Eating Gluten Free on a Flight


If you’re like me and you have dietary restrictions of any kind, you’ll know the routine of packing your snack bag before a flight. While many airlines do offer special meals to accommodate a number of different dietary restrictions on their long-haul flights, I know from experience that the food you receive may or may not satisfy you. Furthermore, you never know when unexpected delays are going to leave you spending the night in an airport with limited (or no) options for you. I always follow the rule that it’s best to be prepared, and it never fails to be a good decision.

Since my particular dietary restriction is that I have to eat gluten free, I wanted to write about some options for those of you out there who, like me, have to pack snacks for every flight. But first, a few stories…

February, 2017. I booked myself a trans-Pacific flight to Tokyo with Delta Airlines. I dutifully selected my special meal preference to be “gluten free” upon booking, and looked forward to my Japanese adventure. I wasn’t going to take any chances though. I also packed a frankly huge bag of TSA-approved snack foods as well as stocked up on a few more items at the airport. Let’s face it…food is my security blanket. Despite having a bit of stomach troubles from the trip to Mexico I had just finished, I was still hungry and able to eat in-flight. I was delighted when the flight attendant came to check on me specifically because he had seen I had a special meal request. He was concerned specifically about the salad dressing, wondering if it was gluten free. He wasn’t sure, so he let me inspect the package. After reading all the ingredients, I assured him it was good to go and I looked forward to some honey mustard dressing for my salad. When the salad came though, there was no honey mustard…just a few limp pieces of lettuce and a cherry tomato. I looked over in envy at the pasta and bread my husband had been served. When it comes to gluten free meals, you just never know. I should note that other than this one particularly sad special meal, I actually had a wonderful experience flying to Japan with Delta. But I’ll also say I was never so happy to have my own bag of delicious snack foods at the ready.

October, 2017. I was coming home from a friend’s wedding in Raleigh, North Carolina. I had eaten a hearty breakfast at our Raleigh Airbnb before heading out in the morning and we had a three-hour scheduled layover in Chicago where I had planned to get lunch. I sadly did NOT have a snack bag prepared for this particular flight as my time in Raleigh had been so hectic I didn’t have a moment to go shopping, and I had eaten all the snacks I had brought on the arrival journey earlier in the trip. We were flying Southwest Airlines, and although I love them, everybody knows they only serve you little snacks like peanuts or chips. I wasn’t too worried. I can usually find something to eat in an airport, be it a bunless burger or whatever I need to have made. Mid-flight, however, we were told we would need to divert to Cincinnati because the Chicago airport had been closed due to fog. Uh-oh. We spent nearly three hours just sitting on the tarmac in Cincinnati while the airline waited for instructions. The Southwest Airlines flight attendants were lovely and handed out more peanuts, but that was really it. When we did finally arrive in Chicago, it was chaos. We had missed our original connecting flight so our first priority was to get booked on another one. By the time we waded through the confusion and got to the front of the re-booking line, however, we had to RUN to catch our connection. No lunch for me. I did get to eat more peanuts on the next flight, but by the time I finally got to San Diego I was so hungry I was ready to eat my own hand. We ate right there in the airport because we didn’t have the strength for anything else. This is where a snack bag would have been magnificent.

I have more examples, but you get the point…pack a snack bag! This is good advice for anybody, but it is specially important for people like me who have dietary restrictions and don’t know if food will be available. I remember watching the news when the Atlanta airport was shut down due to a power outage. Chick-fil-A was handing out chicken sandwiches and everybody was all thankful. All I could think about was how I would starve anyway in that situation because I can’t eat chicken sandwiches. Be prepared!

Ok, so now that we’ve got that out of the way, I just wanted to share some of my favorite things to pack for flights.

Note: food does need to go through the scanner at security.


Get yourself some gluten free bread and make yourself a sandwich! They pack well in ziploc bags and are amazing for those moments when you just need some real food and not another damn bag of potato chips. If you put condiments like mustard on it before you pack it, it won’t count towards your liquid restrictions. However, if the mustard is going to be put on the sandwich right before it’s eaten, make sure you put it in your liquids bag in a container no larger than 3oz (but seriously, who is going to bring more than 3oz of mustard on a plane?).

Fruit and Nuts!

Actual, real, healthy snacks are perfectly acceptable to bring through airport security. If the fruit is peeled, just make sure it’s in a sealed container because it does need to go through the scanner.

Fried Rice

I love fried rice! I like making my own at home with vegetables, gluten free tamari, and scrambled eggs before I fly.

Hard Boiled Eggs

These are perfectly portable protein snacks ready to eat. Just make sure they aren’t smelly, because sometimes hard boiled eggs can be smelly. Your fellow passengers will thank you.

Processed Snacks

I always bring some processed snacks on board, such as rice crackers, Kind bars, etc. These are not only useful if you need them in-flight, but they are also great for when you first land in a foreign country and you can’t find anything to eat, but you’re hangry. Yeah, that’s right. I said hangry. Bring as many processed snacks in your carry-on and checked bag as you can fit if you’re particularly concerned about finding food in your destination.

One last note about bringing food on planes…

Before you fly, make sure the foods you’re bringing are allowed in your destination country if you’re going abroad. Different countries have different rules on what they will and won’t let into the country, so it’s best to know before you go. In most cases, it’s perfectly fine as long as you eat it before you go through customs or throw it away, but in many cases countries won’t allow in specific items, particularly produce, due to various laws. Always read up on what’s allowed before you go. Once you know, feel free to stuff your suitcase with all that edible goodness!

Happy travels!

What do you like bringing on a flight with you to eat?


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