Hi! It’s Alex here and I wanted to share my experiences flying gluten-free to and from Japan on the two major domestic carriers JAL and ANA. I made two solo trips with my gluten and egg-free daughter between Tokyo and Chicago in 2019 when she was around 10 and 18 months old.
Part 1: Japan Airlines (JAL)
- Adult Gluten-Free Meal
- Baby Allergen Meal
- Tips for Traveling with a Baby
I requested our seat preferences and meals a few months in advance through the JAL English customer service call center. This number couldn’t have been easier to find online compared to ANA which hides their contact info so you’ll never find it.
Since I was traveling with a LAP BABY under the age of 2. We contacted the call center to request the bulkhead baby bassinet seat which is available for children under 2 and 10.5kg (23lbs) or less.
Over the phone, we were able to request an adult gluten-free meal and a special baby allergen-free meal. JAL doesn’t offer gluten-free options for children or babies but they do have a “Minimal Allergen 27 baby meal.” I tried to call and ask if we could pay extra to get my daughter an adult gluten-free meal but it’s not possible for a child traveling on a lap.
Through the JAL website it seems you can also reserve some special meals when you login with your booking number. Though this doesn’t include special minimal allergen meals. So it may be worth calling to confirm all your preferences.
JAL gluten-free meal
Let’s be honest, economy class airplane food isn’t anything to get excited about, and GLUTEN-FREE airplane food isn’t an exception.
Since our flights were around 12 hours long, I received two full meals and a sandwich for a snack. Though I have flown JAL in the past and know their reputation for having great service, I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular about the meal. But I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor, quantity, and variety of the food on JAL.
+ Good variety of food and side dishes.
+ Food was flavorful and plentiful.
+ Requesting over the phone was very easy.
+ Customer service agent was very helpful and thorough about our allergies.
– They give out Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream after the main meal but didn’t want to give it to me. It took A LOT of convincing to get it.
Minimal Allergen 27 Baby Meal
This meal is given to babies under the age of 2, who aren’t traveling in their own seat. As the customer service at ANA explained, the full adult or child meals are assigned with a seat ticket, so you cannot give extra or upgrade meals outside of the ticketed allowance.
If you are traveling with a child in their own seat, or above the age of two, it seems like they will receive an adult allergen meal as I can’t find any info on a specific CHILD minimal allergen meal.
This meal is not labeled as gluten-free but it is wheat-free along with 26 other allergens based on the Japanese allergen labeling system.
+ The customer service AND flight attendants were very thorough in asking about my daughter’s allergies.
+ On the return flight, the flight attendants made an extra pack of rice for my daughter, though it can’t be counted on for each flight.
+ The meal is a hot and not from a jar.
+ The meal included rice crackers for a snack.
+ Diapers were included in the flight service for babies.
– There is only ONE MEAL the whole 12 hour flight! So be ready to supplement if your child is a big eater like mine.
– The meal (in our case) consisted of a single fish burger in sauce. No rice or side dishes.
– The dessert is a sweet jelly that may be too sugary for younger babies.
Tips for traveling with a baby
- USE THE LUGGAGE ALLOWANCE! Lap babies can get their own suitcase (same size and weight as economy class passengers), stroller AND child seat to check-in for free!
- The JAL baby bed:
- If you are in the aisle bulkhead seat the bed was in the way of my monitor and I had to climb over the armrest every time I wanted to get out.
- The baby bed on the way there was 75% closed by a cover so it was nearly impossible to slide a sleeping baby into the bed without waking them up. On the way back it wasn’t closed all the way and we could get my daughter in for a short nap.
- BRING EXTRA FOOD!
- My suggestions are sliced gf bread, baked sweet potatoes, rice balls, applesauce or puree pouches.
- The security check staff at the airport were very lenient about liquids for babies, including distilled bottled water for making bottles, baby food pouches and jars etc. They will usually take it for an additional check, but I got all my things back in the end.
- A few of the bathrooms DO have changing tables above the toilets that most people don’t even realize are there because they haven’t had to use them.
- The staff will go above and beyond to help you make the flight smooth.
Have you tried the JAL gluten-free meals or have traveled with a baby on JAL flights? Let us know in the comments what you thought!
If anyone is interested I also have toy and activity tips for babies on planes, though not gf related. If you’d like to hear some ideas, I could also do a post about long-haul flights with kids.