airplane flying above palm trees

Many of the world’s best airlines tout the capabilities, taste, and presentation of the food they serve, insisting that inflight dining can be an enjoyable, rather than an at-best-tolerated, experience. Onboard chefs may deliver dishes with a thoughtful collection of local and seasonal ingredients paired with a selection of sommelier-selected wines, and diners may be able to choose between a handful of different dishes. But for the millions of Americans who have severe food allergies, the best that most of the airlines can do to ensure your safety with that $10,000 business class ticket is insist you don’t eat their food.

This isn’t even in reference to the often comedically skewered idea of needing to refrain from eating nuts in the presence of other passengers with severe airborne allergies, and providing a cabin atmosphere that’s totally free of nuts is understandably a daunting and perhaps impossible challenge. Instead, we’re referring solely to allergies where the individual needs to actually consume the ingredient in question to have a reaction to them.

The problem then is due to the matter of cross contamination, and food that’s prepared in enormous processing facilities handling endless streams of ingredients in quick succession. If you’re allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, an airline might be able to indicate that a dish doesn’t include those ingredients, but typically cannot guarantee that dishes were prepared in a safe, allergen-free environment.

in flight food tray
Courtesy, Canva

What allergies are we talking about? The nine most common food allergens, as broken down by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), include milk, egg, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nut, shellfish, fish, and sesame. While prevalence and severity differ, each may be more widespread and serious than you imagine. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, .5 to 1% of the U.S. population has a tree nut allergy — representing 1.5 and 3 million people, If the issue has never been on your radar, you’re not alone. Despite my own allergies to specific types of shellfish — those darned, tricky, tentacled cephalopods — such ingredients are easy enough to avoid in western cuisine and rarely if ever a threat for undisclosed flavoring or cross contamination. That’s not the case for allergens that are more widely and liberally deployed in our foods and found across our food production systems.

It’s only after traveling with someone with a more sweeping number of severe food allergies that the complexities of managing them while on the road became clear to me. All too often, long flights become unwanted half-day fasts. In the sky, true luxury is about more than lie-flat business class seating and glasses of Champagne. True luxury is being able to rely upon the safety and availability of your food, and being confident that the parties you’re trusting your health and wellbeing to have reliable protocols that do more than say “don’t eat.”

After surveying a number of the world’s best and biggest airlines, here’s what we were able to find about seven of their specific practices and capabilities.

Can These 7 Airlines Meet Your Needs for Allergen-Free Onboard Dining?

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines routinely ranks among the world’s best in terms of overall quality of experience and service. Perhaps then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’re one of the most accommodating when it comes to capably dealing with passenger allergies.

Singapore offers two dozen special meal requests, ranging from vegetarian meals to religious meals, dietary requirements, and children’s meals. The lineup includes two meals targeted to those with allergies. The first, a minimal allergen meal, “is designed to be free of the following allergens: “gluten, egg, dairy, crustaceans, fish, soy, peanuts and tree nuts (including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, and macadamias), and their derivatives.” There’s also a non-strict nut-free meal, where “ingredients such as groundnuts and legumes are omitted.” It’s recommended to make a request at least 48 hours prior to departure. “Our NFMLA [non-strict nut-free meal] requires advance preparation time and does not contain peanuts and tree nuts.”

Turkish Airlines

airplane preparing for takeoff
Courtesy, Bao Menglong via Unsplash

Turkish Airlines, known for its “flying chefs,” is able to accommodate a number of specific meal requests pertaining to allergies and other needs, even including for certain nuts. “If passengers with hazelnut and peanut allergies, specifically, state their allergies via Turkish Airlines sales channels up to 48 hours before their flight, an allergen-free menu will be prepared for the passenger,” a representative from the airline told me. Other special meal requests can be made through the airline’s website, app, or call center up to 24 hours before a flight.

Overall, Turkish Airlines is able to prepare any number of special meals designed for diets including: diabetic, gluten-free, kosher, Jain-vegetarian Hindu, strict vegan, non-vegetarian Hindu, Asian-vegetarian, and both children and baby meals.

Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific is able to meet the needs of a sweeping range of dietary requests, including: vegetarian Hindu, non-veg Hindu, kosher, halal, vegetarian Jain, non-beef, vegan, and numerous vegetarian specifications and medical-dietary needs. Yet, in its official peanut and tree nut policy, Cathay Pacific indicates it cannot provide food that’s safe for either allergen.

“Cathay Pacific cannot provide peanut and/or tree nuts-free meals. It is with regret that Cathay Pacific cannot guarantee against cross contamination of peanut and/or tree nuts products within the inflight-catering network. Passengers who require peanut and/or tree nuts-free meals are recommended to bring their own food items that do not require chilling or reheating inflight.” While replacement snacks, subject to availability, can be requested, meals are unavailable.

Among other allergens, Cathay offers low-lactose meals, but further indicates these are “not suitable for passengers with cow’s milk allergies.”

Virgin Atlantic

view from out of airplane window
Courtesy, Leon Macapagal via Unsplash

Virgin Atlantic indicates that none of its meals are prepared knowingly with peanuts. “However, our meals are not produced in a nut-free environment, so may contain traces. All other nuts may also be served on our flights to other passengers as part of the menu ingredients and/or the snack service, in any cabin.”

Allergens are indicated for specific dishes and meals, however, refer to ingredients only and not a guarantee of production safety. “Food may contain traces of allergens since they’re processed on or with equipment that makes products that may contain allergens. Because of that, we can’t guarantee the absence of food allergen or peanut traces in our meals, onboard and in our lounges.”


While Delta offers a number of special meals and requests, it is not able to guarantee nut-free dishes coming from its production kitchens. “Our catering kitchens prepare a wide array of food for thousands of Delta customers along with numerous customers outside of Delta daily, so it can be difficult to eliminate cross-contamination risk in such an environment,” a representative said.

However, on certain flights and in certain classes of service, Delta is beginning to offer a new option. “We have developed an allergen-friendly meal, Simply-Prepared Chicken, with the help of nutritionists on our lunch and dinner domestic flights that is prepared without the nine major allergens,” the rep said. “This is part of our standard slate of pre-select options for Delta One and first-class customers. We will be expanding the availability of this meal to more markets over the coming year to give our customers more options to eat well while minding dietary needs.”


plane descending in switzerland
Courtesy, Pascal Meier via Unsplash

Emirates is able to meet the needs of certain food allergies, but not all of them. “We serve gluten-friendly and low-lactose meals, as well as meals to suit other medical conditions,” the airline indicates. Those with nut allergies are out of luck, though. “We can’t guarantee our meals are nut free.”

Elsewhere Emirates serves 13 different religious or dietary special meals. On top of that, you can order cakes or Champagne 48 hours ahead of your flight to help celebrate a special occasion. (The former are free for business and first-class customers, and the latter is already offered for them.) While that might not help with your allergies, it might help the mood of the people you’re traveling with.

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways provides 19 special meals serving a number of religious and dietary needs, including a non-lactose meal and a gluten-free meal for individuals suffering from either of those allergies. However, once again, nuts are a step too far.

“Qatar Airways does not provide nut-free meals,” the airline’s information indicates. “We also do not guarantee against cross contamination of nuts within our inflight network.”

Featured Image Courtesy of Canva