How To Get Vegan Meals When Flying 

 November 29, 2020

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While 2020 has been a complete disaster for travel and airlines, there is now a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, and many people are starting to once again dream of travel.  Ah, the sandy beaches of Thailand, or the trekking mecca of Nepal, or the romantic vibe of Paris... 

.. and the airplane food on the way there.  Ugh.. 

Let's face it: airplane food is pretty terrible in general, but for vegans, it's a total disaster.  While many airlines now do have a vegetarian option, it's usually saturated in cream and cheese, so us vegan have to make do with the side salad and whatever pieces of fruit that can be rustled up by the flight attendants.  

The good news is that Qatar Airline, one of the biggest/best airlines in the world, announced they would have a vegan option on all flights flying out of Doha, and some selected flights into Qatar.  Hurrah!   The downside here is that it's only for premium customers (i.e. business and first class) for the moment. However, it's a massive step in the right direction, and we can only hope other airlines follow suit! 

The other good news is that most airlines DO have a 100% plant-based options, regardless of seating class!  The not-so-good news is that they're not always all that good or creative, but they will at least provide some nourishment.

The trick to getting a vegan meal is to book it as a special meal ahead of your flight.  All airlines have their own policy about this, in terms of how long before a flight you should reserve any "special" meals, so do check with them.   And they all have their own booking procedure, but in general you should be able to book this either during the ticket booking process itself, or afterwards when you log onto the airline's website.  Look for the "manage your booking" option (or similar) and enter your booking number which should be on your confirmation email. You should be able to choose your preferred meal option from there.   If not, then a quick call to their customer center will do the trick.  Again, make sure to do this at least 48-hours PRIOR to your flight, if not before!

When booking your meal - either on the airline's website or through their customer phone line - things will go much quicker if you look for (or give the customer service rep) the code VGML.  That's the international airline code for a vegan meal.   There may be another option with the Jain meal but not all airlines create these meals the same way, with some including dairy products.   Again, inquire directly with the airline on the ingredients used, or for simplicity, it's best to just stick with the VGML option (100% vegan).

Even with pre-ordering, errors are sadly often made with special meals.  Your meal might be served with butter and a non-vegan bread roll, ice-cream or milk chocolate, etc.  Other times, your meals will just be plain boring.  We've flown in business class many times (on miles!) and, more often than not, have been completely aghast at the terrible value of the meal, compared to other travelers who were gouging themselves on caviar, steak and even lobster.  Of course, we have no interest in those particular dishes, but the principle is that vegans should get equal treatment here, especially if they've actually paid for a higher class of travel!

If your meal contains non-vegan items or is terrible, then it's a good idea to immediately inform the flight attendants, as this on-the-job training may very well be the only vegan education they will get on the subject.  Often flight attendants will write this up in their post-flight report and if enough of these are made then perhaps airlines will start taking veganism a bit more seriously!  Don't forget to send in some feedback post-flight as well, directly to the airline's customer center.  In the past, our grievances have garnered us some free miles, and even a monetary voucher for another trip!

In the end, you shouldn't plan on the airline having your back completely. and it's a good idea to bring a lot of snacks to complement whatever you're served.   This will serve you well for any time spent at the airport as well, whether it be before the flight or during a lengthy layover.  While some lounges (airline-owned or private) may have some vegan items, it's always best to travel prepared:

  • do make sure to pack food that will not perish if it isn't refrigerated;
  • you'll want food that will help you stay full for hours, then slow-release carbs, such as nuts, dried fruits and cereals, are good options;
  • while packing, be aware of which items will pass security and which ones won’t.  Depending on where you are coming from regulations may vary. You can use these lists as reference:  Food Guidelines for Europe and TSA Food Guidelines
With enough planning your future travels will be pleasant experiences and you certainly won’t go hungry on your next dream holiday!

Why not check out our guide to the 7 Apps that no vegan traveler should be without!

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