Vegan travel in-flight meals hit-and-miss

By Jercyl Lerin Aug 9, 2019

I decided to switch to a plant-based diet 19 months ago and gradually ease my way to going vegan. I had zero experience with vegan travel and was mostly clueless about what to expect. While I knew about in-flight special meal requests, I have not tried it in any of my previous trips. So when I had to travel on August 2018, I made sure to finally give it a try. And I have been doing it since. My experiences with in-flight vegan meals have been mostly hit-and-miss so far.

1. Philippine Airlines

My first trip as a transitioning vegan was to Indonesia via Philippine Airlines. I thought that I would be able to request a vegan meal when I manage my booking. But I found out that I had to make a call to do it. It was inconvenient but I was determined to give the vegan in-flight meal a try so I made the call. It was initially confusing because I was unfamiliar with the airline codes for special meals. So when I asked for a vegan meal, the person on the other line responded if I meant the vegetarian meal. I realized that a vegetarian meal refers to the VGML code which is vegan. 

I had two pleasant surprises when they served the food on my flight to Indonesia. One was when everyone who requested for special meals was served first. And two, the veg dish I had was actually good. The VGML I had on the trip back was even more delicious.

Ease of making special meal arrangements: 2/5 stars

Yumminess scale: 3/5 stars

2. Qatar Airways

Less than two months after, I was booked on a Qatar Airways long-haul flight to Buenos Aires. I was able to manage my booking online to request for the special meals.

Almost everything related to my in-flight meals went well except for a hiccup on the last leg of my outbound journey. The flight was scheduled for a little over an hour stop in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Unfortunately, they detected a technical problem which they were not able to fix so the flight to Buenos Aires was eventually canceled.

The airline provided accommodation and we basically spent 24 hours in Sao Paulo waiting for the aircraft that will take us to our final destination. There was no VGML for me this time. I was told that it was because my original flight was canceled. I never really understood the reason behind this as I am still new with all these special meals thing. But I was disappointed. Qatar Airways has consistently been one of the world's top airlines so it was something I did not expect.

To be fair, the flight attendants walked the proverbial extra mile to try and resolve the situation. I have been approached by at least three different FAs asking if they could offer me anything. One of them even asked if I would like to have a plate of different cheeses instead, which meant she did not know much about veganism. I was also offered a vegetarian food that, from what I understood, belonged to one of the FAs which I declined. It was just a short flight from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires do I did not really mind not being served anything.

Ease of making special meal arrangements: 4/5 stars

Yumminess scale: 3.5/5 stars

3. Etihad Airways

With two previous trips under my belt, I have become more familiar with the process. So last June when I had to travel to the UK, I made sure to request for VGMLs at least three weeks before my flight. I was able to do this easily on Etihad Airways' website.

What made this particular trip different though was that I had to avoid oily, fatty, and creamy foods because of a health issue. I looked for oil-free vegan options but they did not have anything on the list except for the all-fruits meal. I decided to stick to the VGML option and just see if I could eat whatever it is they serve to me.

Fortunately, I had an early and filling dinner in Starbucks at the airport before my flight. It was the best decision ever because, for roughly eight hours and 15 minutes, I was not served anything but one large and cold banana. Because they said they did not any VGML request on their record. It was upsetting and at the same time worrying. I asked if there will be any VGML for me in my connecting flight to London. I was told that they will make a call to their Abu Dhabi office to try and see if they can quickly arrange something for me for my connecting flight. They also tried to offer me something to eat which they said was vegetarian. But I was not sure if they meant it was vegan. But seeing that the food looked oily and that knowing that it must be one of the crew members' food, I said no. Thankfully, they were able to fix the issue and I had no more trouble with my in-flight meals for the rest of my trip.

Ease of making special meal arrangements: 3/5 stars

Yumminess scale: 3.5/5 stars

As someone who is still learning the ropes of veg traveling, I would say my experiences with in-flight meals have mostly been hit-and-miss. Some of the best lessons I have learned so far are 1) to always bring food or snacks to make it easier to deal with the unexpected, 2) to eat before the flight, if I can, and 3) that every meal, good or bad, is a chance to discover something I have not tried before.

« Back to Blog