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Gluten-Free Airline Travel

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.

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

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3 Responses:

 
deb
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said this on
12 May 2008 2:55:43 AM PDT
Excellent advice.

 
Barb
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said this on
04 Nov 2008 9:07:03 AM PDT
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.

 
fran
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said this on
02 Feb 2012 7:04:23 AM PDT
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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Cycling Lady, LMAO at IBeStumped! So true. Yes, he is trying the band aid approach it seems. That's probably the most frustrating thing of all. So yesterday I get a call back from his office and they say to stop taking the Viberzi and switch back to Imodium! I reminded them that Imodium didn't work, I had already used it 8 days with no changes. His assistant informed me that that is all he can recommend at this time until he sees me at my next appointment which is 5/24! I live near Chicago and I am about to make an appointment to go to the University of Chicago hospital which is the top celiac research hospital in the country. Hopefully they can give me better answers.

7Hi jen and welcome No-one can diagnose remotely via nterwe posts but if there was such a game as celiac / gluten sensitive bingo, I would be calling 'House!' having read your account above... Lots of things fit the pattern as I'm sure your lurking has revealed. It's a tricky condition to diagnose however so you may have a little wait before you join the coolest club in town and get your funky celiac membership card For now it's really important that you stay on gluten. Keep eating it as accurate testing requires it. Ask your doctor to check the boxes for celiac testing alongside your liver blood tests. There should be enough in your history to get this without hassle but if they're reluctant INSIST and don't be afraid to assert your reasonable suspicion and wish to clarify and exclude. A good liver specialis will be aware of the possible links so you should be ok. If not gt second opinion. Ask for a full celiac panel as there are variety of tests. Find further info here There's a lot to take in, but be positive, I think you are on the right track and if so, you could soon be feeling better than you ever thought possible!

Hello, I am in a job that I travel every 3rd week...It gets challenging becuase many times I am doing audits of warehouses and they dont even have a cafeteria. I usually bring gluten-free protein bars as a back up if I have to miss a meal and then eat when I get back to the hotel. Just a suggestion because they certainly fill me up....Have a safe trip...Kelly

Hello all, I'm a new member here but have lurked for a while. I'm looking for some advice regarding my medical history, possible symptoms of celiac and next steps. General info: female, low level smoker, drink alcohol, aged 32. I started having bad gastro issues when I was around 17. Since then I've consistently suffered from chronic diarrhoea, frequent discomfort in the tummy area, feelings of dehydration despite drinking at least eight glasses a day and frequent fatigue for no real reason. In 2008/9 I visited the doctor as my diarrhoea was having an effect on my studies at the time. The doctor tested me for allergies; eggs, fish, gluten and lactose and did a "standard" blood test. Everything came back fine except my liver results, which were elevated to double (I did not the see the results for myself so can't say which enzymes etc). I was told to drink less and take Imodium. The doctor implied that perhaps I was stressed and / or anxious and, still being young plus a student who regularly went out drinking, I accepted this advice and carried on with my life. I would here add that I am not an unusually stressed person - in fact, learning to deal with my unpredictable bowels has forced me to be quite a laid-back person! Fast forward to 2016. I had been living with my partner for two years by this point who had noticed my bowel habits and informed me that this was definitely not normal. He encouraged me to try out a gluten free diet since I was apprehensive about visiting a doctor only to be fobbed off with Imodium again. I did the diet as strictly as a newbie can for around two months before we set off travelling. During the diet I noticed that after a couple of weeks of extreme tiredness I felt quite a lot better - I kept a food journal at the time which showed that I almost immediately had diarrhoea once after eating an ice-cream, i felt bloated and unwell after an attempt to make oat muffins (maybe i didn't cook them very well though!) and I felt bloated and had diarrhoea after eating some fish fried in flour (We made a mistake in ordering them but I didn't want to complain). My partner also reported that my mood swings (which I admit can be a little unpredictable) were much better. Once we started travelling I gave up and ate what I was given as we were staying with friends etc much of the time. Toward the end of our trip I started to feel extremely tired, to the point of having to stay in for "rest" days, and my guts were very unhappy. I chalked it up to irregular eating patterns, too many beers and late nights in general. During the trip I also had an extreme hangover after drinking wheat beer. And, while of course I accept that any overindulgence can make you ill, I really felt that that level of hangover was quite out of the ordinary. Finally, I developed a strange lump under my armpit during this period. Now back at home, I decided to go to the doc and check out the odd lump under my armpit. The doctor was pretty confident that it was nothing to worry about cancer-wise but she ordered a battery of blood tests just to be sure. The lump is fine (good news) but the results showed elevated GGT, high-ish ALT and normal AST liver enzymes plus signs of dehydration in red bloods / higher (but not concerning) levels of white bloods. I'm scheduled to go back for another blood test to double-check liver function and discuss results - if it is again high she will send me for a ultrasound. Does this history chime with anyone here? I know that the correct course in basic health terms is to stop drinking for some time (easily done) and stop smoking forever (easy to say...) but I cannot help but think that something else is going on here. I will discuss this with my doctor and make clear that my bowel issues have not been resolved and that the initial IBS diagnosis wasn't based on any thorough testing so to speak. In the meantime - does anyone have any advice for me in times of avenues to research or experience of similar symptoms? Gluten remains in my diet but in all other respects it could be regarded as very healthy, I think anyway... (pescatarian, plenty of fruit and veg, little to no sugar on a daily basis, not much dairy to speak of...) Thanks in advance and sorry for bending everyone's' ear about this... I guess it's just taken a long time for me to admit I might be sick and I need some help. Jen

Wish I could give you a hug. Unfortunately I know how that feels with Neurologists, Internists, Endocrinologists, Rheumatologists, GIs..... I got so tired of crying my drive home after refusing yet another script for Prozac. I do hope your GI can give you some answers even if it is just to rule out other possible issues. Keep on the gluten and we are here for you.