the manager a fresh plastic fork to retrieve your meat or chicken so they don’t use gloves that have bread crumbs on them.  Ask for catsup or mayo packages so you can read the ingredients.  You can ask for them to make a fresh salad if that is what you like.  One of the good things about most of the restaurants in airports is that at many of them you will be able to see the cooks prepare your food. Never be afraid to say “I saw you put my food on the table and bread got on it” and ask for a new meal.

    If there are no chain restaurants at the airport go to one of the restaurants where you can watch your food get made.  Some of the restaurants have the cooking grill right in front of you.  See if they can cook the food (hamburger, chicken) on the grill.  You have to determine if they put the buns on the grill. If they do grill the buns on the same grill where they cook your food there is a good chance that crumbs are there and you should stay away or ask them to clean the grill with the razor blade tool.  You have to determine how busy they are and if they are too busy don’t ask for something like that.  Sometimes I ask for my food to be covered and microwaved.  This is a very safe way to have your food cooked and if it is busy in the kitchen, your food is well protected.

    You still need to be careful with the salads in these types of restaurants.  Remember that these places are usually busy and crumbs fly around everywhere.  If they are slow ask if they can open a fresh bag of processed salad for you because you get very ill from the smallest crumb.

    What Chef Daniel does when Flying
    When I fly I always have a plan B.  I bring a carry on bag with some gluten-free food that is in a clear plastic bag.  This is food that if security says throw it away, I do.  So far all the times I have traveled by air I haven’t been asked to throw anything away. I bring food that can last all day without spoiling.  I bring food that if it gets hot and melts it is still good to eat.  I like ham, pepperoni, cheese, vegetables, peanuts and some candy to keep me going. Just remember to tell the security that you have a special diet in case they ask, but don’t offer the info unless they ask.  You need to be truthful and most folks are going to understand.  Let the security know that you are unable to eat in the local airport restaurants and you have a long day ahead of you. You don’t want to cause any trouble in an airport so be willing to throw it away the second they ask.  You could pull out your chef Daniel restaurant paper to show them how serous you take eating and by providing your list it will show them that you are very serious.  It is just a way to show security how serious you take your health.

    Now you should be ok if you got through security and when the flight attendant comes around offering food, especially if you are on a flight for a long time, you have some food that will carry you over.  Most airlines will take special requests for meals but you are taking a huge chance on eating that food.  The caterers who do these meals for the planes do thousands and thousands of meals.  I don’t take the chance of eating such a meal.  I get way to sick if there is any contamination. When I call in for a special request for a meal I ask for whole fruit or whole vegetables, anything I know that hasn’t been on a cutting board.  

    I usually ask for carrots or other vegetables or fruit that I like.  I am scared of being sick so I will cut or break my food then eat it.  Even at restaurants I ask for whole vegetables for me to cut myself.  If you read my last article about my salad with croutons coming to me you can see why I am so scared of restaurants. Once you are burned you never forget...but you do learn.

    If you call ahead to the airport to ask for a special diet request make sure you are thorough with your request and tell them how sick you can get.  Ask the airlines if you can send a request per email or snail mail with your directions in how to prepare your meal.  I would ask the caterer to tape your request right to your plate so when you board the plane it will be easy to see.  As you board notify the stewards you are the special meal request.  Be sure to have a plan B. Look at your meal carefully when you get it and determine if it is up to your standards.

    I believe this article can help you travel gluten-free on board any airline.  There are always little stops where you can buy a piece of fruit or packaged products but if you want something more like a hot meal you will need to follow my advice to stay safe.

    Gluten-Free Air Travel Hints:

    • You should always try to getthe manager to help you.  In any restaurant they have the most time tohelp you and they will help you because they typically care more thanthe regular workers (today’s restaurants have employees that come inone day and are gone the next.help.  It is sad but that is the way itis so at least try to get the manager.
    • Don’t be ashamed to askfor anything. If you want a hot dog or the chips they put on the sideof the plate ask for a bag with the product inside.  Take out your safeand forbidden lists if needed and look at them to see if you can eat aproduct. 
    • Always have your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper with you in your walletor purse.
    • Always have a copy of your safe and forbidden lists with youin case you need it to read ingredients.
    • Always have a gluten-free restaurant card in the language you need.
    • Crosscontamination is the greatest risk for a celiac when traveling.  Crosscontamination can happen and you would never know it, such as when thechef uses a knife to cut a piece of bread, and then they use the sameknife on your vegetables, or when the chef uses a pair of tongs to flipa breaded chicken and then uses them to flip your sauté chicken.Thereare too many other ways to mention, but the main thing is that glutencould be on the tool before it is used on your meal, and it doesn’tmatter how safe the chef thought he was because you got one crumb andyou are sick for days and that ruins your vacation.
    Chef Daniel

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    I also plan ahead in my travels to find out where all the natural health food stores are wherever I visit, even in Europe. In USA, use map websites to find out about the neighborhood you are visiting.

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    Southwest doesn't serve meals, even on long cross country flights. They serve snacks; people should be aware that their peanuts have wheat flour in them! Who ever heard of such a thing? On a recent flight they were offering a choice of snacks; you guessed it! EVERYTHING offered had gluten! I just sent them an email asking them to consider their gluten free passengers. Some plain potato chips would be welcome.

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    Guest Richard James

    Posted

    I fly on about 110 airplanes every year. I concur with, and practice, everything you list here. Eating a meal is not a great risk for me because on the Delta flights, gluten free meals actually make it to the plane only about 5% of the time, and Rice Chex is, well, Rice Chex. They usually have segregated fruit, yogurt, peanuts, Kind bars, etc., and are always anxious to help with options. My reaction to gluten poisoning is similar to food poisoning. Sudden severe acute sweating followed by waves on nausea, followed by a few hours of throwing up. I contacted my doctor, about this, and he wrote me a prescription for Zophran, a strong anti-nausea medication that you administer by dissolving in your mouth. (Doesn't need to be swallowed where it is just as likely to be returned before it can get into your system.) These tabs stay with me in my computer bag, so I can have them in my hands in seconds whenever I am on the road. I have used them thee times in the last couple of years, once on an airplane, when I mistakenly eaten a glutenous trail mix bought in the airport. It has kept me from throwing up each time. I still feel like crap for a couple days after, but it is far better than throwing up on a plane and suffering the soreness around the rib cage, or the damage to the throat from regurgitation.

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  • About Me

    I am a Ex chef of the rich and famous. A celiac for 7 years now. WHAT I AM DOING NOW: *Going to restaurants and business and teaching their staff, prepare and serve gluten free meals. courses at a local college. *Making all my own celiac food from scratch. *Helping others to work out there problems involving food. **GOAL:To teach my knowledge to every one who needs it so they can go on a trip or out to a restaurant and not fear the GLUTEN FOOD MONSTER! Visit my site: http://chefdanielp.com

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  • Forum Discussions

    Thank you Ranchers Wife.  Since I'm asymptomatic, I would not know if I had gluten. I cannot imagine having to worry about getting sick from cross-contamination. 
    Hi Jenna1028, They test for DH by taking a small skin biopsy from clear skin next to a lesion.  If you have DH, you have celiac disease.  But, you need to be eating a gluten diet for 12 weeks (gluten challenge) before getting the skin bi...
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