On our recent trip to Australia, we flew with British Airways using several codeshare flights within our routing. This gave me an excellent opportunity to compare the gluten free meals experienced on three different airlines; British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas.
These flights were taken all in Business Class.
London to Hong Kong – British Airways
Meal served after take off, starter.
Main course: BOILED FISH of course!
Breakfast: Fruit (yawn) with BFree roll
The warm part of breakfast: This was quite nice…
Overall flight experience: This flight was pretty uneventful. Mini D1 – whose antics had caused me to have the worst flight ever on our flight to Tokyo (yes, even worse than taking an 8 hour domestic Aeroflot flight in 1990s Russia)- slept for 8 hours of this flight. This meant I got some sleep too.
Lesson learned: Kids can, and DO sleep on planes (see below)….
Hong Kong to Brisbane – Cathay Pacific
Fresh, tasty and well presented starter.
Yes, it’s FISH again for main course!
I liked the Cathay Pacific gluten free bread….
What’s in the little package?
Inside was this. One of these was GF and the other wasn’t…but they look the same to me. I’m still not entirely sure what was in it. The one on the right seemed to have a face, but maybe I was hallucinating by that point….
Our flight from Hong Kong to Brisbane stopped for an hour or so in Cairns airport during which time we had to get off the plane and there was a crew change over. After take off from Cairns airport I was served this, another breakfast. I think this was breakfast (from the yoghurt), but by this point in our journey to Australia I wasn’t really sure what time it was…Cathay Pacific make a top cup of tea, as you can see!
And then this…I was pretty much fit to burst with all this food. Although this tasted fresh. I was particularly glad it wasn’t fish. Again.
Overall flight experience: We’d had a problem pre-flight with my daughter being seated alone which was partly resolved by CP customer services but which had caused some stress before the flight.
However, I thought the gluten free meals on these flights were excellent, apart from the odd sort of pasty thing.
I’ve flown Cathay Pacific a few times before and the service is always excellent. I couldn’t fault the amazing crew and in-flight service on the Cathay flights. Special mention to the crew who boarded on the Cairns to Brisbane leg who were great and particularly our cabin steward utterly charmed my daughter.
Lesson learned: In Hong Kong international airport, the Cathay Pacific Pier lounge near gate 65 had gluten free options, including gluten free pasta. If your plane is departing from a gate nearby, head here. The lounge was also much less crowded than the Wing lounge where we had spent most of our transit in Hong Kong airport.
Brisbane to Singapore – Qantas
No gluten free meal was loaded for me on this flight.
Instead the cabin crew got the meal and ingredient lists and we agreed the following would be OK for the meal after takeoff.
Followed by this starter of Vietnamese prawn salad with rice noodles, green mango and lemongass.
For main I had roast lamb rump with ratatouille.
There were no suitable desserts so it was cheese again. Shame! And don’t Qantas make a great cuppa!
For the meal served prior to landing, there were no suitable gluten free options from the main menu. So I had this fruit plate with a great gluten free biscuit which randomly they did have on board!
Overall flight experience: The Qantas business class seat was great. Loads of space to store things and I loved the Kate Spade amenity kits.
Lesson learned: Sometimes you can manage to create no gluten containing meals from the regular in flight menu. But it’s a gamble and one I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to take as it’s too risky. on this particular flight there were suitable options for one of the meals served but not the other.
I learned after taking this flight from other passengers who’ve travelled recently on Qantas that special meals need to be specifically and directly requested with Qantas. Therefore, make sure a gluten free meal is requested on all legs of each Qantas flight.
I don’t fully understand the logic behind this, however, as my kids’ children’s meals (special meal code: CHML) had been requested/loaded but the GFML had not.
Singapore to London – British Airways
Meal served just after departure – starter
Yep, it’s MORE boiled FISH under the tomato. And no, I don’t know what the dark purple ball is on the bottom left.
For dessert, I forewent the gluten free fruit desert (as on every flight I took) and went for cheese instead. Although they have snuck some grapes in there so I guess I didn’t escape fruit entirely…
Meal served before landing – cold breakfast (nope, I wasn’t keen on more fruit)
And the warm option
When this was delivered to me, the crew member asked me whether, since my gluten free meal looked “a bit sad” (it was a kind of egg white omelette), would I like something extra from the kosher meal which was gluten free? Yes, was the answer to that! There had been no meal served between take off and the one before landing so a gap of around 10-12 hours without being served food meant I was hungry.
Overall flight experience: By far my least favourite of all the flights we took. A night flight lasting 14.5 hours is too long for me to be sat on a plane, let alone two 3 year olds. The flight departed Singapore just before midnight and the kids were utterly exhausted by the time we finally boarded (having spent 6 hours on a stopover in Changi Airport). As we boarded the people sat behind us actually rolled their eyes at me as they saw us approaching and they made their displeasure at being sat near a family in Business Class very clear through the flight. I have sympathy for this (I’ve flown in Business Class with screaming kids enough times before I had my own) but this is essentially public transport (whatever the cost) and you take your chances with whomever you’re seated near be they loud snorers, disruptive adult passengers or children.
Lesson learned: First of all, ensure the kids eat a proper meal in Changi airport before getting on the flight. They’d eaten a small meal in the BA lounge but in retrospect it would’ve been better to take them somewhere to eat a proper meal as they were asleep before take off and consequently slept through the meal service. This meant when they woke up (6 hours into a 14.5 hour flight), there was no meal for them (and the crew had not kept back their children’s meals when the post-take off meal was served). They then had to wait about 7 or 8 hours from waking up for the next meal (breakfast) to be served an hour or so before landing. I think my son managed to eat at least 3 packets of the spicy chilli Kettle Chips to keep him going (not great!) as this – along with chocolate bars – was all there was on offer. There weren’t even any bananas or yoghurt he could eat between meals.
More generally, I would not take this length of night flight again unless absolutely essential, there’s too long a gap between meal service for small kids to last without any food. Further, this flight was taken on an A380. I’d been excited to fly on this plane but once on board the quietness of the plane (we sat on the upper deck) meant that you could hear much more sound from other passengers / cabin crew than on other types of aircraft. Again, if you’re bothered by noise or suspect you might cause some noise on the plane, I’d avoid the A380 upper deck.
- Unlike your fellow passengers who are flying without dietary restrictions, you will not be given a menu and told what you’re having. On balancce this is probably lucky
- You can take a large bet you’ll be served boiled fish
- Ditto fruit (unless you appeal to the cabin crew to have some cheese instead)
- Always check and double check your gluten free (or other special meal) has been requested
- Be particularly cautious if flying with Qantas, and call them directly to check / request your special meal
- I like red wine. And cheese. I really like cheese.
What is your experience of gluten free meals while flying? Could you recommend any particular airline for gluten free in-flight catering? Do you see things improving over time? Please do leave a comment below.
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