Like many people, my job covers a broad range including Education Coordinator, Logistics Planner, Nurse and Electronic Entertainment Big Brother. I am on call 24/7 and actively engineering from 6:45 am to 9:30 pm most days of the week. Additionally, I serve as Head Nutritionist, Food & Beverage Supplier and Chief Travel Agent. These three roles come together when we travel, which we do frequently.
With air travel comes a whole new set of endearing challenges and unpredictable variables. Hungry children stuck on an airplane or in a foreign airport are a punishment for anyone within a 20 foot radius. Most of the time, delays and cancellations are unexpected. Anything from weather, mechanical issues or airport traffic can add hours onto expected travel time.
We have had a few near disasters…
- As we passed through the security check we watched the DEPARTURE board change our flight from ‘On Time’ to the dreaded ‘Delayed’. Our 4 pm flight finally took off at midnight. We had no choice but to hang out in the terminal hoping for the best. This was a return flight and I had not saved much food from our vacation. We had eaten every last crumb of gluten free snacks and nut bars before we boarded.
- After carefully selecting gluten intolerant meals for a long haul flight, our plane was changed and our special meal request vanished.
- The pre-ordered Gluten Free meal arrives, both clients decide it is inedible and declare a hunger strike.
Over the years we have developed some systems to ensure these problems do not end in tears (neither my clients nor my own).
- I pack enough food to keep them alive for at least 24 hours. It is really way more than we need and I hope that we will not need to use it. But if we are significantly delayed, we will not starve.
- One carry-on bag is dedicated to emergency supplies. About two thirds of the bag is food. Each client has a quart size bag labeled with their name filled with food bars, a pack of instant GF oatmeal and treats. Additionally I include larger items such as instant rice noodles, a box of cereal and extra bars. (Just in case you are curious, the other third of the bag is filled with an emergency change of clothes. Each person has a spare outfit, including underwear, packed into a gallon size ziplock bag. At age 5, my client spilled a cup of orange juice on her father’s lap prior to take off. He no longer gives me a hard time about packing extra pants.)
- All food is dry and shelf stable. In general, this kind of food is fine to bring into most countries. Double check with your destination country if there are any food restrictions (especially if you are traveling to Australia or New Zealand).
- On major airlines, meals are requested and double checked at least 72 hours in advance. I am always sure to tick the box for “all legs” for my Celiac client.
- Airline food has never had a great reputation. Gluten free airline meals are no different. Most of the time, the meal is both gluten and dairy free. Sometimes we get lucky and it tastes good, but that is usually the exception.
- Many smaller budget airlines do not allow any food to be brought aboard. For those flights, I need to call the airline at least a week in advance and then email them a medical form stating we require a gluten free meal. A hard copy of these forms also travels in our carry-on with us.
- I often do some online research to see if there are any specialty grocery stores not only in the immediate vicinity of our destination accommodation but in the airport terminals we may be transiting (most large airports have websites).
- If we are visiting to a city in which a specialty grocery store is not available, I pack a second bag of food in our luggage to eat on our return trip.
- I include a few plastic cups and utensils. A packet of hot cereal is no good without a container and a spoon. Don’t forget wet wipes, napkins and some plastic bags for trash.
- I pack a few nut free options in the event there is a passenger with a nut-allergy aboard. We don’t need to jeopardize anyones life for a PB&J, even if it is on GF bread.
This week we flew from Singapore to New York with a one hour layover in Hong Kong. Our first flight was delayed by over two hours. We were advised to rebook our flight when we got to Hong Kong (which would mean no GF meal on the 15 hour leg). Fortunately our connecting flight was also delayed and we did not need to rebook. We made it to New York six hours later than expected, having snacked on many Luna bars along the way. We were served three meals. Lunch was chicken, vegetables and potatoes (rated “okay”), dinner was fish, cauliflower and rice (thumbs down), and breakfast was steak, potatoes and grilled tomatoes (thumbs up).
My carry-on bag for two people included:
8 Luna Bars, 4 fruit bars, 6 assorted nut bars, 1 Bakery on Main Strawberry Oatmeal, 2 Apple Cinnamon Instant GF hot cereal, 1 container of GF instant rice noodles, 1 small bag of jelly beans, 1 snack size bag of Glutino pretzels, 1 box of GF cookies, 1 box of GF cereal, 1 box of GF crackers, 2 plastic cups and spoons.
Air travel has gotten easier with practice and my clients have become more savvy at the process. Their criteria for a “short flight” is less than two movies and only one meal. A successful trip is measured both by the quantity of GF supplies left over when we return home and how prepared we were for unexpected meal failures. Our requirement for gluten free food has not diminished our love of travel or sense of adventure. The time spent on extra research and preparation is well worth the effort.
www.OneDegreeGlutenFree.com (GF life in Singapore and Southeast Asia)
www.facebook.com/OneDegreeGlutenFree/ (our Facebook page)
www.SingaporeCeliacs.com (medical information and GF resources tailored to Singapore)