Virgin Blue criticised over gluten-free meals in new inflight menu

By David Flynn, March 11 2011
Virgin Blue criticised over gluten-free meals in new inflight menu

Virgin Blue’s new inflight menu created by Australian chef Luke Mangan has been criticised by travellers over a lack of gluten-free meal options for coeliac sufferers and those with wheat allergies.

The menu itself is also coming under fire for not providing information on which foods might be suitable for people with allergies to wheat, dairy and other products.

Cheryl Jones, a Melbourne-based training professional with a national company who travels up to 100 days per year to capital cities and regional centres around Australia, flew with Virgin Blue the day the new menu was launched.

“I was disheartened to see not only was there no substantial gluten-free food option” says Jones, who is unable to eat gluten due to coeliac disease.

The only gluten-free food items are the noodle salad meal (don't use the dressing, which comes in a separate container and contains gluten) and the fruit snack pack – the Carmans muesli bar is wheat-free but still contains gluten. A larger problem, Jones contends, is that the menu itself isn't appropriately labelled.

Unlike the former Virgin Blue menu which flagged many items as suitable for travellers with specific food allergies, none of the glutel free items are flagged for the benefit of passengers.

Australian Business Traveller received similar feedback from a public relations executive, who asked to remain anonymous due to her work in the travel industry.

“It’s a step backwards when information like that is left off the menu, forcing you to ask the cabin crew – who are already pretty busy – about what’s safe to eat if you have certain allergies or conditions” she said.

As Jones explained to Australian Business Traveller ,“I’ve had to learn how to read food ingredients and become aware of the legal requirements for wheat disclosure because it’s my food issue, not somebody else’s. It’s not my aim to seem unreasonable or unmindful of the challenges to creating a set menu option to suit an increasing range of tastes, palettes and affordability.”

“Equally though, I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to ask a professional catering establishment to clearly label items and refrain from further ostracising those who need access to that information.”

Jones says that while she prefers to fly with Virgin Blue “for the staff, service and experience” she will opt for Qantas for flights over two hours because the airline has a superior range of gluten-free meals, “as will other staff within my organisation who are also gluten or dairy-sensitive.”

Australian Business Traveller raised these issues with Virgin Blue. A spokeswoman for the airline said that in designing the new menu “we gave particular consideration to people who had special dietary requirements” and pointed to vegetarian options such as the Mediterranean vegetable panini and the vermicelli noodle salad.

The noodle salad seems the go-to meal for many travellers with food allergies, as it’s also recommended as a lactose-free option.

Jones notes that Carmans, which supplies muesli bars to Virgin Blue, also has a gluten-free muesli available in a sachet size and suggested this could make a useful addition to the Virgin Blue breakfast menu for morning flights.

Virgin Blue's spokeswoman told Australian Business Traveller that the airline would “continue to regularly review the menu and we welcome feedback from our guests as part of that process."


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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