The Skies are Not so Friendly for Someone with a #Food Allergy

October 22, 2010

MDW-IAD by air, DC-Philly by train, Philly-DC by train, and IAD-MDW by air over four consecutive days in August got me thinking about how different my travel life is today than in the years before my allergy diagnoses in 2005. It used to be when I travelled all I had to do was make sure I had some cash on me to get some food on the run if a short flight was delayed or if I wanted a snack or a meal on a train. No matter how much money I have on me now there’s really not a single thing I can eat in the sky or on the rails. Trust me. I’ve looked at all of the options offered on board all the major travel carriers and there is simply nothing that is milk, wheat, gluten, corn, AND soy free. 2 out of 5? Yup, you can find gluten free (wheat free) options. Not sure you could even hit 3 out of 5 unless you find a flight that’s offering nuts; something almost none of the airlines do anymore (and even if you do find nuts, you better watch out—I’ve seen airplane nuts for sale with wheat starch and/or soybean oil).

For short trips my hardship (if that’s what you’d call it) is minimal. Eat a big breakfast before the flight takes off and have a late lunch at my destination. Skip the in flight snacks and save some calories for later. It all seems pretty reasonable.  And most of the time it works out ok.

I’m in the early stages of making arrangements for a work trip to Paris in March, on the other hand, and a whole host of travel issues I haven’t faced before have emerged. Trans-Atlantic flights even by 21st century high speed flight standards are still in the 7, 8, 9 hour range. There isn’t breakfast big enough to hold you (or me, in any case) for that long so I asked the people making travel arrangements to see what kind of special meal they could order for me. You keep Kosher? Not a problem, there’s a meal for that. Vegetarian? Not a problem, there’s a meal for that. Gluten-free? Not a problem, there’s a meal for that.

Allergic to more than one thing that can’t be solved by Kosher/Vegetarian/Gluten free alone? Problem. BIG problem.


Bring my own food. But what do you bring for an 8 hour flight that doesn’t require refrigeration and can last 8 days since I’ll need to bring food for my return flight at the same time? I have some non-perishable food in a bag items I’ve found at Whole Foods and I thought I’d come upon the perfect solution. My favorite of these is a bison chili that is so good you can’t believe it came out of a bag. I mean people on the plane will be jealous of me when they see it and that’s fine with me. My turn and all, right?

Except I’m getting conflicting information from the airlines on the likelihood the flight attendants will microwave my meal. And, since there’s no way in advance to guarantee this will happen, I’ll need to bring the meal I want plus enough snacks to get me through in the event microwaving isn’t option. They’ve told me a doctor’s note will help. And for extra measure, I’m ordering the gluten-free meal in hopes that there’ll be something on the tray that works for me.

Anyone with multiple allergies fly across the Atlantic recently? Very interested to hear your experiences.


4 Responses to “The Skies are Not so Friendly for Someone with a #Food Allergy”

  1. tjausti Says:

    I am a frequent international traveler. I am allergic to wheat, soy, corn, seafood, and tree nuts (peanuts are also avoided). I pack a small empty cooler (fabric zip seal, water tight, have to check local camping stores ) in my carry on along with some small ziplock bags. Once through security I buy fresh fruit (4 or 5 bananas, couple of apples) I will also pickup some if the premade salads I can eat. Ask a resturaunt employee for some ice. Unfold your cooler and your ready to go. I have also ordered full meals from a resturaunt, placed the components in the zip lock bags and kept them in the cooler.

    Best of luck. Hope that helps.

  2. Erin Says:

    I have flown across the Atlantic recently (June 2011 from US to India and back in August 2011; and July 2012 from US to Germany and back a week later). I am allergic to corn, soy, and peanuts and have not found a good solution to the plane food problem for longer trips (US to India).

    What I found worked well (enough) for the recent Germany trip was to pack almond butter and banana sandwiches (of allergy-safe bread from home) for the flight to Germany. That did me well and lasted until arriving in Germany. The flight back was more tricky. I don’t have a gluten allergy, so I did manage to find bread in a local bakery that was soy and corn free (though it was difficult) and bought some brie cheese right before entering the airport and grabbed a plastic knife in the terminal to spread it. The cheese stay cool enough to be safe for the first few hours of the flight. I then snacked on dried fruit (I had brought from the States) the rest of the flight and got the remainder of my calories through in-flight juices. Since I declined the meals, the flight attendants were happy to give me extra drinks.

    I didn’t try, but now that I think about it, if you explained to the flight attendants that you have allergies and can’t eat the airplane food, they might be able to store a small item like cheese or whatnot in a fridge. If you explain it as a medical need, they are pretty much obligated to help you out. They have to have some small room available in their fridge for things like medicine, since some people’s medical requirements may involve medication that needs refrigeration.

  3. Marielle Says:

    I really like and can relate to your blog. Thank you for helping me see I’m not alone.

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