USA TODAY - Gluten-free traveling no longer has to mean packing a portable grocery store. Awareness of Celiac disease is worldwide. Airlines, cruise companies and hotels are all taking steps toward an open embrace of gluten-free travelers.
Up in the Air
American Airlines is actively addressing the provision of gluten-free options in all cabin classes, according to Jason Henry, menu planning market manager for American Airlines for Latin America. The change, he says, is in direct response to demand. "Our special meal requests have grown significantly over the past year, and the demand for ingredient information from passengers is at the highest level I have ever seen during the past 19 years in the food industry."
If you're flying international on American there are a variety of options. "Flagship service" (long haul flights out of the DFW or JFK to cities such as Sao Paulo) offers passengers in all cabins the ability to customize a gluten-free meal on aa.com prior to the trip. In addition, notes Henry, "The International Premium Experience allows passengers to customize their dining options that include gluten-free seasonal selections of simple salads as well as several soups, appetizers and entrée options without need to preorder."
Prepare for more of a challenge if you travel domestically. "Domestically, there are current options available for passengers to preorder the selected meal that they desire but no gluten free specific specialty meals are available at the moment for flights inside the U.S.," says Henry.
That doesn't mean you'll go hungry. American, like most carriers, offer the food for sale program on board most flights. Henry says there are some gluten-free snacks currently available, yet realizes there's a need to amp up the offerings. "Our team is currently looking to offer additional gluten free snacks in the coming year so all Celiac passengers have the opportunity to snack without worry."
Many major cruise companies accommodate gluten free travelers. Uniworld's boutique river cruises that sail throughout the world note "gluten free" in pre-cruise paperwork and passengers are accommodated throughout the sailing. (In all locations except China.) Among large cruise lines, Princess Cruises follows the same protocol. The preference is noted at the time of booking and all meals on board are prepared accordingly.
Hotels, especially when it comes to high end and the business traveler frequented, are hip to gluten free. The legendary Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii island is but one example. Yes, guests can phone in or email their gluten-free requests in advance (and often get a personal consult with the chef). But chefs are now at the ready for that spontaneous ask.
"Our Culinary team is able to convert any menu item offered into a gluten-free option by removing any wheat-based components using alternative items," says Vincent Robinson, the hotel's food and beverage director. "Two examples of this would include our very popular Club Sandwich and our Miso Glazed Salmon."
A Four Seasons hotels source reports that chefs are equally ready to make instant modifications. Kitchens are now equipped to accommodate on-the-spot requests to suit diets and preferences.
From big budget to moderate, the trend extends in freestanding restaurants. Mario Batali offers an entire gluten-free pasta menu at Del Posto in New York. Gluten free afternoon tea at Claridges in London is now a possibility as is a sans gluten lunch in Paris at Soya. Even chains such as Chili's that are found in most major cities offer an extensive allergy and gluten free menu.
When it comes to taking gluten free diet on the road the most important piece of advice is ask. There's every reason to believe you shall receive.
--Neal Webster Turnage is a writer based on Los Angeles. He reports for Conde Nast Traveler, Montage Hotel magazine and Tatler.
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