Flying Gluten Free

While I don’t travel as much as I used to, I love getting on a plane and heading going somewhere new. Or somewhere familiar, familiar enough to feel like home without the added benefit of a cat standing on my chest at 5 a.m. because, well, breakfast.

Breakfast, of course, leads nicely into the challenges of traveling gluten free, specifically while flying. For a short trip — say, the hour or so between Los Angeles and San Francisco — managing food isn’t much of a problem, though these days, even a short flight can translate to long hours. Getting to and from airports. Dealing with security. Even walking through the terminal takes time.

The husband and I used to have a tradition of eating breakfast at the airport when we had early flights. Now, generally, he indulges while I munch on a GF sandwich or other food I’ve brought along. This is because breakfast choices at most airport restaurants are limited…though this is improving as airlines and airports wise up to the fact that people are spending longer and longer in the terminals.

(Which leads to a shout-out to San Francisco’s airport — lots of great options for gluten-free diners!)

If it’s a cross-country flight, I go with one of two strategies: pack food and snacks (no soups or sauces, of course) or buy a pre-made salad once I get past security. Again, gluten-free sandwiches are a great choice. I also make GF wraps using rice paper wrappers and whatever filling I’m craving. While US-based airlines are improving their gluten-free options for domestic flights, I’ve had enough bad luck that I don’t count on this.

(Which leads to a question for American Airlines: is it really so hard to include GF potato chips among your snack choices?)

Where things really improve is on international flights. We flew Virgin Atlantic to Italy a few years ago, and while I was anxious about the gluten-free meal I ordered in advance (thank you online horror stories!), there were no hiccups. Ditto for a British Airways flight. Don’t think I didn’t pack some snacks just in case, though!

In order to make sure nothing goes wrong — though there are no guarantees! — I suggest the following:

  • When booking your flight, or soon thereafter, make sure you specify that you want a gluten-free meal. Most airlines ask that you order your meal 24 – 96 hours in advance. I suggest the 96-hour mark at the latest. Double-check your order when you check in for the flight.
  • Know that you can only order one type of special meal. So if you are gluten free and vegan, you only get one of those choices.
  • Check the airline’s website for a listing of onboard snacks/meals (depending on the length of the flight) and plan your BYOF strategy accordingly. Again, airlines are improving, but you need to be prepared.
  • If you’re bringing your own food, consider the length of the flight and how safely you can store your food to ensure you don’t get sick. Generally, you can bring small coolers/lunch boxes on the flight, but you probably won’t be able to get ice or ice-like products past security. While I’ve never had to try it, others have reported they’ve obtained ice from terminal restaurants.
  • Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations set forth by the TSA, here and here.  and  If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you are not violating any local or other laws. For example, that great prosciutto you bought in Italy? It can’t be brought back to the US.

Now to get back to sending my husband telepathic signals about that anniversary trip to Hawaii I’m hoping he’s planning! What are your favorite strategies for flying while gluten free?

Tip of the Week

A great snack for flying is hummus with veggies. Freeze no more than 3-ounces of hummus before flying. It will be defrosted and ready to eat when you’re hungry! For more suggestions for in-flight meals and snacks, click here.

Menu of the Week

This week’s menu is ready to be packed into your carry-on bag! I love rice paper wraps because they taste great and feel virtuous. You’re probably familiar with spring rolls filled with lettuce/herbs, shrimp, and maybe seasoned veggies or rice noodles. Try other proteins, from tofu to finely sliced steak. You’ll have to skip the dipping sauce, so I lightly marinate my proteins to add a bit of flavor. Store the wraps in an airtight container with a slightly damp paper towel.

  • Rice Paper Wraps
  • Crispy Garbanzo Beans (if you can’t find them in grocery store, they are so easy to roast. Make them spicy, savory, or even slightly sweet. Here’s a great recipe if you don’t have one.)
  • Hummus and Veggies
  • Udi’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (normally I don’t indulge in desserts, but these are perfect for pick-me-ups during flights)
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