Monday 5 March 2012

Tastes & Tales of LA – The Flights

I’m back from my holiday to LA to stay with my friend J. I had a wonderful time and loved exploring the area and discovering some fantastic restaurants and foodie places. It was sunny and warm everyday and the streets were lined with palm trees – bliss. I return to find cold winds and even snow yesterday – brrrr. I thought I’d do a little write up of some of my experiences. First up, the flights!

As I had previously mentioned, when booking my flight with British Airways, I was told I could not request a coeliac and vegetarian friendly meal. I had to chose one or the other. I opted for coeliac as this was a medical condition and the person I spoke to on the phone said the air stewardess should be able to help with some extra food on the flight itself.

London Heathrow to LA
First up was lunch. As predicted my main meal was chicken and rice which was accompanied by a fruit salad, some mixed salad leaves and a GF bread roll. I explained to the stewardess that I was also vegetarian and so couldn’t eat the main part of the meal and had been told to ask if she had anything else I could supplement it with. She suggested the vegan option, which was pasta. I explained that I couldn’t eat this either at the pasta was wheat based. She went to talk to someone and came back saying she didn’t know what she could offer me. I asked if it was possible to have some cheese, so that I could turn my bread roll into a sandwich. She came back with a lovely selection of little bits of cheeses, including brie, camembert, cheddar and red Leicester along with an additional plate of salad, which I was delighted about and made for a very tasty meal. I think this must have been pinched from first class. She did also try to give me some normal bread to eat with it, which I again had to explain I couldn’t eat. It was nice to be given a pot of fresh fruit for my dessert, although I was a little envious of the yoghurt and carrot cake my fellow diners were given.

About 8 hours later they brought round the second meal consisting of boxes of sandwiches. I never even saw my box, as the stewardess came to see me and said she had opened my GF box and found out the sandwiches were fish. She apologised and said would I like to try the vegan sandwiches if they had any leftover. I yet again had to explain I wouldn’t be able to eat these as they would have been made on wheat/gluten bread. She apologised again and left. That was it. I was not provided or offered anything else in place of this meal and so went hungry, while everyone around me tucked into sandwiches and cake. This means that after my 12 hours on the plane I had been given one meal of GF bread roll, some cheese and salad. I was also not impressed with the obvious lack of simple knowledge as to what a gluten free diet involves, as I was offered wheat/gluten accompaniments three times during the flight. Some basic allergy awareness training is needed!

Flight back from LA to London Heathrow
Coming back I had a night flight. We were served dinner at around 10pm. As before, my main dish was chicken with…some unknown grey gloop at one end and a laughable half a single floret of broccoli. Now I have a degree in nutrition and a portion of fruit and veg is meant to be around 80g. I really don’t think this half a tiny piece of broccoli qualifies, it’s mainly stalk and I’m not really sure why they bothered to put it on the dish. The accompanying grey gloopy stuff still mystifies me. It was the consistency of custard, with a gloopy texture of poorly made instant mashed potato and yet bizarrely enough had a few grains of white rice floating around in it – at least I hope they were rice! I even tasted a tiny bit to try and determine what it was, and apart from tasting like salt, I still have no idea what it was supposed to be. 10pm is a little late for me to eat dinner and so I didn’t even attempt to try and ask for anything else and instead concentrated on the rest of the meal accompaniments. I was actually really impressed with these. I had a little GF bread roll, a bag of dried fruit and oh joy… a little slice of Madeira cake! The bread looked a little solid, but was actually really good. It was quite sweet, but had a lovely soft stretchy texture, almost like a milk roll. The ingredients list was stuck to the back which I was pleased about as without these I may have even believed it wasn’t gluten free. Apparently it was made in Brooklyn NY. The cake bar was also made by the same people and apart from being a little gooey, had a lovely vanilla flavour. It was so nice to be given some cake too.

After a restless night trying to sleep, we were provided with a breakfast box a few hours before landing. After missing out on my main meal the night before, I was quite hungry and eager to see what would be provided. My fellow passengers were given their ‘breakfast boxes’ which contained a big fruit muffin, a little cookie, a box of raisins, a yoghurt drink, a polo mint and then the complimentary fruit juice and coffee. What would I get...?

I was given my own special box and opened it to find…some grapefruit segments. Yep, that’s it. They get cake, cookies, dried fruit, yoghurt, mints and I get…grapefruit segments. I sat there feeling cheated. Grapefruit, just grapefruit...really!?! Now don’t get me wrong, I like grapefruit and it was nice to be given some fresh fruit but does someone somewhere really believe that a few grapefruit segments constitutes a filling breakfast and one that is a fair and suitable substitute to the regular breakfast box???

Oh wait, yes I was also given a tiny pot of reconstituted orange juice, but as everyone including myself then got given fresh juice along with coffee too I get the distinct impression this was put here in a desperate attempt to fill up the big empty space in the rest of the box, rather than being something to enhance my meal. Why couldn’t I of had some yoghurt, GF bread, dried fruit, rice cakes, jam, another little cake… anything extra than just grapefruit! I didn’t even get the mint! Needless to say I was not impressed and went hungry again. Grrrr.

I can kind of forgive British Airways the problems with my main meals and first flight sandwiches for not being vegetarian, as they had no prior knowledge that I required this due to the annoying fact you can’t specify other dietary needs if you are coeliac. However, the breakfast I was provided with compared to my fellow passengers was inexcusable and quite frankly I’m going to write and complain. I also feel the staff should be made more aware of basic allergies, so as not to keep offering coeliac customers pasta and normal bread as substitutes for their meals.

I found this cartoon that someone has made about the variety of gluten free meals on flights and it made me laugh so much I cried. Seems I’m not the only one less than impressed. Thankfully the rest of my meals while in LA were wonderful. I’ll post more about them soon.


Johanna GGG said...

Goodness veg and gf isn't that hard - just do a rice dish for the main! Duh! Baked beans are gf for breakfast. I could go on but am sure you know it all! Reading this makes me think there is some idiot who thinks any sort of diet is for weight watching - but like you say a nutritionist wouldn't go astray! Airline meals are a problem I have less these days because I travel less which is a good thing - constantly disappointing but this is horrendous!

BTW I sometimes find that my vegetarian meals are vegan so that they can cater to a wider group which I don't mind except they just leave out the meat and the dairy and eggs rather than adding any interest or protein or nutrition

Caroline said...

That's a pretty appalling effort on BA's part. It was never looking great when they told you that you couldn't be both coeliac and veggie though. I'd definitely write and complain.

I always take my own snacks for flights anyway - I have a general distrust of airline food. That way I know I'll have something to eat, even just bread (GF for you!) and jam to fill a hole.

James Brewer said...

BA have let themselves down here! In todays age there is no excuse for them able to give you a decent option and actually know about food intolerances and allergies.

Unknown said...

As I was reading this, I felt myself just getting madder, and madder. It seems that the stwards that were helping you were just, I know this is blunt but.., DUMB! I would be so mad if I were you, and good for you for writting a complaint.

I just can't get over how awesful your plane trip must have been. This is why, whenever I go to Austrailia I always make myself a sandwich and a whole bunch of granola bars and cereal boxes and the like.

I'm really glad your trip was much better than your flights going to and coming fun.

Nic said...

Boo to BA, I'm surprised they didn't do better, there must be loads of vegetarians with a GF diet that fly with them.
Hope you send them the link to this post, it's not really on.

On the brighter side, I enjoyed reading about the rest of your LA visit, especially the Baby Cakes post. Glad you had a great time!