Vegan on board - How to navigate through food when flying?
We all fly - we end up taking planes more and more often.
We also admit that airlines are not in catering business and no one promises us splendid food (actually, in the advertisements of their in-flight menu, airlines often promote better-than-restaurant gourmet food, but we were not born yesterday, duh). Food is still promised to us and, as we pay premium prices for some airlines and sometimes are allowed to choose our food online beforehand, we strongly believe we should be given things that are actually meant for humans to eat, instead of being served something plainly gross or unhealthy. Not everyone of us wants to go for any of the standard “beef or chicken” while flying. We increasingly choose Vegan or vegetarian options and are given even more various options when be book our tickets: kosher, Gluten-free, lacto-ovo, you name it. We, in WOMB, are among those who typically book their meals in advance because of our collective food preferences or allergies and intolerances. Far too often, we have experienced turbulence connected to our meal-orders. That is why, we decided to share it here in a form of small article, to let you know that it is okay to demand certain thing as a picky passenger and it is not okay for any airline company to discriminate you simply because of your food preferences as a more “problematic” passenger.
What exactly can go wrong?
Okay, to start off, we have a couple of “what can go wrong” scenarios that of course do not pile up as some sort of global catastrophe, but they can be a pain in the neck. All of those happened to us before, so we are writing strictly from our experience, not making anything up. Based on true events, y’all.
Your meal magically disappears. You know the drill. You have a semi-long or long flight and booked your meal in advance. You are extra proud of yourself, because, yes, this time you actually did not forget to manage your own friggin’ booking and clicked on a vegetarian option. But unfortunately, when the flight assistant finally rolls the trolley over to your seat, they give you this glamorous ear-to-ear smile and ask: “Beef or fish?”. You politely remark that none, and let them know you actually ordered something else. Unfortunately, for some mysterious reason, your meal have already been distributed, or “they did not have anything assigned to your seat”. Awkward silence follows and after a short conversation and a shy pursuit of convincing you to maybe choose meat instead after all, the flight assistant leaves after handing you a 3-cm diameter piece of bread and a promise that “they will go to look for something”.
The food is gross. This story is actually one of our favourites, backed even with a suitable photograph (look below). One of us was once flying with Air China (and yes, we do give you their name, because this is shameful for any respected airline) and ordered the veggie meal in advance. Just as everyone was getting their lunch, we got this:
Guys. We can really understand a lot, but by no means can we understand 12 pieces of sponge toast bread with paper-thin slices of raw cucumber and red cabbage (what?!) between some of them - yes, some of them. We just can’t. We do not even want to go as far as the 3 EMPTY CONTAINERS placed on the tray because… nothing?! An empty promise of food that would never arrive. Mind you, that this was the beginning of a 10-hour flight from Beijing to Europe. In this case, we got our vegetarian meal, but we just laughed at it. We certainly did not eat it.
3. The staff is not understanding about it. We feel like sometimes the flight attendants treat the special-request passengers like an unnecessary bump in their otherwise splendid day. We do not mean to generalise, as the gross majority of airline staff is extremely welcoming and accommodating, we have had situations of attendants who were running to first and business class and brought us meals from there instead (yay, no-plastic!). But on the other hand, at times we are just tired of being convinced to “take the meat away”, “eat around the meet”, “eat only the side dishes then”. This does not solve the problem. When we have a special request, we want it accommodated - otherwise, we would not waste anybody’s precious time.
Why does it matter?
You might ask - what is the big fuss about? It is really not that big a deal, it’s just one meal, even if you skip it you won’t die. And you can always take your own food on board.
Absolutely true, but why do we have to do it if all the other passengers do not? Isn’t there a little bit of egoism in thinking that “you make a fuss, so it’s your fault”? This is not only about preferences - sometimes it is about intolerances and allergies and it is actually quite hard to plan your journey AND a nutritious meal within it. In all the travel craze and preparation, the last thing anyone probably wishes to think about is preparing their own food to carry with - especially since airlines do provide food on longer distances. If we were told in advance, that the food will not be provided and there are no special requests taken by the airline, no hard feelings - we would, of course, prepare accordingly. However, if we are told that we have a luxury of choice and it will be met, that we do not have to prepare the food because we will be served some, do we really have to remain suspicious and carry lunchboxes anyway? It actually comes down to simple equality as a passenger. Food preferences are unfortunately still considered as antics, whims, fads. When it comes to airplanes, where we are sometimes enclosed for 15 hours, it becomes relevant because if the airline doesn’t provide a meal as it should, it is depriving us of a very standard service for which we paid.
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Don’t get us wrong, those situations are not typical. It is actually far more probable that we are served a decent vegetarian meal with some raw fruits, a salad and a warm boiled or stir-fried rice or potato stew. More often than not, we are actually happy and feel even superior knowing that we are eating something remotely healthier than a guy next seat when we look at his meat-like chunks with powder mashed potatoes with sponge cake and a questionable vanilla pudding. Plus, chances are, that your meal arrives ahead of everyone else’s, which for bigger planes means that you might actually eat even 30 min before others! It does matter when you are starving… What is more, and by all means intelligent, in-flight catering companies often make it easier for themselves and create meals that can go to larger pool of special requests, making sure that the meal is both vegan and gluten-free, for example.
We just wish that it were a standard and that we do not need to have stupid conversations on board in the future. We don’t want to be convinced that we can leave the meat and eat the rest, and feel stares saying “oh shut up and eat your meal, you spoilt brat”. When we do not communicate with the airline in advance and fail to tell them that we require special meal - it’s on us. But when we are clear about what we need, we expect to be treated as every other passenger and be provided with what we asked and paid for. Therefore, we are huge advocates for standing up for yourselves. If you ordered something and you were not given just that - speak up! Educate your airline and help them improve! If you happen to be a flight assistant or an in-flight caterer, be empathetic and remember that everyone can fly now and we all have different needs and requests. We love travelling and we quite like taking planes - we want it to be as comfortable as possible during long-haul flights and we are conscious about what we need to make it so. Thank you in advance for acknowledging and accommodating it.
Hey, just to light up the mood, check out this article by Telegraph documenting the most ridiculous and pitiful flight meals! Bom apetit!