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I am used to flight short-haul flights. Usually they offer chicken or mozzarella sandwiches.

For my next trip I fly long distance and about 8 hours. I am aware that meals will be served and I requested vegetarian meals. My request was confirmed on the website of my company.

Do I need to ask for my special meal in the airplane or may I expect that my vegetarian meal is served without any actions by me to my seat?

Are there any other things I should take care of?

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    On addition to the good answer below. In the flights that I've taken, often times they will walk along the airplane before departure and confirm all the special meals as well as put a sticker on the seat. – drat Jun 8 '16 at 6:50
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    Book it specially at booking time, confirm it at check-in, confirm it again at the gate, confirm it again on the plane, and with luck and a following wind you might just get it. But take some emergency food just in case you don't. (A family member is dairy-allergic and numerous airlines have failed to deliver on this front in the past). – A E Jun 8 '16 at 11:29
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    As someone who flies frequently with dietary requirements I keep something small with me that gets me through a flight if my meal fails to materialize (which has happened 3 times in 190 long haul legs) I keep protein bars in my carry on. Also many airlines have snacks available upon request. Emirates has fruit and instant noddles. – Stuart Jun 8 '16 at 14:01
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    @AE I once asked for a lactose-free meal and when I got a my meal they told me just to throw away the cheese. – phoog Jun 8 '16 at 22:18
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    I've always got the special meal ordered (without asking for) but the only caveat is that many airlines deliver special meals much before they bring standard food trolleys resulting in a weird situation where you are the only one around in an area eating food attracting (or distracting if they are sleeping) with munching sounds (f you do) and aroma. – helloworld Jun 9 '16 at 16:55
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I have requested many times vegan/vegetarian meals on long-haul flights.

Normally they are pretty well organized and you won't have to ask for the meal. My strategy is just to wait and if given the normal food, then I politely remind them I have a special arrangement. In hundred of flights, this has only happened maybe 1 or 2 times.

In most airlines, they deliver the special meals ahead of time and only then will they start delivering the normal menus. It is a rare ocurrence that the crew will make the effort of delivering your meal in sync with everyone else [Turkish Airlines however managed delivering in sync pretty well].

I will also add that often in the vegetarian menu, the desserts and breakfasts are far nicer than the alternatives, as they won't give you that terrible egg substitute and you often get real fruit instead of the boring generic cakes. [and I prefer to know what I am eating rather than eating something I do not know how was made ]

The experience may vary because often the service crew/crew does not understand the concept and nuances of vegetarianism, from ovo-lacto to strict vegetarianism. From my experience, in the UK and middle east airlines often they got it right as they frequently have Indian/Hindu customers.

Also from the voice of experience, the request has to be done at booking time. By check-in time, the logistics are already in motion and they won't be able to cater to your preferences.

As @happybuddha correctly points out, it is always sensible to ask at check in/boarding time wether you have the meal in place or not. However, if there was a fault it will not always be corrected. The process is unreliable at best, depends on the willingness of the parties involved, and of a member of the crew taking the time to coordinate/fetch your meal from the service crew and carrying it by hand to the plane.

You may however have the luck of them having a extra veg meal by some other motive. Once I asked why I was not given my veg meal, and whilst I was told it was not in the system, I was asked if I would not mind having a hindu meal instead.

Be aware, when a plane is "upgraded" at the last minute, or there is a malfunction and there is a plane change, all bets are off. There is a strong possibility that they won't have time to deal with the logistics and will just load a generic meal for x passengers.

If you miss a flight/connection, forget about your special meal. As I said before, at check-in time they won't be able to change meals, even though they may say they will to try to keep you happy - in a small airport/company someone of the crew might be tasked to carry the meal, it already happened with me, but it was a courtesy and it is not a common occurrence. The meals are usually already in the plane, or already prepared to be loaded in the plane by that time. It seems pretty much a requirement in many airlines that any special meal has to be booked at least 48h in advance.

Even for non-vegetarians it may be worth looking at special meals - for instance Emirates Airlines and Turkish airlines have a wide choice, including several ethnic choices and sea food.

Please do note that in some short-haul flights, you might have hot meals as well if you buy the meal at booking time, like in Cebu Pacific or Cathay Pacific airlines. The price can be competitive compared to having a meal/snack at a restaurant/coffee shop in the airport, and it also can save you valuable time.

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    "In hundred of flights, this has only happened maybe 1 or 2 times." My experience is different: in dozens of flights, my special meal order has completely disappeared 3 or 4 times (as in, wasn't there even when I asked for it). It seems to often get lost between booking website and airline -- some airlines seem to only handle meal orders more than 24 hours in advance but less than 48 hours. – Max Jun 7 '16 at 21:40
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    Your meal is more likely to disappear on flights where there are few vegetarians. On Air India, the crew always ask you if you want veg or non-veg, and they have plenty of both. An Air France flight to India "lost" my meal, even though there were plenty of Indians aboard and they should have been prepared. – Shantnu Tiwari Jun 8 '16 at 9:54
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    @Shantnu In addition to your comments, Air India had, the last time I flew with them, 7 different vegetarian options - Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, vegan, etc. – Chris Walton Jun 8 '16 at 13:19
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    “often in the vegetarian menu, the desserts and breakfasts are far nicer than the alternatives” A matter of taste, I guess, but I’ve always felt the opposite — everyone else gets a nice piece of chocolate cake, I get a desultory fruit salad of unripe melon and limp grapes. – PLL Jun 9 '16 at 4:25
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    @RuiFRibeiro - ah, no, the veg menu is there for people who want to eat vegetarian, not supposedly "healthy" catering and any healthiness or lack thereof is not really relevant. It can be a problem to attribute the wrong motives, it can make it way to easy to lose the actual reason behind the supposed secondary one. Also, I'm not sure which cakes you've seen with gelatin, it's usually pies that aren't safe (lard in the crusts) - and milk is fine for many vegetarians, anyway. – Megha Sep 3 '16 at 9:09
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A full list of special meals types is available on wikipedia. Not every one is available on every airline, for example here is Etihad's selection. There are quite a number of meal types that are vegetarian, so you don't have to restrict yourself to just the normal VLML, and might want to try one of the others for a change:

VGML - Vegetarian Meal (usually called Vegetarian Vegan on most airlines)

  • Contains all types of fruits and vegetables.
  • Does not contain any meat, fish or animal by-products (like animal fat in biscuits).
  • Does not contain dairy products.

VJML - Vegetarian Jain meal

  • Contains non-root vegetables only.
  • Does not contain any root vegetables like onions, ginger, garlic, potatoes, carrots or animal/animal by-products.
  • Prepared Asian style.
  • Suitable for a section of the Indian community who are strict vegetarians.

AVML - Asian Vegetarian Meal

  • Contains all types of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
  • Does not contain any type of meat, fish or eggs.
  • Prepared according to subcontinent taste (mildly spicy to spicy).
  • Can qualify as a Hindu meal.

FPML - Fruit Platter

  • Contains seasonal fruits.
  • Suitable for guests who are fasting or has dietary needs.

VLML - Vegetarian Lacto-Ovo Meal

  • Contains dairy products.
  • Does not contain any meat or meat products, fish, poultry or products with lard or gelatine.
  • Suitable for guests who do not eat flesh of any kind but can eat milk and cheese products.

RVML - Raw Vegetable Meal

  • Contains mainly raw vegetables and salads.

SFML - Seafood Meal - ok, not vegetarian, but some quasi vegetarians (pescetarians) might like it

  • Contains all types of fish or shellfish.
  • Does not contain meat products.
  • Does not apply to breakfast.
  • Suitable for guests who prefer seafood.

VOML - Vegetarian Oriental Meal

  • Contains fruits and vegetables.
  • Does not contain meat, fish, eggs or dairy products.
  • Prepared in Chinese style.
  • Suitable for oriental vegetarians.

Alternatively:

CLML - Celebration Cake Meal on Turkish Airlines

  • We serve Celebration Cake (CLML) only for our TK Miles & Smiles members.
    It's possible to order this for a flight within 3 days of your birthday
  • The experience is pretty much consistent with my flights in Emirates. Be aware of your tolerance to strong condiments though. Pity much airlines do not offer such a wide choice. – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 7 '16 at 21:36
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    VGML is vegan, I believe, not vegetarian. – Paul R Jun 7 '16 at 22:31
  • @PaulR True. It seems Etihad just call it vegetarian, most other airlines call it vegan vegetarian. Will update. Thanks – Berwyn Jun 7 '16 at 22:35
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    CLML sounds wonderful! – jogloran Jun 8 '16 at 4:01
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    An airline may also claim to offer a wide selection of these, but that doesn't mean they're all different. E.g. an VGML could be the same as the AVML. I've also seen VOML interpreted as subcontinental (like AVML). – Max Jun 10 '16 at 8:48
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I'm a vegetarian and in every int'l flight I've ever been on, they hand out the special-diet meals first. It's an extra perk. On my last flight the woman next to me asked why mine was first then figured she'd do the same next time she flew...just to get her food faster :)

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    yep, 99% they give it first. Does she understand there is no meat, fries, burgers and in more strict menus no milk? 😝 – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 7 '16 at 21:27
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    @RuiFRibeiro: Which airlines serve fries and burgers even as their ordinary meal? – Henning Makholm Jun 7 '16 at 21:31
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    I am jesting...but if you had seen what i have been given in some flights... fries are pretty common – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 7 '16 at 21:39
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    There are issues with getting your meal first, getting out to use the bathroom often is impossible or extreamly discouraged until after the regular meals have been delivered and then collected from your row. – Stuart Jun 8 '16 at 15:17
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    @Stuart You indeed get more time blocked in your seat, however in long haul flights it is not supposed to make a difference. Except maybe in a flight with an idiotic crew of Emirates where they left everyone with the trays more than 2h maybe because they did not want people using the wcs for whatever reason...You can bet if I am in an aisle, tray or not, I will manage to leave my seat. – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 9 '16 at 7:10
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It's best to take some extra food with you. There may be problems with the food they serve, or it may not be enough. I always do this because I eat way more than average while on planes they serve minuscule amounts of food. On the plane I'll eat whatever is served first, keeping the food I've brought with me as reserve for later.

  • This. I travel with my small children on long-haul flights on occasion. If they mess up our special meals, I'm not going to starve and neither are they. – sq33G Nov 29 '16 at 8:19
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In addition to this post https://travel.stackexchange.com/a/70930/4584 I also recommend you confirming this when collecting your boarding pass.

I once flew with a diabetic mate of mine and despite instructions when booking and confirming again with their customer care, his request for a vegetarian meal was not honored in Delta Airlines. Flying from Dallas to Dubai was a night mare as he was single mindedly occupied with monitoring his glucose levels.

In another flight I experienced a human error. The conversation went : Is this fish ? - Yeah, I see you ordered a vegetarian meal which wasn't really necessary as we are serving fish in the menu today.

So being doubly sure is something you can do in addition.

  • It is a sensible recommendation. I have done it a few times, they were not always able to correct it. When I was vegan, I had to do salvage from the food whatever suited me. It is not an easy theme, even many vegetarians do not know many brands of cheese, wine and sweets have traces/residues of meat products. – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 8 '16 at 7:08
  • @Don_Biglia A meal increases blood sugar. My mate is a vegEtarian. Being a diabetic he needs his sugars regulated. Does this help ? – happybuddha Jun 9 '16 at 22:35
  • But not everything in a meal will increase the blood sugar, most meat has very little impact on sugar levels. So I fail to see the problem to go to a 'nightmare' from one meal. Could be I'm missing something completely, but might be your mate made a bad call on his insulin, which I'm afraid is not the airlines fault and could be easily rectified by either additional insulin or eating something else. But it's not really the place to discuss this here. (And I'm fairly familiar with being diabetic btw.) – Don_Biglia Jun 10 '16 at 6:46
  • @Don_Biglia - if he was vegetarian for other reasons, it might actually be relevant - as the "usually safe" portions of a nonveg meal tend to be starches and desserts, which will raise the blood sugar more. It might also matter if he was trading the nonveg portions for other servings of those safe sides, which will increase the sugars as he has eaten a meal's worth of sugary snacks rather than a balanced meal - or if he couldn't eat enough (dropping his blood sugar) because he could not eat portions of the meal – Megha Sep 3 '16 at 9:17
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I request a vegetarian meal for every flight and I highly recommend to make the request by phone. This seems to be the most effective method of ensuring you will actually get a vegetarian meal.

When ordering the meal on the airline website, it has happened to me before that my order got lost and I did not get my meal.

Simply look up the customer service number for the airline online and when you call give them your booking confirmation code and request the vegetarian meal. This must be done at least 48 hours before the flight.

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My experience of ordering special meals has been a bit "hit and miss" -- even airlines which serve a diabetic meal have been known to serve snacks which are totally unsuited to diabetics.

It's worth noting, to give credit where it's due, that my frequent flier profile with KLM records the fact that I require a special meal and this information seems to be passed on reliably to other airlines, such as China Southern, with which they have a relationship.

Again, for the sake of completeness, it's worth mentioning that the best "special" meals I've had have been those on China Southern. And yes, in general terms, I'd echo what's been said about "special" meals often being rather better quality than the ordinary meals.

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