continentalLogoMy first transatlantic flight after my celiac diagnosis had been booked long before I was ever tested for the condition. The flight was with Delta who had just recently dropped gluten-free meals from their service. After a long and extremely frustrating battle with many representatives from Delta, I finally settled on ordering a vegetarian meal, knowing there might be nothing safe for me to eat in it. Since I was packing plenty of food for dinner, breakfast the next morning and snacks in between, it didn’t really matter what the vegetarian meal contained.

Someone used to ordering special meals on flights suggested I order two vegetarian meals. If they lost only one of them, I’d still have something to eat – maybe. Sure enough, on the flight over, they had only one special meal even though it stated on the tickets we both had special meals ordered. I was able to have salad with my own dressing and some fruit from the airline meal. I had packed a sandwich, peanut butter and crackers, dried fruit and a brownie for dinner alone. I could not eat ll the food I brought for that meal so my husband happily helped me finish it. For breakfast the next morning, other passengers were given a hard, cold roll and a green (literally) banana. My breakfast consisted of a hard boiled egg, some cheese, fruit and ready-cooked bacon. I remember the stares from some around me and comments from people who smelled my tasty bacon that could not see my delightful gluten-free breakfast. It was amusing, to say the least.

On the flight back, neither of us got the special meals we’d requested, but I’d expected as much by then. The Paris airport offered a safe pre-packaged salad and some chips. As always, I had my own dressing packet for the salad. I also had a backpack full of gluten-free food I’d packed for the trip, that I didn’t need to eat on vacation. Almost every person I’ve spoken to since that trip has reported problems with their special meal request with various American based airlines. Apparently Delta reintroduced gluten-free meals but includes things like Rice Krispies in the gluten-free breakfast. Rice Krispies contain gluten in the form of barley malt.

Last week on the celiac listserv, Janet Y. Rinhart, Chairman of the Houston Celiac Support Group, posted some annoying news about Continental Airlines. She gave me her permission to post some of her comments here.

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES has discontinued special gluten-free meals on international flights. This can be anxiety-ridden for celiacs if they do not know and do not come prepared on international flights. Because of security concerns and customs, it may be hard to even bring food, at least enough for that flight and a return flight. And there are few GF choices after Security. Of course, you don’t know what is available when you are abroad as well. Please join me in writing your opinion and encourage Continental to reinstate their gluten-free meals. I think they are keeping the vegan selection, but vegan is mainly a choice. A gluten-free diet is not a choice for celiacs; it is the only way to stay healthy. It is the ONLY treatment for celiac disease.

Continental CEO e-mail: [email protected]

or write to: Mr. Jeffery A. Smisek, CEO, Continental Airlines, P.O. Box 4607, Houston, Texas 77210-4607

Customer service phone # 800.WE.CARE2 (800.932.2732)

Well said Janet. In addition to offering a vegan meal, Continental Airlines also offers the following special meals for international flights only – Hindu, Muslim, Vegan, Kosher and Jain. As reported on ABC News earlier this week, the airline does not offer free meal service on any flight under six hours. Let’s see how much Continental Airlines really cares about what their customers think. Consider joining forces with Janet and making a difference in how the gluten-free community is treated by the airline. It’s great that the airline makes the above mentioned meals available (on transatlantic flights) to people who need them. However, having to eat gluten-free is not a choice for most of us and it seems a bit absurd that the gluten-free meal (a meal prescribed for a medical condition) would be one that was recently dropped from the special meal line-up.

Special Thanks to Janet Y. Rinehart for bringing this matter to the attention of the gluten-free community!