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!
Recently I went on my first international business trip to Lviv, Ukraine. This is the first time I have been outside of North America since my early 20’s. If anything could go wrong on this trip, it did, and I learned the hard way how to make my travel next time much better.
I must preface my tips below with I never missed a flight and have never had a bag lost, until this trip.
- Don’t count on Wi-Fi working in planes at all overseas. The foreign airline I took (Austrian airlines) does not seem to provide this on any flight. We’ve gotten use to this in the past few years in the US.
- I thought using Wi-Fi while traveling in the US sucked until I went to Europe!
- Exchange money in the country of origin to the place you are traveling! I got to Vienna and they won’t exchange Ukrainian money to Euros!!!
- Get to the airport 2+ hours early before an international flight even if the first leg is to a city in the US.
- Learn to speak common phrases in the language of the country you are going to before you leave. You cannot rely on software translations apps, especially if your cell does not work in the country. People in that country will greatly appreciate it.
- The US allows two carry-ons, but Europe does not! They only allow one, the rest you might have to pay for up to 75 Euros ($83 US dollars) or more for one bag! Even though I could do two carry-ons all the way to my final destination in the Ukraine, I could not do it on the way back. I actually wish the US did the same thing since many abuse this privilege and it makes boarding the plane MUCH longer.
- If your hotel provides a shuttle, call at least one day ahead before. They might not schedule it when you land.
- Count on your checked luggage getting lost or delayed in customs. Always carry at least one day of clothes, meds or anything else you need. Even more days if you can.
- If you use a debit card, make sure you have more than plenty of money on it before you leave the US. ATM machines in other countries do not provide the ability to transfer money. Only dispense cash or transfer money to your phone (not even sure what the latter is). At some ATM’s your card might not even work at all, so it’s better to have a credit card or lots of cash with you! Also, if you use a debit card, you might get socked with big fees!
- Find another cell provider than AT&T. My entire trip I could not use cellular on my phone. I tweeted them about this and all they did was send useless links.
- Make sure to purchase a power converter for charging batteries, running laptops etc. If you forget, airports should have them.
- If you or your company can afford business class on long flights overseas… do it! It’s well worth it… not like first class in the US which pales in comparison. Actually if any company in a foreign country wants me to come work or speak for them, I’m going to insist on it for the following reasons…
- There is plenty of leg room! The seats even go almost flat so you can sleep. They provide pillows, sheets and even a blanket. Your seat even will massage you!
- You get a personal chef that will make anything you like off of a menu. The first flight I had filet minion. On the way back I had a four course dinner that included so much food I couldn’t even eat it all. They will even wake you up for breakfast which was awesome too!
- The bathrooms are about three times bigger than any airplane bathroom I’ve ever seen. In the bathroom they have deodorant spray, shavers, combs, toothbrush and toothpaste.
- They provide noise canceling headphones.
- You get a very large HD TV screen. All movies etc. are FREE!
- There are USB charging ports available.
- You are allowed two carry on items. Everyone else only gets one.
- If you expect to use a cloud service like OneDrive to backup all of your photos while you are overseas… forget it! I had my Surface Pro 3 (Windows 10) trying to do this for the better part of three days for 4.6GB of picture/ video files and it did a very small fraction. I know part of this issue was the hotel Wi-Fi. Lesson learned… still carry enough memory cards for your camera or video camera that you will need. I will mention that backing up all the pictures on my iPhone to OneDrive worked great.
If you have any travel tips, please let me know by leaving a comment.