airplane-windowGluten-free travel requires some extra thinking, sure. So does gluten-free living in general. And while airplane food may strike fear into all our hearts, there’s really no need to fret: with some advanced planning the friendly skies can be yours to fly.

Last week I flew from New York to Madrid, and then onwards to Milan, on Iberia Air. Iberia is one of the many carriers who offer gluten-free airplane meals, and so the process was quite easy. All I had to do was select the gluten-free option from a pull-down menu as I was booking my ticket, when prompted. Still, some pointers to ensure the best possible airline experience:

If you can order a gluten-free airplane meal, do! Remember when Continental eliminated its gluten-free airplane meals on international flights – and when, thanks to some well-organized support, they were reinstated? The more people avail themselves of airlines’ gluten-free options, the more airlines will pay attention to our demographic.

Check In. You chose the correct option when you booked your ticket, but it’s wise to reconfirm 48 hours before your flight. And again when you get to the airport.

My gluten-free airplane dinner on Iberia: Notice the ricecake substitution!

My gluten-free airplane dinner on Iberia: Notice the ricecake substitution!

Mistakes happen, so give the airline every chance to avoid making one with your meal. On another transatlantic flight, I found out that they had no record of my gluten-free request. The agent was apologetic, but more importantly she managed to find a gluten-free meal for me and get it onto the plane.

Be aware. A little bit of caution always goes a long way. Flight attendants will not necessarily know the specifics of a gluten-free diet, and may offer you something gluten-full without realizing it. If some part of your meal looks suspect, ask! If you aren’t convinced that it’s gluten-free, do yourself a favor and avoid it. I like to keep one of the Gluten-Free Dining Cards handy, especially on an international flight, just to make communicating with the flight attendant a little easier.

Bring Help. You should be safe, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like what they give you. Consider packing a few light-weight extras to transform your airline meal from palatable to pleasant:

Packets of peanut butter and/or jelly

Single-serving Nutella

Nuts or trail mix for adding to yogurt

Mini vial of hot sauce

And my next-morning gluten-free airplane breakfast.

And my next-morning gluten-free airplane breakfast.

Play it safe. It’s a good idea to have a little something on you, for worst-case scenarios. Remember, you don’t need to pack a full picnic: just enough to see you through until landing. Think of your favorite gluten-free snack bar as insurance against Murphy’s Law.

Have you had any memorable gluten-free airplane meals? What are your favorite take-alongs?