No matter which airline you choose to fly when traveling, the topic of whether you're "flying the friendly skies" when it comes to gluten free noshing on a plane is a heated one. Some people have had good luck when requesting in-flight gluten free meals (fortunately, our family is in this camp), while others prefer to bring their own gluten free snacks on board.
Of course, whether you even have food service available depends on the type of flight you're taking. Most carriers now only serve full meals on international flights. Other, shorter flights may or may not have "snacks" or boxed meals available for purchase, but finding something that's gluten free can be hit or miss.
I thought I'd offer some tips to consider when next hopping on board a plane:
1.) If you are booking an international flight, I'd recommend researching the airline's policy for gluten free meals (you can find the policies of many major airlines -- as well as links to the relevant area of their websites -- on the Airlines page of our website, GlutenFreeTravelSite). Most airlines now include gluten free meals as one of the many special request meals available, but you will need to request that in advance (find details in the policies linked from the page above). Our experience on two international flights -- one to Paris in 2011 and one to London in 2013 -- was surprisingly good. With the exception of a "regular" roll plopped on the tray (fortunately everything else was covered, so it didn't touch anything) on our flight to Paris, we have not had any mishaps, and the food was surprisingly decent. In fact, our son's gluten free meals often looked better than the "regular" meals served. It's typically chicken, but not always served "plain." A couple times there was a light tomato-based sauce, as in the meal pictured below. If you're skeptical at all about the gluten free nature of your meal when it's served, double check with the flight attendant and look for any GF markings or stickers on your meal. When in doubt, go to Plan B....
2.) You do NOT want to be sick on a plane, nor do you want to ruin your vacation. ALWAYS bring a back-up snack or meal (or multiple snacks, if it's a long flight). It's important to be prepared in case the airline does not have your requested meal or if it appears to contain (or be contaminated by) gluten. You may prefer not to even take the risk for what usually amounts to a mediocre meal -- and not bother to request a gluten free meal in the first place. If you're in a real jam, the airlines usually has many snack options available for purchase, which include many different items, all individually wrapped in a box. There should undoutedly be at least one option with items you can eat (corn chips and salsa, potato chips, cheese, applesauce, olives, etc.). You can pick and choose or divide the goodies up with another family member, taking all the items that are gluten free for yourself! And, of course, don't forget to HYDRATE...that goes for everyone. Beyond combating dry cabin air and dehydration, it can help you fill up an otherwise hungry tummy (choose milk, orange juice, or vegetable juice rather than sugary, caffeinated sodas which can further dehydrate).
3.) If bringing your own snacks, some suggestions for healthy, satisfying fare include nuts (avoid peanuts in case you have any peanut allergic travelers sitting near you) and protein-packed snack bars. Gluten free varieties include KIND, Larabar, Luna, NoGii, NuGo, and almost endless varieties from popular gluten free brands. Other travel-friendly snacks include pouches of tuna, nut butters, cheese, veggies, fruit, and gluten free crackers or tortilla chips. Packing things individually allows you to take them out one-by-one throughout the flight, as you get hungry.
4.) Research ahead of time what dining options you'll have at the airport. You'd be surprised with the mand decent options at some airports these days. You may even be able to get a sit-down meal in a gluten-free frendly restaurant...or maybe grab some frozen yogurt and fruit, which should tie you over for a while. A c ompany called OTG, an airport food and beverage operator with a presence in 10 North American airports, offers travelers over 40 gluten free options in their CIBO Express stores, including kid-friendly snacks. Almost all their restaurants have gluten free food and beeor options.
5.) There's always the newsstand, many of which now have gluten free snack bars like KIND and other protein-packed varieties. I've even seen places that stock GoPicnic, a line of shelf-stable snacks/meals that happen to include many gluten free varieties. My son loves the one with gluten free crackers and sunbutter -- as well as both the turkey pepperoni and cheese and the tuna and crackers varieties. They now have three varieties that are also non-GMO, in addition to being gluten free (edamame kale dip with plaintain chips, almond butter and crackers, and three bean dip with tortilla chips). Pick up a couple if it's a long flight...or buy them at your local Target to pack for the trip. They don't take up too much room, and everything is disposable when you're done.
You can see that, no matter what your preference -- requesting a hot gluten free meal on the plane, bringing your own snacks, grabbing a bite to eat at the airport, or picking up some gluten free snacks at the airport -- you're likely to be able to get a decent meal that's gluten free en route to your destination. What is your preference? Share with us any successful gluten free stories at airports or on the plane by submitting a comment below. Happy gluten free travels!