Ordering a special meal on a flight

Written by Heather

Topics: Experiences Abroad

As I try to eat as gluten and dairy free as possible, I always order a special meal on a flight.

Hmm, now that I think about it, I’ve never seen the option to select both gluten AND dairy free — I wonder if a call to the airline is all it would take or if they don’t cater to something that specific. Anyone know?

Over the last few years, I’ve been reasonably happy with my gluten free (GF) meals…until my flight from Dulles to Heathrow two weeks ago. United has done a fairly decent job in the past, but for some reason, my second meal (aka the “snack”) was a massive let down. Everyone else received a sandwich, bag of chips, and a cookie. Me? A plain rice cake (which apparently isn’t the same thing everywhere, check out this photo) and a bowl of rice. That’s it. No flavor, little nutrition.

Now, I get that there was also very little nutrition in the “snack” of the other folks on board but at least they had flavor to savor and calories to keep them going. I was so hungry, ready for my “snack” and felt incredibly disappointed with what I received.

Usually United and other airlines I’ve flown get it (mostly) right:

– Breakfast is usually some combination of eggs, fruit, yogurt, and/or apple sauce.
– Lunch/dinner has always had a chicken breast, veggies, and potatoes. The chicken is never dry and the veggies don’t seem overcooked. My meal always looks more tasty than the chicken and veg everyone else receives.

But there is always room for improvement:

Even though Air Canada lost my bag for over a week (story coming soon!), I have to give them first place for their GF meals. They provide GF bread and GF desserts (e.g., GF chocolate brownie). Compare this to the other airlines I’ve experienced. They eliminate bread altogether instead of sourcing a GF option. Dessert is a cup of yogurt, apple sauce, or raisins. I envy those with a proper dessert. All I want is *one tiny* bite of dark chocolate. Just because I’m eating GF doesn’t meant I want to go without. I *love* that I’m often eating a meal with less sugar, but every once in a while I want a proper dessert or a GF bread roll with my meal instead of unsweetened apple sauce.

Even with my gripes, I’d still order a special meal, even if I wasn’t GF.

I’m not sure about other types of special meals, but I feel that my GF meals are much healthier than the standard ones — even if I had a sugary GF dessert. I don’t get the funky looking sauces and my veggies appear to be more fresh.

Folks with special meals get theirs first! I usually don’t eat at the airport, so by the time food service starts, I’m ready. I used to hate watching the rows of people before me get food, feeling more hungry by the minute, wondering if the flight attendants would still have my preferred entree by the time they got to me. Now, I receive my meal first (well, first in Economy).

The biggest downside to a special meal? If someone forgets to pack it, you’re out of luck. On my recent flight, three vegetarians and one person who wanted a kosher meal had been forgotten. The purser apologized to the four (who were seated in the rows just before mine) and mentioned that they should always double check with the gate agents to make sure that their meal request was registered. Not a bad tip, but it almost sounded like he was blaming them for forgetting to request it. Later, I overheard the purser tell the man with the kosher meal that his had indeed been registered and he apologized again, eventually bringing the man a leftover meal from first or business class. I’m not sure if the vegetarians ate the entire flight.

Have you ordered a special meal on a flight? Flown on an airline with above average non-special/standard meals in Economy? If you’re like me and pack a snack or two of your own, what’s your go-to item?

6 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Gav says:

    So sorry you had a bad meal experience babe, but glad I had that salad for you when you landed :-*

    I’ll be prepared in May, because I love you and don’t want you to go hungry *HUG*

  2. Allison says:

    I’m forever looking at the special meals and thinking: why don’t I order one. I’ll totally try the GF meal next big flight! Too bad it’s too late for the one tomorrow!

    • Heather says:

      I’m sure you’ll fly again before you see me next year, but you’ll have to order a special meal then — that is, if you get one on that “short” of a journey!

  3. Deidre says:

    I never eat on airplanes. Ever. The food always grosses me out – and flying does funny things to my tummy which makes me not want to eat anyway.

    However, they also don’t have gluten free vegetarian options, which basically leaves me out of luck anyway.

    There was one exception to this rule, when I flew air india they had AWESOME indian food on the plane (ok, it wasn’t THAT AWESOMe – it was still plane food) but it was gluten free AND vegetarian.

    • Heather says:

      I don’t know what it is about flying, but I usually feel more hungry than normal. Maybe it’s really just confusing thirst for hunger, but I try to stay hydrated and my stomach feels hungry. Odd!

  4. Alex says:

    Thanks for the reminder! I lucked out on my US to China flight—they had a vegetarian option or a meat option. On the way back over Spring Festival, I wasn’t so lucky, and spent my two meals on board the flight picking out the meat.

    This time I went for a vegan meal, which should be good. They didn’t have a plain vegetarian meal.

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