The spitefullness of airplane food poisoning

The spitefullness of airplane food poisoning

Mrs B has a gift for fossicking in research, and she always does the right thing. And one of those things was taking up Cathy Pacific on their gluten free meal (read about why she’s gluten free).

We were on route on honeymoon to Iceland (and rest of Europe). The flight was Brisbane to Hong Kong then onwards to London then Iceland. Quite possibly the farthest away from Australia one can get.

So in the excitement of finally packing, handing our house over to our lovely housesitter and gearing up for Europe, it was all coming true, save for our flight being delayed for three hours.

After Mrs B got her gluten free meal and 6 hours into the flight she became unwell. Really unwell.

That was dinner. Breakfast came and she got her second meal but recoiled in refusal that she was feeling very ill. This time it was an omelette. I picked at it, as well as slurping down the beef congee I’d ordered in a similar fashion as the old Chinese lady next to me. She often gestured help to me when she needed to select an option of her entertainment screen, and was equally unapologetic in shoving us aside when she disembarked.

By the time we were descending, Mrs. B started vomiting violently. She’d only just held out long enough for staff to get a plastic bag before she lurched, curved and expelled. Mrs B uttered it was the chicken in the meal through the smell of bile.

Quite likely. I thought about it critically – the plane was 3 hours late, the food would have been hanging around in some warming tray (because they would have cooked it separately), and also no other person on the flight got a gluten free meal. Flight crew were helpful bringing water, wipes and bags while Mrs B had tears streaming down her face from the forced ejection with puke sloshing in a semi transparent bag mirroring her stomach seconds before. Our airspace filled with the aversive aroma of partly digested food. In a situation like this helpless husbands can only offer words of consolation and gentle pats on the back, assuming that with every heave and teary spit achieves its therapy.

The airline crew asked: does she normally get airplane sickness?


Then I’d try to explain, she got the gluten free meal to them, in English as their second language; their response? Oh so she’s allergic to gluten then.


And as soon as I foolishly mentioned this was the first leg of a flight on our way for honeymoon the idea was sown for morning sickness. Explanation was futile.

Mrs B’s vomiting continued as the rest of the plane disembarked. It’s remarkable how many airline crew actually work on a plane. They all gathered around speaking in Cantonese.

When Mrs B was stable enough we walked her off to rest in the gantry waiting area for a wheelchair to arrive. The vomiting couldn’t wait while we were hanging around for staff who push the wheel chairs. They move with no real intention of urgency.

Our next flight was leaving in 30 minutes.

Airplane crew handed us over to the staff in the terminal who advised because of Mrs B’s condition they had a duty of care not to allow her to fly (11.30 am flight). She’d require a certificate from a doctor, then verification from the airline’s own medical doctor to make the next leg of the journey to London. Our baggage would be taken to a hold until we were OK to fly.

They advised a flight would be leaving again at 2pm, 6pm and a 12am to London. The 2pm flight would be out of the question. We might make the 6pm if for some miraculous turnaround in Mrs B’s condition but given the no sleep and post-vomit stupor, it was a bridge too far. Perhaps the 12am flight with a lie down for the day?

Balancing an unexpected immigration in your choice of Chinese dialect and consoling a vomiting wife the thought of the Kefir had rightly slipped my mind. Airline crew helped us through the process while I sorted paperwork and passports. Hong Kong airport has an inbuilt medical centre where the desperately sick or sickly desperate present to make the next leg of their journey. Other confused passengers-turned-patients glumly sat in an airspace almost designed to incubate disease. The ceiling was low and air was a muggy miasma.

Priority one was to stop Mrs B from pulling up nothing but elastic ropes of stomach slime. This helpless horror happened while passing through immigration (giving renewed vigour to the officer processing our visas), and waiting in the airless doctor’s clinic in front of other patients with seemingly less urgent malaise. The Chinese are sweet and well meaning spectators of sickness. Two of them offered small packets of tissues and water in paper cones, with furrowed faces of commiseration.

An hasty expat British doctor with as much care as a robotic toilet examined Mrs B and advised she’d need rest and a shot of Zofran to stop the vomiting. Oh, and that he’d like to see her tomorrow at 7am before granting a certificate. We couldn’t wait around for tomorrow because of the connecting flight to Iceland, and we’d been locked down until the airline’s own medicos had examined Mrs B.

The airline staff were peerless in their help but the cynic in me suspects they had an inkling of culpability. They had chaperoned us the entire way from handing-off at the gantry and offering different scenarios to get to London. This version to make it in time for Iceland’s flight was plan B: find accomodation close to the airport have a sleep for 7 or so hours, come back around 9pm before the doctors close that night, get your certificate, then be London-bound by 12am. Technically we’d have to wait until 1pm London time the following day to board for Iceland but hey, we’d make our flight. But for that Mrs B would need to be better.

Airline staff helped to find cheap-ish accomodation navigate the human highways of Hong Kong airport and peg us right in front of the shuttle bus to the Marriott hotel. They wrote out step by step instructions of where to meet them once we’d arrived back at the hotel and what needed to be done. Their procedural acumen was impressive.

We pulled it off.

Mrs B started to feel better. But not because I offered the best Char Sui Bao in the airport terminal, or because the hotel hallway air smelt like damp cigarettes and charcoal. On the contrary, the aforementioned caused her to relapse into the bleating muffled vomit melody. It was the marbled space of a medicinal hot shower, crackling linen of a kingsized bed and 7 still hours of uninterrupted convalescence with oral rehydration salts. Mrs B bounced back quicker than I anticipated.

Eight hours later we’d acquired the all clear from a more compassionate masked doctor, we had the coveted certificate to present to airline. Shortly after we got the OK from the airline’s own medical team and we were on track to London to still make the correct Iceland flight. Thirty minutes later we were checked-in and paying airport price for dim sum and fighting over the last bits of chicken congee, shrimp rice flour rolls, prawn dumplings, and choi sum in chicken broth. I know when Mrs B is truly back when she can’t resist food. All of which was naturally gluten free.