As I am getting ready for my trip to Southeast Asia, I have started to put a list together of my "to-do" action items before leaving. One of the action items is making sure my flight on Cathay Pacific has a gluten free meal for me, and also creating a list of items I should bring along...just in case! I would hate to be on a 15-hour flight without a meal.
Long Haul Journey
On international flights, or long-haul flights, many airlines offer "special" gluten free meals, abbreviated in the airline food world as GFML. Some airlines only offer "special" meals on long-haul or cross-continental flights, so just because one had gluten-free meals on a flight from San Francisco to London, for example, do not assume the same airline will offer a gluten free meal on your flight from San Francisco to Dallas. Not going to happen!
Reserve your gluten free meal in advance.
One cannot ask for the special meal at the last minute; special meal requests may be done anywhere from 24 to 96 hours before your flight. Consequently, if one changes the flight home at the last minute, expect to lose your gluten free meal. If I have made my reservation far in advance, I usually call the airline a few days before the flight to confirm that they are preparing a gluten free meal for me.
After boarding the plane, the flight crew, usually will come to look for you to tell they have gotten a "special" meal on board for you. If you have changed your seat at the last minute, they might look for you at your “old” seat, so let them know where you are.
Do not assume one can eat everything on the tray.
The "special" meal will be wrapped and sealed; all the flight crew needs to do is warm it up and place it on your tray. One can safely eat food that is sealed. The flight crew, however, cannot be expected to know the dietary guidelines of every disease and sensitivity for which "special" meals are provided. They may "generously" include the usual dessert to your tray, or a roll, or some other harmful food item.
Do not assume that everything on your tray is gluten free. Safe items will be sealed and labeled, and you will be unwrapping these by yourself. Everything else is questionable, and one will need to read labels and use common sense.
Always carry emergency food supplies.
Unfortunately, despite the airline’s best efforts to provide one with a "special" gluten free meal, things can still go wrong. For example, your flight is all of a sudden canceled, and one is placed on a different flight; or if something is wrong with your original aircraft and they change your plane at the last minute. After the food service has already loaded the meals onto the original plane, your gluten free meal is not going to follow one along to the “new” plane.
No matter how far in advance one planned and how many times one has double-checked, there is always a constant possibility that one will end up on a plane without anything to eat… unless you have brought along some emergency food supplies. Never travel by plane without bringing some food along for oneself. My favorite travel snacks are Larabars and That's It.
Perhaps I am a bit paranoid, but I see it as more of "peace of mind" knowing I have taken all steps necessary to make my flight enjoyable.
A rule of thumb, never assume and always be prepared. How do you prepare?