Virgin Atlantic – Gluten Free Failure

March 25, 2010

I’m currently enjoying a parentally enforced sojourn to Australia. Good work if you can get it! I haven’t seen my family in about 13 months (which is incredibly hard, let me tell you) and Mum insisted that I head home for Easter. I always fly between London and Sydney with Virgin Atlantic. This is for three reasons – frequent flyer miles, Gu chocolate pots and Mango Weis bars. Yes, I’m shallow but the food on a 24 hour flight is pretty much the only interesting thing that happens and a chocolate or ice cream surprise can lighten the mood momentarily.

Last year when I flew to New York for a quick break I ordered a gluten-free meal to see what it was like. I was surprised and impressed and thought the gluten-free fare was better than the regular meals. I decided to order a gluten-free meal again for this trip and review it for Food Dorks so you’ll know what to expect if you are flying with Virgin Atlantic.

London to Hong Kong – Dinner

I didn’t eat enough before I left London and was starving by the time the plane boarded. I had been engrossed in Alex James’ autobiography at the airport and hadn’t thought about eating but by the time the plane boarded I was ready to eat the mini pillow on my seat.

Dinner was the first test of my dorkiness. If I was a true food dork I would have taken some photos. I was sitting next to a young mother from the north of England. She seemed very nice so I didn’t want to come across as a weirdo by whipping out my camera and taking photos of my dinner. My meal arrived about 30 minutes before the rest of my section was served so people were watching me. I got stage fright so didn’t take any happy snaps.

Dinner included a hot main, side salad, bread roll and fruit for dessert. The main was “Mediterranean vegetables;” a ratatouille consisting of a red, yellow and green peppers, aubergines and mushrooms, with a side of long-grain wild rice and steamed peppers. Pepper overload. When I opened the foil lid I felt very disappointed.  A few vegetables in tomato sauce. It looked bland. Bland food when you are strapped into the same bland seat, watching bland movies for a whole day is depressing. Why do they default to the vegetarian option when you ask for any kind of special meal?

The tomato and wine sauce was rich but boring after a while. The green, red and yellow pepper side was bitter and so was the red and green leaf side salad with no dressing, which was very dry but not entirely awful.

The bread roll was from Lifestyle Healthcare Limited (which made me shudder. “Traditional” freefrom brand names sound so medicinal although their website has more of a friendly look and feel). There was no give when I squeezed it. The centre was dark matter. I tore a piece off. It was crumbly but the piece stayed together. Despite the density, the bread tasted like normal brown or soya and linseed bread so I would eat one again.

The rest of the meal was a fruit salad and a cup of water. All-in-all this was a pretty good meal for flying. The regular meals usually consist of pasta, potatoes, pasta salads, bread rolls and cheese and biscuits which can be bloating. On this flight the choices were beef cobbler with potato, chicken linguine, or Sicilian pasta all with a Gu pudding. I’ve given up chocolate until Easter so it would have been cruel to be served Gu and not be able to eat it.

London to Hong Kong – Breakfast

If dinner was all about blandness, breakfast was all about bitterness. I was served what was labelled a “tomato omelette” but I’m still not sure about that. Whatever it was there was bitter tomato, bitter spinach and a substance assumed to be egg. It was totally bloomin’ inedible. I moved on.

The next best looking thing on the tray was a berry yogurt so I tucked in. After a few mouthfuls I realised with alarm that I was eating oats which meant that Virgin Atlantic had served up gluten in a gluten-free meal. I checked the label and it was clearly marked “contains: gluten.” I was really angry about that. If you order a gluten-free meal you should be able to trust that you’re going to get a gluten-free meal. By that stage I had been flying for about 10 hours and was tired so didn’t think to check the label. The item in question was a Moma Jumble Wildberry so keep an eye out for those if you fly with Virgin.

I told the flight manager and he mumbled something like “I’ll send you a letter.” He didn’t seem particularly concerned. What if it had been a nut-free meal or a food allergy instead of an intolerance? If English Boy had eaten it he would have felt ill for the first few days of his holiday. It’s not good enough.

It goes to show that you need to be eternally vigilant about gluten even when you know that your food provider understands what gluten is and has systems in place to make sure you’re not served anything containing it. I found the whole thing very disappointing and frustrating. Maybe it’s time to re-think my loyalty to Virgin.


One comment

  1. […] posts: Virgin Atlantic: Gluten Free Failure and Still stuck in […]

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