Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Flying Swiss Air with the Dairy Free 'Baby' (Part One)

It's taken a lot for The Hub to persuade me to go skiing this year - up 'till now, nearly all our holidays with 'Baby' have been at Center Parcs - where I know what I'm letting myself in for (see here)!!

It's not that I didn't want to go - it was just the fear of not finding food that was safe enough for us to eat that was holding me back.

Having agreed to go, I can't say my pessimism was lifted when The Hub discovered that Swiss Air could provide either gluten free food or dairy free food, but not both at the same time (see here for more information about their 'Special Diet' meals) and that was travelling Business Class!! Travel Economy, and if you are flying to Zurich, all you are offered is a sandwich. Knowing that Leon Restaurants had opened a branch at Terminal Two at Heathrow (and also Terminal Three), and that the flight would only be an hour or so, placated me somewhat - regarding the outward bound journey, anyway!

Flying business on the outward bound flight meant we were allowed to carry extra baggage - which we definitely needed for the purpose of carrying extra supplies of food and dairy free milk for our holiday! It turned out that upgrading to Business Class was cheaper from the London end (not that much of an additional cost, according to The Hub) but was somewhat more expensive from the other end. So he didn't book it for the return flight, as by then, our luggage should be that much lighter - assuming we had consumed all our supplies of free from food!! (NB Check out Travelling with the Dairy Free Baby, for more tips for travelling by air, contributed by folks from our FB page.)

Must admit, the idea of the free lounge that comes with travelling Business class, although not strictly necessary, appealed! Free coffee as much as anything else!! But what with an extra check-in for bulky luggage that was going to be transferred straight to our final destination and needing to get food from Leon, access to the lounge went straight out of the window - we simply didn't have enough time. The MIL was horrified that we hadn't used the free lounge. She'd been through the day before and told me that all the food was very good - all organic. Yeeeeeeeeeees! We're still having to educate our families about what it means to be gluten/dairy free! 

Once aboard, strapped in, and mid-air, I discovered that 'Baby's' meal was labelled 'low lactose' - which was enough to set my dairy free alarm bells ringing and make me groan. Later on, when the basket of free chocolate did the rounds (Swiss Air always do this) they kindly offered her lactose free chocolate. 'Uh, no thanks!! She has an allergy to milk,' I replied. Cue total look of confusion on air stewardess's face!

Having since looked at the website (I'd left it to The Hub, who was booking the flight, to look into all this), I have now discovered that they give the option for a 'lactose free' meal, which is free of dairy products. Hmm! One of my pet hates - confusion between lactose free and dairy free!!

However, on inspection, it looked OK - dried fruit some salmon, couscous etc. - although the bread roll wrapper said that it may contain milk - something we'd usually avoid, due to previous experience. 

'Baby's' meal.
Feeling I had little choice but to let 'Baby' have the bread roll, I reluctantly halved it and handed it over to her to spread with the margarine that had been provided.

As it happened, 'Baby' quickly decided that she didn't like it - within one bite - which, it turned out, was just as well. Becel Original (the spread that was provided) is made with whey from milk (see here), which I only discovered by searching online later that evening. Grrrrr!!!

Good job 'Baby' is not anaphylactic, isn't it?? Although to be fair, if she was, I very much doubt that I'd have taken the risk with the bread in the first place - I'd probably have brought along all our own food.

The Becel spread

In fact, 'Baby' very soon decided that nothing on the tray was suitable, '...for a little girl like me!' (Her words, not mine!) She ended up with half of one of the fries I'd purchased from Leon, prior to boarding, and a few chunks of the chicken (once I'd wiped the sauce off)! Under duress, she also ate a few of the black grapes - once I'd halved and de-pipped them!

After that, I gave up trying and handed her a packet of crisps from my bag. I'd never normally let her eat a whole pack by herself, but needs must!!

My meal on board Swiss Air

My gluten free meal was similar to 'Baby's', but with the addition of a slice of Gruyere cheese - which was soon passed to The Hub. I then discovered that the gluten free bread roll was useless for me - it definitely contained milk - no 'may contain' about it!

The gluten free roll

I ate the apricots, couscous, salmon and grapes. I would have gone for 'Baby's' salmon as well, but It looked as though she'd got gluteny crumbs all over hers by the time I thought of it!

Unfortunately, I am intolerant of pineapple and suffer from OAS (oral allergy syndrome - the worst reaction I ever had was to raw pepper), I didn't dare risk the raw pepper, therefore I had to avoid the rest of the food on my tray.

So it was a good job I'd purchased some lunch from Leon, at Terminal Two at Heathrow (see here)!

Lunch from Leon!

Whilst I appreciate Swiss Air can't offer all multiple allergy sufferers choice - it would be an impossible task to provide so many combinations. My OAS, for example, is such a curved ball, that I don't usually mention it - just pick off the bits I can't eat (you can't do this if you are anaphylactic of course). 

I do wish, however, they'd consider that many Coeliacs (suffering from a medically recognised disease requiring complete avoidance of all gluten) are intolerant to dairy - certainly initially and that many others not Coeliac, but perhaps suffering from a less specific intolerance are also now finding that they can't consume gluten and dairy - it's certainly becoming more common.

That said, there are now companies out there who can and do manufacture ready meals completely free from the top fourteen allergens. There's Ilumi, in England, and Natama - the company that supply Disneyland, in Paris. 

Hopefully, one day, companies like Swiss Air will realise the benefits of buying in such meals - they won't then have to stock so many different kinds of meals for allergies but just one that hits the top fourteen.

Until then, if you're from the UK and you are travelling, I'd strongly recommend taking a look at Ilumi's website, if you haven't done so already,  their long life ready meals are tasty and really reasonably priced. As for Natama, well find out what I thought of their meals here.)


Have since realized the bread roll on the dairy free tray looked like it DIDN'T contain gluten, I wonder if I should have had that instead?! See the 'sans gluten' on the top right of my picture?

Label for the bread roll on the 'low lactose' meal.

Oh well!

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  1. This is fascinating to me! Since I've been coeliac (I was diagnosed in 2003), I've been abroad a few times but never once so far been offered a meal, as the flights are usually very short and with whatever cheapy airline we can afford that doesn't use a rubber band for take-off (I'm not very brave when it comes to flying. I always tell people that I don't have a fear of FLYING, I have a fear of CRASHING and there is a pretty big difference!).

    However, my twin sister, who is also a coeliac, travelled to Canada last September and had the gluten free meal. She was pretty satisfied with it, but warned that because I'm a vegetarian, I wouldn't have been able to eat the meal. Lots of fish, apparently. Now, I understand that airlines can't be expected to provide for all allergies, but I WOULD expect them to be able to offer a vegetarian option for their allergy-friendly meals. There are a LOT of coeliac vegetarians out there! And as you pointed out, an awful lot of coeliacs (including myself) are lactose intolerant for quite some time after diagnosis. While we can happily use Lactofree products in the UK, there are no such meals on airlines, and for the rare few coeliacs who aren't just LI but DI, it must be extremely difficult.

    The airlines have made some small steps towards safely catering for those with specific dietary requirements (emphasis on 'requirements' but they still have a very long way to go...

    1. You're so right! It does seem to be more about fulfilling 'requirements', than than offering service.

      Must admit, I'm still horrified at the number of airlines (and also airline passengers, actually) who refuse to take a few simple measures to protect nut allergy sufferers. There seems to be a new story in the papers about it every few weeks or so!!

      Must admit, I think that a gluten free cum vegan meal would hit quite a few nails on the head in one go - although that said, if it was made with soya/cashews it would still be no good for me... :(