It is great that our National airline, Air Malta, is one of the few airlines in Europe that still offer free in- flight meals. Some airlines have ceased to serve these in economy class to cut costs. But if Air Malta are choosing to use the fact that they are one of the few still providing in-flight meals as a marketing strategy, did they have to stop serving all special meals except vegetarian? They should know that some people follow a special diet due to a medical condition. So why target this group of people to cut costs?
Amongst others, people who suffer from coeliac disease have been affected by this. For anybody reading this who does not know what this condition is, I will give a short summary.
It is a well-defined, serious illness where the body’s immune system attacks itself when gluten is eaten. This causes damage to the lining of the gut, and means that the body cannot properly absorb nutrients from food- resulting in many symptoms and complications if not treated. Coeliac disease affects about 1% of the population, and 5-10 % of people with type 1 diabetes. The only treatment is a lifelong strict gluten-free diet, and even a few crumbs can make a person with coeliac disease ill. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives. and is thus found hidden in many food items and food must be prepared in a gluten free environment for it to be safe for coeliacs.
So, if you think about it, there is not much that a person with coeliac disease can buy to eat from the airport once security is cleared. Keep in mind that gluten free food for coeliacs must have no traces of gluten, so it is not like one can order another meal and eat what we can from the plate. It has to be specifically prepared.
What would a a child with coeliac disease feel if she is hungry and is unable to eat like other passengers on the plane? Imagine having to fly to a European destination to catch a connecting flight, and having nothing to eat except the few snacks coeliacs carry with them in their carry on luggage because no meal is provided on board, and no gluten-free options are found at the airport. Did they even consider that a diabetic with coeliac disease would have no option when regular meals are advised for health reasons?.
But it is the last sentence in the On Board Experience piece on Air Malta’s website that prompted me to write this:
If you have any special dietary requirements, then please ask one of our cabin crew for a vegetarian option, which is available on all flights”
This is frankly thoughtless and insulting to anybody with coeliac disease, or for anybody who suffers from diabetes, allergies or intolerances for that matter.
It can also be dangerous. We are talking about people’s health here! Does Air Malta know that if a sandwich made with wheat bread is given to a coeliac that they can get severely ill?
For a coeliac, a gluten free diet is not a choice. It is a necessity. Although some coeliacs may choose to follow a vegetarian diet, their meals should still be totally gluten free.
Air Malta, please do not offend us by offering a vegetarian meal for any special diet.
At least, revise your meals to make one special meal that suits all- vegetarian/gluten free/ nut free/ lactose free. With a little effort, it is possible.