Saturday, February 1, 2014

Gluten-free on the fly ...

Sunrise over SGF
As Doug and I were returning home from a little vacation in Costa Rica a couple of weeks ago, we had a dinnertime layover at DFW.  Thinking we would grab a quick bite before boarding our plane to SGF, we went to Tigin Irish Pub, an airport restaurant where I had once eaten a gluten-free salad. After taking and filling our drink requests, the waiter returned for our food orders, and I asked him to remind me of which items on the menu were gluten-free.

“We don’t have any gluten-free food,” he told me flatly, not offering to help me out. Not even a tiny little bit.

Since we had already received our drinks, I asked the waiter if I could run out to one of the restaurants in the food court area and bring back something to eat with Doug.

“No problem,” the waiter said.

Well, it wasn’t “no problem.” I searched most of the Terminal D fast food restaurants that were still open, and I got the same response at every single place I asked:

“We don’t have any gluten-free food.”

I couldn’t believe it! One place that sold baked potatoes told me that their potatoes weren’t gluten-free. Another wasn’t set up to avoid cross-contamination. Even Smoothie King told me they had nothing on their menu that I could safely consume. So I slinked back to the restaurant where I left Doug watching a football game and ate the GoPicnic I had fortunately carried with me.*

GF lunch from CIBO Express (ORD)
Fast forward to this week at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD):

We landed at ORD just before noon on our way to visit our children in NYC. Without any real expectations for success, I walked into a CIBO Express to look for a gluten-free lunch. The little guy behind the counter said, “Gluten-free? Sure. We have lots. We even have gluten-free sandwiches!” He proceeded to walk me through the store, proudly showing me their gluten-free offerings (which even included GF cookies). I’m sure he thought I was crazy when, with eyes glistening, I threw my arms around him and kissed his cheeks.

Ok, I didn’t throw my arms around him or kiss his cheeks. But I’m positive that my eyes were glistening. I DID choose a gluten-free lunch and enjoyed it immensely on our flight to NYC.

The take-away from this (and similar) airport experience/s:
  1.  Don’t expect to find much GF food in airports. While ORD has several offerings, even at other places besides CIBO, the best foods you can find at most airports including SGF, DFW and MCI, are salads with “iffy” dressings, sushi with gluten-containing soy packets, chips, Kind bars (for which you may pay upwards of $3 at airports) and nut mixes.
  2. Don’t travel without taking along a couple of GoPicnics or other prepackaged GF food. If you happen to have a long layover, you’ll be glad you did. (By the way, when you purchase your GoPicnics to bring along, be sure the package is labeled gluten-free. They have a few varieties that aren’t. You can purchase them at most health food stores, but I found mine at Venture.
  3. If you are member of American Airlines Admirals Club, don’t expect them to save you from starvation, either. They have very limited gluten-free offerings, although they usually have fruit and occasionally veggie or cheese trays that you can eat.

Take along a gopicnic!

Whatever you do, don’t let celiac disease keep you from traveling. If you plan ahead—and manage expectations—you can enjoy your trip!

*To be perfectly fair to DFW’s Terminal D, there is a nice upstairs restaurant called Reata Grill that has gluten-free offerings. That will be my future go-to restaurant at DFW’s Terminal D. Other terminals at DFW also have a few restaurants that serve gluten-free selections.

If you have found any good places for gluten-free food at airports, please let me know, and I'll pass the information along. Happy Trails!