Sunday, May 26, 2013

Eating Gluten-Free on United Airlines

Eating on Flights

Traveling used to be fun. Traveling used to be exciting. I'm talking about the process of actually traveling. Not the destination. The traveling to the destination.

I have turned the corner. Traveling is not fun anymore. It's not exciting.

Well, not exciting in the way it should be.

Now, the excitement consists of figuring out how and where and when I am going to be able to find safe gluten-free food while traveling.

Don't even get me started on security and the TSA.

On a not-so-recent-now trip from west coast to east coast, I had three flights in one day. Certainly not my first choice, but it was what I was able to get.

The first leg was from one end of California to the other. Small regional jet. Pseudo beverage service, no food.

Well, I guess it makes that flight gluten-free. Ahem.

My second flight was the big one. From one end of the country to the other. I had hoped that I would be able to find some gluten-free food before boarding this long flight.

My first flight landed at LAX, and while we taxied--seemingly from one side of LA county to the other--I used my phone to find my next departure gate.

Located in a separate terminal from that of my arrival. And with only a short amount of time to get there.

I pulled up a map of the terminals. I was going to have to hurry to get from my arrival gate to my departure gate. And look for gluten-free food along the way that I could grab and go. And hurry. And not get stuck waiting in line. And move quickly.

Good luck to me.

United Airlines

I had it all figured out before we rolled up to our arrival gate. Unfortunately, I was at the back of the plane. I had to wait for more than three-quarters of the plane to deplane before I could make a dash for it. And I had a window seat. I had to wait for my row to exit.

Hurry up and wait.

Finally, I was moving down the aisle to the front of the plane. And then on to the jetway. Behind a family. With lots of families waiting on the jetway for their strollers.

As I tried to move up the jetway, the small child in front of me lurched and stopped and started her random walk up the jetway. I started to dodge the child, only to be met with the barely moving back of her father. And the father was on his own random walk, except that it wasn't really moving forward up the jetway.

Now don't get me wrong. I understand kids. I have two of my own. I've been there. I know how they are. I was ready to dodge around her. Or jump over her if I had to (she couldn't have been more than three years old). But the adults? Really?

With no movement in the direction of forward or sideways from the father, only slowing down to stop (and wait for a stroller, presumably), I was finally forced to say something.

"Excuse me, please. Can I get by?"

This produced a disdainful glance from the father over his shoulder and slow, glacially slow, astronomically slow movement towards one wall, with a hand out to gather his daughter with him.

Offering some explanation for my rush, I said in a hurried tone, "I've got another plane to catch." And with that, I started jogging up the jetway.

Near the top, just before entering the building, I heard from behind me, way down the jetway, rather loudly, "Well, that's not my problem!" in a woman's voice.

And quickly I shot back over my shoulder, "It is if you are in my way!"

Okay, not the most polite, I admit. And, there is no way to know if it was even directed at me. In that moment, I had presumed it was the wife of the father that had been in front of me.

I did say, "excuse me". In fact, I started with "excuse me". I didn't say it as an afterthought. I guess it didn't matter to them. And it doesn't matter now.

After entering the terminal, I half jogged, half speed-walked with two ten-pound bags, one on each shoulder (one with laptop and cables and transformer, one travel bag with one change of clothes and purse). I headed directly for my departure terminal.

No food in sight. After what felt like more than a half mile of jog-walking, I finally got into my departure terminal. Scanned the gate numbers. Scanned for food. Kept jog-walking.

Passed one set of fast food places. Nothing looked immediately promising. People everywhere. Lines at every place. Kept jog-walking.

I finally spotted my gate way up there. I could see that just beyond my gate was another section of food places, most fast food. I might be able to pick up something. But first I had to get to the gate and see how long until they started boarding.

As I slowed, approaching the gate, people were overflowing everywhere. The next-door gate was also boarding, but it seemed most were already on that flight. At my gate, there were people overflowing across the main walkway, into the adjacent gate area, everywhere.

And they were already boarding my flight.

Great. What group were they boarding? I was in Group 2.

I asked a couple people if they were in line. And then the announcement came over the loud speaker. They were now boarding Group 2 and the line was long. I shot a quick glance down the walkway towards the eateries.

Nope. Not enough time to get over there, scope it out, pick something, stand in line, pay, and get back to my gate to get into line with my group. Not going to happen.


I'd prefer to board with my group and not later. I don't want to squeeze in with and over others, if I can board earlier.

As I stood in line with Group 2 and shuffled forward, I thought quickly about my options. This is a big flight, a long flight, a full flight. They would probably have some prepackaged food options available on this long haul flight. I had no idea if any of options would be gluten-free. And since I was stuck at the back of the plane again, even if they have gluten-free options, there's no guarantee that there would be any left by the time the flight attendants worked their way to me to offer their "food for purchase."

Actually, I guess it was lucky that I was boarding in Group 2, out of probably six groups total. This meant that I would be on the plane early enough that most of the passengers were still waiting in line at the gate. As soon as I got to my seat and stowed my bags, I pulled out the airline magazine.

I went straight to the back of the magazine, and worked my way towards the front page by page, looking for the description of food options available in flight. Bingo. Packaged food is offered on domestic flights over three hours. Yep, that was me. I immediately scanned the available options and honed in on the one or two that might be gluten-free. Of course, none of them were labeled gluten-free. I would have to ask.

I quickly got back up and went the back of the plane.

The flight attendants were immediately on high alert. They were busy loading supplies and settling things. They clearly didn't need a distraction.

I smiled and asked if they knew if any of their food options were gluten-free. Thankfully, they understood the gluten-free issue. I didn't have to explain that. But they weren't sure which options might work for me. So, I asked if I could read the label on their Chicken Caesar Salad.

They happily obliged and handed me one of the salads. I stood there, reading the entire label, twice, while they continued with their duties. The salad had a separate package of croutons inside the box. Good. Croutons separate. And the dressing was safe. I read that label twice too.

With the safe salad in hand, I had to ask if there was a way they could save it for me. I didn't want to know they had safe food, but then be sold out of it by the time they reached my seat.

"Just take it with you. You can pay us when we make it around to you."

Wow. That was trusting. And nice.

Then again, where was I going to go? It wasn't like I was going to "eat and run."

The flight attendants were very nice, helpful and accommodating. I also made sure I was asking for their attention when they weren't really busy with lots of demanding passengers. It was relatively quiet then, with boarding passengers just trickling in towards the back.

I don't recommend asking for this kind of special attention as they are trying to get people in their seats, checking baggage that won't fit in the overheads, or when they have lots of other demands.

During the flight, I looked again at their food offerings listed in the flight magazine. It was a long flight, and one salad wasn't quite enough food, since I really was going to want two meals, even if small ones. I saw that they were also offering a "cheese and fruit plate."

When the flight attendants got to me, I made sure to pay for my salad. But I also asked for and paid for the cheese and fruit plate as well.

The "cheese and fruit plate" also had crackers included, but luckily they were wrapped separately. This is good. The cheese was just okay, but the fruit consisted of only two dried apricots. Only two. And two small dried apricots, at that. This was a disappointment.

I don't want to think about how much I paid for crackers I can't eat, so-so cheese, and two apricots. You don't want to think about how much I paid.

But I was hungry. And it was gluten-free (without the crackers).

Priorities. I just have to stay focused on the priorities. Gluten-free, safe, edible, food on a long haul flight. Beggars can't be choosy.

And I ate safely.

Getting to my third flight of the day was almost as much of a hike as getting to my previous flight. And this flight turned out to be on a tiny regional jet. No beverage service. No food. Definitely gluten-free. Humpf.

It's a good thing I got that cheese and fruit plate. Believe it or not, United Airlines saved the day.

Now, if we could just get the TSA to let me through security with my favorite gluten-free foods and dairy products from home with an ice pack, traveling might get to being a little bit more fun again. If only.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome your thoughtful comments.