Man given a banana as "gluten-free meal" on nine-hour flight

Londoner flying from Tokyo to Sydney was handed a banana as the gluten-free inflight "meal" 

Julia Buckley
Thursday 04 May 2017 09:10 BST
(Martin Pavelka/Evening Standard)

Some inflight meals are good, most are edible and a few standout ones are terrible. And then there’s this: a single banana served as the “gluten-free meal” on board the nine-and-a-half hour flight from Tokyo to Sydney.

Martin Pavelka, 32, from London was served the banana on the ANA (All Nippon Airways) flight on 20 April. As all the other passengers enjoyed a full English breakfast with bread and yoghurt, Pavelka says that he – a coeliac – was given the banana.

To add insult to injury, the somewhat bruised banana was served with a knife and fork, salt and pepper, and a sticker announcing it was gluten free.

Pavelka, who was on the second leg of his London-Sydney trip, told the Evening Standard: “This was a nine-hour flight. Although definitely gluten-free, the banana did not keep me full for very long.”

As anyone who’s ordered a “special” airline meal – whether that’s vegetarian, gluten-free or halal or kosher – will know, what turns up on your plate can vary enormously depending on the airline and the airport where the meal was prepared. Sometimes it can be far better than the other mass-produced meals. At others, it can be far worse.

Pavelka said of his gluten-free meals: “Sometimes they are bland, sometimes they are actually much better than the ordinary meal service… On this flight, I was left literally speechless.”

Passengers had been given a first meal shortly after take-off. The banana was part of the second meal service, although Pavelka says he initially thought it was a joke. The flight attendant apologised, he says: “I think the stewardess realised something wasn’t right too. The fault must be somewhere in management.”

Pavelka has complained to ANA but has not yet had a response. But John Walton, who writes about airline passenger experience for aviation news outlet Runway Girl Network, told The Independent:

“If ANA was serving full meals for other passengers, it doesn’t seem right to serve only a banana to people who requested the gluten free option.

“Since ANA offers a wide variety of carefully designed special meals and since passengers are mobile, social and vocal these days, it would surprise me if this were the norm.

“Of course, these days two meals on a nine-hour flight seems very generous in economy, with most airlines serving just the weaponised-croissant-in-a-bag sort of option.

"Airlines generally do a reasonable job catering for people who ask for special meals, which can be for a variety of reasons: medical, religious, ethical, or otherwise.

"I talk to airline caterers often, and they’ll usually provide something like a gluten-free breakfast bar — and most people who are coeliac will slip a few into their carry-on bag for a long flight, in case of a catering mixup.

"ANA does a very good job of quite literally showing passengers what they can expect, and puts out a monthly menu with pictures, which it links to at the time of booking if you click on the clearly marked “Meal”. ANA says it provides a little packet of Japanese-style finger sandwiches, not a cooked breakfast, on the Haneda-Sydney flight. If that’s so, I think fruit is a reasonable alternative, though perhaps it would be more visually appealing to offer more than a single banana: a small fruit plate, say."

A spokesperson for ANA told The Independent: "“ANA takes great pride in providing an exemplary customer experience for all passengers, and for this one passenger we did not meet his expectations. We have apologised to him personally and as a result of his experience we are reviewing our policy on gluten free options and how they are served.

“During an international flight on the Tokyo-Sydney route, there are two food services. The first service is a full meal an hour after departure and the second is a snack service two hours before arrival. To accommodate the various food and dietary needs of our passengers, there are several food options including gluten free that are selected when a passenger purchases their ticket.

“On this specific instance, the passenger ordered a gluten free meal and then a gluten free snack. The banana he ordered was the gluten free snack option.

“We make every effort to meet our passengers' needs and in this situation felt we accommodated our guest’s additional food requests inflight by providing an additional regular meal as well as an entrée from the regular menu for his snack. To imply that ANA only serves a banana for a flight of this length is incorrect.”

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