Travel Tip: Don’t Eat the Gluten-free Food on Emirates Airlines

In April of this year, I took a trip on Emirates airlines to two countries. Due to my allergy to gluten, whenever I fly, I always request gluten-free meals. This year on my flight from Seattle, Washington to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, they served everyone breakfast before we landed.

None of the gluten-free food on Emirates is very good and this breakfast was mostly eggs and sausages. Not long after I finished, I started getting sick and having to frequently visit the bathroom for long periods of time. By the time we landed, I was nauseous, sweating and very pale. I was also very weak and light-headed.

At the first pharmacy, I could find in the airport, I asked if they have anything that could help me. They gave me ginger pills (something I’ve never tried before) and electrolytes. At the first restaurant I could find, I sat down so I could order some water to take the medication. When the waiter came over to me, the first thing he said was “Are you okay?” and I replied “NO!” and asked for the water.

While I was sitting in the restaurant, since I was still very ill, I was looking around to see if they have any medical facilities at the airport, to have them check me out. I didn’t see any so I decided to go to one of the paid lounges so I could lay down and sleep. I finally found one and had to pay $70 for 4 hours. For that price, you get to drink and eat all you want, but all I wanted was the couch. They also didn’t have any gluten-free food anyway.

I was able to sleep for about 3 hours which helped, but I was still sick when I boarded my next flight. While I was at the airport, I remembered that I got sick last year on the same flight after eating the same breakfast! So, when I got to my destination, I decided to inform Emirates about it, hoping that they would change that breakfast so I and others don’t get sick in the future. I assumed that it was prepared in Seattle, but I don’t know that for sure.

After waiting for a long time for a response, once I got it, I was very let down with it. Emirates has a very good reputation, but I found out on this trip, I don’t feel this way with any of the customer support I received (there were other issues with the trip).

Other than they didn’t get any other reports from passengers on that flight, this is what they said:

Our medical department further advises that you condition may have been affected by other meals consumed before eating onboard or by other factors.

Emirates food production and storage is of the highest quality that is compliant with world standards, and our caterers apply very stringent hygiene control checks in their meal preparation processes. There are thousands of the same meals that are batch produced every day and are continually tested for quality control from the raw state to the final product.

The first sentence tells me that they have no idea how gluten sensitivity works. Since I have been gluten-free for a long time (on the advice of my doctor) I have lost the enzymes to process it. So if I get enough in my system, I get very ill which usually lasts 24 hours. It’s like if a vegetarian eats meat, they also get very ill.

When I do get enough gluten in me, the effect is almost immediate. So them saying that I ate it before I got on board is not a valid response. The next few lines seem to be pretty boiler-plate. None of their response gave me any assurance that this won’t happen again if I ever take their airline again (at this point, I might not and take a different airline next time).

For all the pain and suffering I endured, I was hoping for some miles put on my account or an upgrade to business class on a future flight. They offered nothing. On my way back to America, two of the meals on my flights also made me sick. Not as severe as the first flight.

Three weeks later, I was able to upgrade my flight on Delta Airlines to first class on my trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Not only was their gluten-free breakfast very good…. it didn’t make me sick!

 

 

 

 

 

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