Monday, April 30, 2012

Expect Gluten in Your Gluten-Free Meal on Delta Flights

A few years ago, I heard a comedian tell a joke about flying with Delta: "Delta stands for Don't Expect Your Luggage to Arrive". So true. I gave up flying with Delta after a similar situation. They "lost" my luggage by sending it to Paris instead of straight to Manchester, England as its baggage tag said. Not having flown with Delta in years, I was unaware that they were serving gluten-free meals on flights. Or so Delta says.

I came across a blog post the other day on Gluten-free Mom about a woman who flew with Delta and had reserved a gluten-free meal. The only problem: the meal came with Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Uhm, Kellogg's Corn Flakes are NOT gluten-free. The "malt flavoring" ingredient contains gluten. When the woman complained to upper management, well, the response was not what she expected. Here is an excerpt of the blog post:

Much like a parent feels when a teen breaks curfew to help a friend, I wanted to believe that Delta’s irresponsible policy was based in good intentions – that, once the company knew what was happening, they would readily, eagerly, make the necessary changes to provide safe food for their passengers. The first response to our complaint was unacceptable, so we posted another complaint and started climbing the veritable food chain. To our shock, in the weeks, now months, since this incident, Delta’s response has not changed.  Here’s what one Delta Customer Care Coordinator wrote:
“I am genuinely sorry you were dissatisfied with my response.” (Note, no apology for serving us poisonous food). “I understand you feel I did not adequately address your concerns. Further, I recognize that you are dissatisfied (dissatisfied?!) with the products that were included in the gluten free (gluten free?) meals you and your family received.
Again we recognize that passengers may have different requirements depending on individual gluten sensitivity. Passengers are encouraged to refrain from ingesting any product if they feel it does not fit within their dietary requirements, and select other food products included in the gluten free entrée served…”
Now, I would have no problem with Delta telling us that they cannot accommodate a gluten-free meal. It would be disappointing, bordering on pathetic in this day and age, and most certainly backwards ... but it would be tolerable. What is NOT tolerable is to serve a product publicly identified (by the manufacturer!) as containing gluten in a meal that is clearly labeled Gloten [sic] Free.
I did some research (i.e. Google'd "Delta gluten free") and came across several different Celiac Disease community forums and blog posts about flying with Delta and not receiving the specified gluten-free meal. This blog post is from February of this year. Here's another one (start reading about the middle) about flying on Delta and receiving gluten foods. And apparently, even if there is no gluten, the gluten-free meal makes even the worst airline food look almost edible.
I've flown Southwest recently, and after reading the ingredients for the peanuts they pass out (one of the few airlines to still pass out ANY type of snack on short flights) those peanuts are NOT gluten-free. After visiting United's website, they do claim to offer gluten-free meals ("gluten-intolerant" meals) on certain flights, and you can request one up to 24 hours in advance. American Airlines also serves gluten-free meals on some of its flights. And JetBlue's PopCorners Popcorn Chips and Terra Blues Potato Chips (two of its complementary snack options) are naturally gluten-free. (However, the website states that not all snack options may be available on all flights, so...)
It's great that so many airlines want to make flying more comfortable for people with special diets. However, it doesn't help when the flight staff or the airline itself doesn't really understand the diet. Essentially, if you are flying and need a gluten-free meal or snacks, bring them yourself. Because you never know. Some people have complained that they've ordered a gluten-free meal but the airline (again, Delta) forgot to put the gluten-free meals on the plane!
Has anyone with Celiac or a gluten-intolerance flown other airlines and eaten the gluten-free meals? I'd love to hear about your experiences! My husband and I haven't done a long-distance flight since his diagnosis, so we've never had to bother with ordering meals. I'm curious to see how other airlines measure up against Delta.

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