/ Travel & Leisure

Are dietary requirements well catered for?

food requirements

Earlier this week a gluten-free passenger on a nine-hour flight was served up a solitary banana and a sachet of salt for his breakfast. Have you witnessed or experienced any dietary requirement fails?

Plane food can be something of a punchline; the common trope for bad food. You essentially expect it to be terrible, so when it’s tolerable it’s a pleasant surprise. But when your diet requires something a little different than the main offering, things can get a bit tricky…

Recipe for disaster

I’m gluten-intolerant, but I’ll often just hope for the best when I go out. That said, I’m quite lucky as, although I won’t be darkening the door of the traditional pizzeria down the road any time soon, there’s a huge range of culinary offerings in London. If I can’t eat in one place, I can try next door.

But, when you’re on a long-haul flight it can be a different story.

While most airlines will have a range of options, the standard of dietary requirement meals aboard a flight can vary greatly depending on where you’re flying and the airline.

At their best these meals are individually planned. At their worst, the gluten, lactose or animal-product components are removed from the regular meal. Depending on what that is, it doesn’t always leave much and, at 30,000ft in the air, you can’t just nip to the shop to supplement what you’re given.

Food fails

Friends of mine with dietary requirements have also mentioned attending a wedding or function and found that their vegan or lactose-free requirements haven’t quite been catered for, or been left with an odd thrown together option. Sometimes this is fine, but a lactose-intolerant friend had the misfortune of being assured his meal was lactose-free only to go home unwell later.

Thankfully, I’ve generally found my in-flight gluten-free meals to be that pleasant surprise. Often trumping my travel buddy’s regular meal, it has more often than not been quite tasty and frankly at least I know what I’m eating – which, to borrow from every bad comedian, is not always the case with airplane food!

Do you have any dietary requirements? Have you had any issues with being catered for?


Airlines are absolutely terrible at dealing with dietary requests such that I have stopped asking and just eat the standard food. I just don’t fly with airlines likely to serve shellfish (Thai, Malaysian).

Maureen Vilar says:
6 May 2017

For people with coeliac disease gluten-free meals are not just a request but a requirement. If we continue to eat gluten we increase our long-term chance of contracting cancer. So we can’t just stop asking and eat the standard food.

I see your point. My wife eats only gluten free food although she does not have a diagnosis of coeliac. In general getting that option in hotels is not that easy and on short flight she does not eat, or eats something she has taken with her. Not ideal by any means.

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For those curious to know even the sketchiest of details:
” Londoner Martin Pavelka claims the lonely banana was served to him on an All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo to Sydney, which was the second leg of his £1,200 trip to Australia.”


” All Nippon Airways told Telegraph Travel: “ANA takes great pride in providing an exemplary customer experience for all passengers, and for this one passenger we did not meet his expectations. We have apologized to him personally and as a result of his experience we are reviewing our policy on gluten free options and how they are served.”

An apology and are review are just not good enough. Firstly, their customer will have paid a high price for the airfare so some compensation should be paid and secondly and perhaps more to the point, surely the staff serving the banana must have realised that was lousy customer service so a full explanation is required.

Apart from anything else he is going to be hungry. A banana does not meet the minimal calorie or nutritional requirements for the time spent on the flight. I agree the airlines response is totally inadequate.

Airlines cater more to dietary choices rather than medical necessity.

My husband is allergic to dairy and a diet-controlled diabetic so airline food is rather hit-and-miss – usually a miss.

The worst flight was no meal at all for him. All the regular meals were unsuitable so the flight attendants went round the plane asking if anyone had anything he could eat. They came back with some fruit and crisps, not good for a diabetic but he nibbled some with a drink when he was hungry.

On another flight he was presented with a vegan meal that looked so awful, the flight attendant took it away again. Asking him to wait until first class had been served, she was able to sort him out a steak meal that was probably one of the best meals he has ever had on a plane.

Ordering Kosher is the best bet for dairy free as meat and dairy is not eaten together.

Attending functions can be a bit hit-and miss.

It does rather depend on the venue and occasion, but caterers can often be a bit in the dark on what they need to provide if instructions given have been a bit vague.

Sometimes they are happy to discuss requirements, other times they only want to hear from their actual clients. Advance notice means they are likely to provide a suitable and enjoyable meal whereas they could be too busy and unprepared to sort out anything on the day.

my wife is allergic to peppers (capsicums) this allergy is not recognised by airlines. the main trouble is that the flight crew do not know what is in the food making it difficult to avoid peppers. airlines seem to put peppers in everything these days. we once were upgraded to 1st class but my wife had to make do with a sandwich from economy for safety. virgin flight crew are excellent and do their best, but we have a letter from virgin saying that they cannot list contents of food on their flights and that we should bring our own food – great customer service

I have the same problem with garlic which seems to be in most meals, sandwiches, pies, etc. these days, and it makes me very ill a couple of hours later.

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C>Tibbs says:
6 May 2017

we are strict lacto-vegetarian. Nevertheless have been served ham and sausages!!!! Good to order Indian vegetarian … usually good.

HerbieB says:
7 May 2017

My daughter recently flew with El Al to Israel and ordered a gluten-free meal. It was fantastic. The portion size was generous and the food very tasty.

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Steve S says:
7 May 2017

My wife’s a coeliac and we’ve had so many disappointments with airline gluten-free meals that we’ve given up specifying it when we book. Quality of the GFML option is usually poor compared with the standard choices and occasionally it’s just cobbled together from packets of crisps or dried fruit served as snacks. We now just take our chances with the standard choices which normally has some gluten-free element – even if it’s just a salad. If airlines discounted the ticket price for a ‘no meal’ option we’d jump at it and bring our own!

John says:
8 May 2017

I’m allergic to cheese and there have been flights when I haven’t been able to eat the main meal, both choices contained cheese and the later snack would be pizza or cheese sandwich. Some airlines have been quite sympathetic and have put something together. The pre flight food choices box doesn’t seem to cater for allergies and when I’ve phoned the airline directly they tell me there’s nothing they can do. I often carry some snacks.

You could try Kosher John as meat and dairy are not eaten together.

But I do agree they are not good with allergies except peanuts.

I never ever eat in flight meals since the time I had chicken served with beef gravy. I am highly allergic to beef and all its derivatives including gelatin. I have a respiratory arrest if I have so much as a drop of gravy. When I queried the gravy the flight attendants told me that as the gravy is made in huge quantity they did not know what was in it. Only after I became ill did we know for sure, and the pilot radioed ahead for an ambulance to meet the flight. I have been on flights where nuts are not served because of other passengers nut allergies, so are taken seriously. I don’t understand why gluten free foods are not readily available for those needing them, they are much more mainstream these days. I accept that I am a bit of a “niche” occurrence, having multiple allergies, shellfish, cheese, yogurts, citrus, spices, caffeine and alcohol to name a few. Much safer for me not to eat whilst travelling.