Living and working overseas

Airline meals - Special Meals

An airline is in the business of making money, so everything they do is generally dictated by the bottom line – the profit. When it comes to in-flight food airlines normally cost each meal out on a per passenger basis (and then tender out the catering to suit). Airlines calculate to spend (for example) $5.00 per passenger on average for the meals they provide for a particular flight. Not all airlines are created equal in this regard however, as some airlines are happy to spend a reasonable amount per passenger for food, while others try to spend as little as possible. It could be assumed from this that the food cost per passenger is normally reflected in the price of the ticket, but sadly this is not always the case.

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As a result of keeping the cost of the food down, so too are the choices that are available to passengers when it comes to in-flight meals. But there are alternatives to the standard fare that are available and the only pre-requisite is that you ask for it with enough notice.

Generally speaking, most airlines offer what is known as ‘special meals’. These are meals that are prepared especially for passengers with special dietary needs, such as meals for children, religiously prepared meals, vegetarian, low fat or low salt, dairy-free and so forth. Special meals can also be prepared for those who have allergies to particular foods. The airline’s only obligation under this arrangement is to provide you with a meal that is comparable to those that are regularly served to other passengers during the flight. Check with your airline as to the meals that they have available as they normally provide a set range of options to choose from.

To request a special meal for your flight make sure that you inform the airline, or your travel agent, at least two days before you are due to depart. Generally speaking you only need to give the airline 24 hrs notice, but the more time you can give them the better.

There is no additional cost for ordering a special meal, but the onus is on you to ensure that you are specific about what you do or do not want in your meal. If you have an allergy to particular foods for example, be very specific about what foods you cannot have. The airline will do its best in all cases to accommodate your requirements, but they cannot anticipate your needs if you do not tell them.

If you do request a special meal it’s normally a good idea to confirm this with the airline when you confirm your flight some 24 hrs before departure. While not all airlines require you to confirm your flight these days you should consider doing so to ensure your special meal has been acknowledged. When entering the aircraft for your flight, or at some point before the meals are served, you may want to check with a flight attendant that you are marked for a special meal. If there has been an error and your meal is not available, or the airline has forgotten to load that meal on the aircraft for whatever reason, you should ask for a meal voucher as compensation. You will normally be able to use these vouchers at a food establishment at the destination or transit airport. Most airlines will be more than willing to compensate you in this fashion if they have neglected to supply you with a special meal when requested. Remember though that if the airline has forgotten your meal, don’t take it out on the cabin staff. It’s not their fault, and they will normally do what they can to help you if you are polite and reasonable.

If you’re in-flight and find that you cannot eat any of the meals on offer from the regular menu, you can always wait for the meal service to finish and then ask the cabin attendants if there are any special meals left. Most airlines offer a choice of meal (for example, a choice between a fish or a chicken meal) and in some cases the passengers first choice runs out before they get served. In those cases, particularly if you state that you are unable to eat what is left, they may be able to provide you with a meal from first or business class if there are any left. Be polite to the attendants and they may be able to help you.

Of course, all of this aside, you could very well bring your own food on board the plane. Some airlines frown on this alternative, and you might well be advised to check out import and export regulations in the countries you are travelling from/to as some foodstuffs are not permitted through customs. If you do bring your own food on board, have some consideration for your fellow travellers. The smells and tastes that you are accustomed to might not be appetizing to others.

Bon appetite!

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