Flying With Multiple Dietary Restrictions

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
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.


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  1. December 29, 2012 / 8:04 pm

    Hi Mrs D,
    Good post. I have a feeling that you may find it very difficult to find an airline that combines the special meals but good luck with the search no doubt you will update us with your findings.
    When I fly I am unable to order gluten and vegetarian and I have a number of times had a wheat bun shoved onto my plate. I always call the flight attendant back and tell them why I can’t have it but they don’t seem to care.
    I always take food on the long haul NZ to UK flights and find that I get a bit hungry for a proper meal. Even at the stopovers (LA, Singapore, KL or Hong Kong are the usuals) I have found gluten free food in the airports to be almost non existent.

    • January 12, 2013 / 3:44 pm

      It’s so frustrating when the flight attendants don’t seem to care.

      I’ve been lucky and have taken a couple of flights where the attendant has told me they have a family member with Coeliac and so they understand the dietary restrictions but this is quite rare.

  2. December 29, 2012 / 9:02 pm

    Hi Mrs D,
    Having a giggle while I plan my ‘food pack’ for the journey from Rome to Hong Kong this week knowing the 11.5hr journey with Cathay is likely to be awful on the g/free food front.
    Check actual Qantas flights (not BA) as I’m pretty sure they are nut free now. I used to live on nut snacks in the absence of gluten free but now they are a pretzel mix due to no nuts (so have gluten). They seem to join gluten & dairy free so I end up with soy milk and no cadbury milk choc (pity I’m allergc to soy milk) which is a shame but good for most!!
    On our current journey we have a qantas ticket but flown some BA and the difference in quality is very noticable. Hope you get to try some of my Melinda’s Gluten Free (and mostly nut free) Goodies while in Australia!!!

    • January 12, 2013 / 3:46 pm

      That’s very interesting about Qantas being nut free and the difference in the quality of the meals between Qantas and BA.

      I will definitely keep a look out for Melinda’s gluten free goodies in Australia!

  3. Emma
    December 30, 2012 / 12:17 am

    Hi Mrs D,

    Great post! I too am gluten free, dairy free and allergic to all nuts. I’ve found on long haul flights ordering the fruit platter to be the safest option for me and I bring along small packets of chips/crackers. Airlines’ lack of options really does put me off flying long haul though, my most recent trips and have been 3-6 hour flights at the most. A shame as I travelling, but as you say an allergic reaction at 35,000 feet is NOT fun, even less so when the airline staff are unsympathetic. FYI: AirNZ in flight food is often labeled ‘low gluten’ and I have on previous occasions had a reaction. It does however often depend on the airport you are departing from and the catering facilities available.

    • January 12, 2013 / 3:49 pm

      Hi Emma – thanks for commenting. I can imagine how difficult it must be for you to travel more than 6 hours on a flight with a fruit platter. It’s a shame and I hope that one day inflight meals will be improved for those with dietary requirements so that people don’t feel their travel needs to be restricted.

  4. Chloe
    December 30, 2012 / 6:35 am

    It’s interesting to see what other people pack and that when I’m thinking I’m crazy for packing so much for a few days in Rome other people are going thought the same things. As a gluten free vegetarian flying (and travelling) is always a bit crazy. Luckily it’s only one allergy and so when picking a meal I always go for gluten free because its more important (it’s not great being gluten sick anyway, but it’s even worse on an 8hr flight.). I figure if the meal has meat in (which it usually is can just eat around it but ultimately as repulsive as I find it eating meat it will not make me sick in the way gluten does. Along with this I always take some food as well, just simple stuff like crackers, muffins and trail mix or granola. I’ve found Air Transat does a good gluten free meal, and I’ve never had any issue with being served anything I can’t have.

  5. January 12, 2013 / 3:53 pm

    Chloe – Thanks for the tip on Air Transat. I’d like to go to Toronto soon so I’ll keep that airline in mind.

    How did you enjoy your trip to Rome?

  6. Susan
    March 9, 2013 / 6:20 am

    I fly to Australia and NZ every year and have used both Qantas and Air NZ. They both offer GF meals that are dairy free as well. I have found the flight teams to be sensitive to food allergies. On Qantas I even get a GF snack bag to get me through the night after the meal served after take off. I have really enjoyed your posts about London and UK GF eateries. One place in Australia that is heaven for celiacs is Tasmania. I could eat easily there and would go back just to eat!

  7. Jax
    July 27, 2014 / 7:25 pm

    Same for diabetics too. They think a high carb, but sugar free meal is appropriate, when most of us are now low carb’ing. I once got served 3 wholemeal rolls with jam for breakfast, instead of the nice hot bacon and eggs which would have been fine.

    I don’t think airlines really care.

  8. March 6, 2015 / 7:50 pm

    Hi Mrs D,
    Always interesting to see what you have been up to.
    I flew to Rio ,which is a pretty long flight.
    In theory could have had the vegetarian option .It was rice.However they could not tell me the ingredients.
    I have been wondering why B.A can’t list ingredients in the vegetarian food offered.I ordered the Gluten free .Hoping it might be veggy.Opps ,chicken and tuna.
    Was advised to take my own food on board ..Really !

    Steward went hunter gathering for bits of food from Upgrade land.Few bits of cheese and random grape s arrived.On the way back they went off to search .Must have been searching the hold .Never returned.
    Thank goodness for cheese bread and my smuggled yoghurts.