If you think flying with a gluten intolerance is difficult, try flying with a gluten intolerance and another dietary restriction – in my case, nuts!
I’m not sure exactly how many times I’ve started writing a post about flying with food intolerances/allergies, but I do know that it’s a lot. It started at the very beginning of the year when I flew back from a New Year break in Sweden and was served a pack of clearly labelled wheat crackers along with my gluten free meal.
In the months which followed my life got a little more complicated when I was diagnosed with allergies to almonds, hazelnuts and chestnuts. Prior to this, my worry had always been would the airline load my pre-ordered gluten free meal? Now my concern is will the airline load a gluten free meal and will it be nut free? On a flight back from Rome in September I was served cashew nuts in with my main meal (both this and the Stockholm flight were in business class on BA where a meal is served on short haul flights). I’m not allergic to cashew nuts but I experienced a mild allergic reaction on the flight – not great at 36,000 feet – and so after this I’ve become more concerned about in flight catering.
In advance of our recent flight to New York I contacted BA to find out what could be done to arrange a gluten free and nut free meal. In short, the answer was nothing; they won’t assist and this is the case whichever class you’re flying in. If you have a special meal request, you can only have one of them as your in-flight meal. This means if you are a Coeliac who cannot tolerate dairy (as many are), you are not catered for. If you’re a Coeliac who’s either vegetarian or nut allergic (or indeed all three!), you’re also not catered for.
The BA website states:
“Unfortunately, we are unable to provide tailored meals on request — this includes any requirements not explicitly covered by our special meals, as well as combinations of special requirements.
We advise all passengers with dietary requirements that we cannot meet to provide their own food, bearing in mind that all food transported through security or immigration will be subject to local rules.”
In the course of this research I learnt that British Airways do not offer a nut free meal. While other food allergens (seafood, gluten) religious (Halal, Kosher) and “lifestyle” (vegetarian, vegan) special meals are offered by BA, nut free meals are not. I’m shocked that airlines are willing to fly with the risk of customers having an anaphylactic reaction to either nuts being served on their airplanes as snacks or in their meals. The BA website states the following policy on nuts:
Our in-flight meals do not contain peanuts or peanut products. However, we cannot guarantee meals and snacks are completely peanut free as they may be produced at a facility that handles peanuts. We are therefore unable to offer a peanut-free special meal. Peanuts may be used in snacks in our British Airways airport lounges.
Tree nuts, such as walnuts and cashews, may be offered as part of our in-flight menu.
While we restrict the use of some products in our catering and supply a range of special meals, other passengers may bring their own snacks and food containing those products on board. Our crew are unable to make announcements or alert other passengers to individual medical conditions.”
I understand the airlines can’t stop people bringing nuts onto planes and the practicality of policing a no nut policy with the multitude of languages spoken on any given flight would be impossible to manage with 100% success but I do not understand why BA serve meals containing some nuts or providing nuts as snacks with drinks. I’m regularly offered a pack of almonds with a drink on BA.
When I contacted BA to discuss nut free meals they advised that they offer special meals in accordance with the common set of special meals agreed with the airlines and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). There is a peanut free meal in the IATA list of special meals but peanuts are not the only nuts people are allergic to! I’ve contacted IATA to find out why a nut free meal is not in their list of special meals. I’ll update this post when I hear back from them.
Taking enough food on-board for a short haul flight in Europe is possible and even on a 6 – 7 hour flight to New York wouldn’t have been a big deal. However for our next trip to see Mr D’s family in Australia, in flight catering options will be a bigger deciding factor for me on who to fly with, more than cost of the flight since transporting 24+ hours worth of food would be difficult. In some countries (including Australia and New Zealand) there are strict rules about the import of food items, even for personal consumption. If you are travelling to Australia/New Zealand, the good thing is that gluten free provisions are readily available for you to stock up on for the return flight therefore you do not need to take enough food for the return flight in your luggage from the UK. However, this is not the case for all destinations and for this reason, it’s important to fly on long haul flights with carriers who can offer meals to suit your dietary needs. This is the subject of a future blog post but my initial research indicates that some airlines can be more accommodating for multiple dietary restrictions than BA.
Check back tomorrow to see what I ate on our flights to New York and if it would be suitable for Coeliacs who also need to exclude nuts and /or dairy as well as gluten free vegetarians.