Continental Airlines Drops Gluten-free Meals

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!

14 thoughts on “Continental Airlines Drops Gluten-free Meals”

  1. Dear Continental,
    It has come to my attention that your airline will be discontinuing Gluten Free Meal Service. I urge you to reconsider this decision. I must remain Gluten Free in order to be healthy. I have Celiac disease and cannot under any circumstances have gluten.
    Thank you,
    Mary Ann Bray

  2. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for you when flying! Good thing you take your own stuff. We do the same thing though for our little boy who has severe food allergies. Every where we go we always have food substitutes just incase he needs it! It is so important to plan. Oh and I should ask you if you have ever tried Kamut Khorasan Wheat? We recently tried it and really like it a lot and since it is an ancient grain, there are lots of people with gluten intolerance that can tolerate it!

  3. This makes no sense. There is a company called GoPicnic based out of Chicago that makes ready to eat gluten free, Hallal and Kosher meals that have very long shelf lives. This is sheer laziness and a prime example of the downfall of customer service in the airline industry.

    Customer loyalty is at an all time low, which is why Southwest is the premiere airline who “gets it”.

  4. RocketMom – Our post for Friday is about gluten-free travel tips and Go Picnic (included in the info) is one of the best options out there for sure! Even if an airline charged $10 extra for a meal they paid $4 for (assuming there is such a thing as wholesale bulk order discounts at Go Picnic), I think many people would happily pay it. Go Picnic gf meals totally rock!!!!!

  5. This is AWFUL news. I travel roughly 2 weeks per month for my job and had started using Continental just for this specific availability (even though it wasn’t very good, at least it was there on long flights). I’m no psychic, but I see myself writing a letter today.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. This note is about the no gluten free meal flights. I can’t believe you don’t consider the problems Celiac users have if we don’t have foods gluten free. It’s medical! You cater to Muslims, Hindu, Vega, etc. But people who have a medical reason don’t get the special treatment? Come on now, I was planning a trip to Europe on Continental. Guess I’ll change my mind on which airline I use. That would also include any short flights too. If you don’t care about your passengers, why should I care if your company stays in business….Oh yes, the Europe trip consists of 15 of us, a few have special needs, diabetic, celiac disease, etc.

    Thank you,

    D. Boroughs

  7. Just a tip…I flew KLM part of Delta’s SkyTeam) internationally and was so impressed with their gluten-free meal. The food tasted wonderfula nd they supplied me with so much food, I was able to take a few items with me which made my first day in Europe much easier. I highly recommend KLM.

  8. Wow KLM sounds wonderful; thanks for the tip Leah. I must give them a try when I fly to Europe. Nowadays (since I have dairy & egg allergy on top of being a celiac I can’t be safe with just gluten-free option either) I’ve been ordering “fruit plate” option… That seems to be the only safe alternative. But I need protein! (I take lots of GF Zing bars with me.) I’ve tried vegan, but often it’s not GF, as they often make vegan dishes w/ regular soy sauce, seitan, etc. What a shame about Continental… I will be sure to write them!

  9. I have had issues like this on MANY airlines. I frequently travel to Europe and also from the East Coast to California. After one transatlantic flight last summer I have stopped even trying. The airline I was on (I think it was US Airways) didn’t have anything with the ingredients in any of there meals anywhere on the plane. What was worse was the flight attendant made me feel like an idiot for even asking. I think the airline industry definitely needs some sort of quality control, things are getting out of hand

  10. I have never been on an international flight, however I’ve flown across country several times. The only meal I could get was a sandwich some carrots and skittles. When I asked if the stewardess had any other option she asked me why I couldn’t just take the meat and cheese of the bread and moved away. Neadless to say I ate the prepackaged carrots and nothing else. However now I always pack GF food with me an have a doctors note in case of problems with security. Ive never had a problem even bringing a full suitcase of GF food carry on. I find it rather unfortunate that more airlines or even airport stores don’t cater to celiacs especially in this economy. I find it sadder still that our medically necessary food was dropped, for what I can only assume is budget cuts, before VEGAN who have no medical or even religous reason for choosing to eat as they do.

  11. As someone who was vegetarian for 14 years, and occasionally vegan before my presumptive celiac diagnosis, I can say I’d much rather the gluten-free option be available than a vegetarian or vegan option. As a veg*n I knew I had to work around the options given since it was *my* choice to eat that way. I did the same thing with friends when choosing restaurants — don’t cater to me I will be able to figure something out. As a veg*n I made a habit of carrying snack bars with me on the plane because my veg*n meal would either be missing, disgusting, or otherwise something else. Or I’d come up with something creative with whatever meals they had.

    THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR CELIACS! As other commentors mention, on some flights the food is not labeled so you have no idea what is in it, thus you can’t risk it. To make matters worse, sometimes it is a prepackaged meal in one tray where the food is touching! Or could have touched.

    I’ve encountered a huge misconception out there that the majority of gluten-free eaters are children with autism who have parents that are newagey and gluten-free is a fad.

    Gluten-free is a medically prescribed diet for celiacs! So frustrating. I have a feeling the meal was cut because it was the least requested meal. When budget cuts come around that’s usually how it happens. Or, the least requested meal belonged to one of the dietary guidelines dictated by a religion and they couldn’t look anti-insert-religion-name.

  12. My daughter raved about the gluten free meals she was served by American Airlines on a recent trip to South America. Her words “amazing”!

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