On March 30th, 2008, traveling between the United States and Europe may get easierâ€¦ or at least more competitive. Thatâ€™s the day that the new transatlantic flight pact (commonly known as â€œopen skiesâ€) goes into effect, allowing airlines to fly between any two airports in the regions. In the past, a British Airways flight en route to New York had to originate in the UK. Now, it could originate in Paris or Prague. Open skies is being hailed as a significant change in the travel industry — though charges to compensate for increasing fuel prices may mean that the price of a ticket wonâ€™t drop that much.
I know that no one chooses an airline based on its willingness to offer gluten-free meals, but if the amount of competition for your travel dollars increases, this is an issue to keep in mind. When I flew to Lima, Peru, last fall on American Airlines, I was dismayed to discover that there was no gluten-free meal for me on the flight there or back. Both my husband and I had called American to confirm the request, and Iâ€™d even mentioned it to the gate agent in New York; she checked and found it in the system. However, once I was on the plane, the flight attendant informed me that no gluten-free meals were available on the flight, period. This was because American Airlines had defined it as a â€œshortâ€ international flight, since it lasted only six hours (I had flown on American from New York to Miami, where I caught my connecting flight to Lima). The flight attendant was as helpful as she could be — she got me three mini-salads, which were naturally gluten-free — but there wasnâ€™t much to be done (this is why I always have a celiac-safe protein bar in my bag).
This was a stark contrast with my flight to Santiago, Chile, a year before. That time I flew on LAN, which quickly became my favorite airline. Say what you will about how unpleasant it is to fly these days, but LANâ€™s friendly, helpful staff made it a pleasure. Not only did I get some surprisingly tasty gluten-free meals on my flights to and from Chile, but even the snacks were gluten-free. (Iâ€™ve had positive experiences with gluten-free meals on British Airways and Swiss International Air Lines, too, but this was the first time that even the snacks were safe for me.)
I just checked with American Airlines, and they are offering gluten-free meals on all of their flights to Europe. This makes sense, since the competition is about to get stiffer. But, in case youâ€™re flying to Peru anytime soon, take note — there are still no gluten-free meals on Americanâ€™s flights to Lima, but there are on LAN’s.