18 April 2014


 April 18, 2014

I have been meaning to post this since my fabulous friends at United Airlines gave me a sneak peek into their new options for gluten-free travelers late last month.  So let’s just file this in my better late than never category.  I have been traveling quite a bit lately and most recently just flew 10,000+ miles down to Buenos Aires and back (on another airline). While I rarely have issues with gluten-free catering on flights one of my most recent flights (again, not United) had a bit of a hiccup stressing the importance of those of us with celiac disease to always be prepared.  I always travel with gluten-free contingency packs of snacks and things just in case…but thankfully when traveling on United I will actually have gluten-free options in all of their cabins — standard.


Here’s a look at the gluten-free on-board dining options:


Premium Cabins

United has already switched from regular to gluten-free salad dressing on its premium-cabin menu on flights departing the United States to points throughout North and Central America – routes that already have flights offering gluten-free soup. With the new salad dressing, premium-cabin customers may enjoy a complete gluten-free meal on flights where both soup and salad are served.

This is particularly nice because I when food is often plated in the galley or in-advance by catering, it is challenging to know what is exactly in certain items.  Salad dressing and soups we previously on my do not eat list because unless the dressing was served in an individual packet/bottle so I could read the ingredients it was always a no go.  It will be so nice to know that I can sit back and enjoy a worry-free first course.

This summer United will add gluten-free options for premium-cabin customers on long-haul international flights departing the United States, including salad dressing for all premium-cabin customers and soup in United Global First.

This is truly fantastic news because when I fly international I typically prefer premium cabins and while I could get a gluten-free main course in the past — I would have to watch my travel companions enjoy the full service while I always felt a little gipped.

Additionally, United has also replaced regular yogurt with Greek yogurt in premium cabins on flights departing the United States to points throughout North and Central America.  Breakfast is always a challenge and to have something other than fruit will be a nice change.


Main Cabin

United refreshed the contents of its Choice Menu Classic, Savory and Tapas Snack Shop snackboxes with more premium offerings. At least half of the items in each snackbox are now gluten-free.  The Savory snackbox is now completely gluten-free. Snack Shop selections are available for purchase in United Economy on most North and Central America flights scheduled for more than two hours and flights to and from northern South America.  The snack boxes range in price from $7.99-$8.99.

My friends at United were kind enough to send me some sample products out of the new snack boxes to try out.

United Airlines Snack Options

A look at the sample snack items.

What’s nice about the gluten-free options in the various snackboxes it that they are recognizable and already trusted brands and feature clearly labeled ingredients for those of us who rely on reading labels.

Additionally, United offers Two Degrees Fruit & Nut Bars as a gluten-free Snack Shop à la carte option. The fruit and nut bars are also available on the airline’s Choice Menu Bistro on Board, on flights departing after 5:45 a.m. and before 9:45 a.m. Bistro on Board offers fresh food for sale in United Economy on most flights scheduled for more than three-and-a-half hours within North America and to Central and northern South America.

I had never tried the Two Degrees bars before but tossed them in my bag on a recent trip (shhh, don’t tell the other airline) and really enjoyed them — not to mention it was a new gluten-free product find for me.

United is adding Chobani Flip Greek yogurt to the breakfast options on its Bistro on Board menu on p.s. “Premium Service” flights between New York JFK and Los Angeles and New York JFK and San Francisco.  Price: $3.99

I commend United for taking the lead in the major airline arena to recognize the importance of catering to those of us with celiac disease across all of the cabin offerings.  You can learn more about United’s full selection of special meal options on their website.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of airlines out there — just like there are many choices when it comes to travel — and companies who take the lead and get it right like United will benefit from the loyalty of celiacs and travelers with special dietary needs.  I know I am looking forward to my next trip on United.

3 responses on “United Airlines Takes GF Lead

  1. BC_GlutenFree says:


    I have a different perspective on this.

    United did at one time allow me to specify GF meal in main cabin as a “special request.” They don’t do that anymore. If you are allergic and want a meal then you need to be in Premium cabins.

    In the main cabin, United does not label GF on their main cabin menus or on the box. I say that based on recently completing 4 legs in the US. The stewardesses do not have any idea or any time to investigate. (However, on a recent flight one stewardess kindly let me open a box to inspect the contents and said she wouldn’t charge me if it didn’t work out.) Finally, although “at least half of the items are gluten free” I can’t say that’s satisfying when you are paying 7.99 or 8.99 for a box of crackers and cheese pods, you can only guess what is GF before you open it, and you can’t eat half of it. I’m a pretty healthy eater so I need multiples. When I travel with my family it’s fun–we just split a couple of boxes by preferences. When I’m on my own, I give it to my seatmates.

    As you say in your lead-in, if you are GF you absolutely have to pack food and come prepared when you travel. For example, I recently flew to Argentina from BOS and the agent neglected to enter my meal request. I had nothing but a two backup food bars the whole way (15 hours). But, having a GF meal option on the plane is very much preferable–it doesn’t have to fit in my backpack, if I have a tight connection or a flight is late I won’t starve, if I’m more hungry today I can supplement, etc.

    In the past I have preferred United but I have to say I’m reconsidering based on their lack of explicit GF options.

    That’s my perspective!

    • Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective! I have only flown long-haul in United’s premium cabins. I did reach out to my contact at United and they do still offer gluten-free meal options (on request) on international flights in their main cabin — but as you mention sometimes there are issues with the request. Unfortunately for domestic travel on United the request can only be made on their p.s. Premium Service flights and on flights to and from Hawaii. I am seeing more airlines that offer food for purchase with a gluten-free option — I recently had the gluten-free snack pack on a JetBlue flight to and from Bermuda. Here’s hoping more airlines begin to realize the importance of offering gluten-free options (buy-on-board or as a special meal request) for travelers who don’t have the luxury of eating what everyone else can. Thanks again for commenting and happy travels!

  2. NB says:

    I really don’t understand the point of the GF dressing in Business Class on UA. If you order a GF meal, you are not given the regular salad at all, but instead receive some iceberg lettuce and a wedge of lemon. So why talk about the GF dressing? Conversely, if you take the regular meal, you are ok on the salad, but have no idea if the appetizer is GF or the main course or even the ice cream. They have not thought this through at all.

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