Vegans on a plane! It sounds like the title of a movie but actually it has been my life for the last 10 years. As a cabin manager for one of the world’s largest airlines I am lucky enough to get to travel all over the world. Of course this can often be tricky as a vegan particularly with the language and cultural barriers.
I have many stories where I have been told things like, yes yes its vegetarian it only has chicken! or don’t worry its vegan just has some fish sauce. As you can imagine then over the years I have learnt just about every trick and tip there is to make traveling as a vegan as simple, painless and actually enjoyable as possible.
So after 10 years of trails and tribulations I am going to share what I have learnt in a range of blog posts each looking at different aspects of travel and what we can do to make our vegan life as easy as possible. So let’s start in the place I know best Vegans on a plane!
The flight is booked – can I get a vegan meal?
So you have booked your flight, now to find out what meal options you have. This will of course vary greatly depending on the airline, the route, the class of seat you have and the length of flight. It is fair to say that most airlines now operating short haul flights will not supply a meal free of charge but instead will offer you a range of snacks or drinks to buy.
That is unless the airline has a “club” or premium class that does offer a free option. Most long-haul carriers of course will offer food included within the price of your ticket and again this will vary depending on the route and the class in which you are sat.
On top of this each airline will have their own specific menu so as you can see there is not a simple answer to what is available.
Short Haul as a Vegan
Let’s start with short haul (typically under 3 hrs). The first thing you must do is check what food option they have and if a meal will be served. You can usually do this on the airlines website but if not just give them a call directly, or if booking through a travel agent ask them to check for you.
I have very simple advice for this type of flight and that is bring your own food!! Typically the food on these flights is overpriced junk food and there is very rarely a vegan option unless it is accidentally vegan. Yes there will likely be some vegan snacks but why pay twice the price for something that you can bring yourself.
If I am flying short haul as a tourist (yes sometimes I’m not actually working!) then I usually prepare a Tupperware with a simple dish that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. I also always have my staple snacks like, dried fruits, nuts and seeds.
Do bear in mind if you do choose to bring your own food that the 100ml liquid limit is still in place so if you were thinking of bringing a salad dressing or soya milk you will not be able to bring anything over this size.
The Long-Haul Vegan
Typically long haul flights have always offered a full meal service included in the price of the ticket, however even this is changing. In an age where budget travel has become more popular there are now long haul carriers offering “no frills” tickets where you have to pay extra for a meal. So the first thing you need to do is find out if a meal is being served on your flight.
As with short haul flights the way to do this is to check with the airline or travel agent and I recommend you do this when you book your ticket. All airlines use a range of different codes for different dietary requirements, believe it or not over 30 of them! These range from meals that are lactose free, low sodium, kosher and halal to of course vegetarian and vegan.
The code that you need to know as a vegan is VGML. This is the official airline code for a vegan meal. One word of advice, there are still some airlines that call this meal “vegetarian no dairy” but it is in fact always the vegan option. Many airlines have different rules regarding the amount of notice required for a special meal request which is why I recommend booking at the same time as your ticket. Follow that up at least 72 before travelling by calling again to ensure the meal request is in the system.
What to expect
So your sat in your seat, the glamorous cabin crew have completed the safety demonstration and your flight is now in the air, what can you expect? Well this of course will depend on the time of day the type of flight and the class but lest assume that the first service will the all-important main meal and you are not sat in first class.
Be prepared to be the focus of attention! Why is that? Well special request meals tend to be delivered before all the standard meals on the plane. This is your chance to feel special with those around you suddenly interested in your meal. Another bonus is your meal hasn’t been wheeled up and down the aisle waiting to be served but instead has come directly from the convection oven so should be piping hot (assuming it’s not a salad!).
So that’s all good news right, well of course but there are still things you need to know. Your main meal, that’s the starter, main and desert should all come with the VGML label. These have been prepared by the catering company and you can feel confident that they are vegan. That’s not always the case with condiments. On many airlines these are added separately on the plane and my advice is that you check that you have been given a vegan option.
I am referring to things like salad dressings, sauces and spreads. My airline does offer a vegan spread and coffee creamer but if in doubt my advice would be go without! The breakfast and snack options again cannot be guaranteed to be vegan unless they have the VGML label.
If you are on a long-haul flight and have pre-booked it is likely that you will have 2 vegan meals, (for example a dinner and a breakfast) but your only guarantee will be the VGML label. You should always ask if snacks are vegan but in many cases the cabin crew won’t necessarily have the answer.
Are the vegan options tasty?
I guess we could ask this question of any airline food. The image has always been of something bland, tasteless and overcooked but the truth is that on the whole airline food is better than it has ever been. This is also true of the vegan options as the demand increases. So what can you expect?
Well the base for many main vegan meals tends to be rice and pasta but I have seen options with couscous, falafels and quinoa. The truth is that this is mass-produced food that has had to be part cooked and then reheated on a plane so it is never going to match your home cooked dish.
Another factor is that our taste buds simply don’t work properly at high altitudes with the low humidity drying out our nasal passages, and the air pressure desensitising our taste buds. So are the vegan options tasty, well let’s just say I eat them!
Top Tips for a vegan flight
So just to round up my advice for a pain free and hopefully enjoyable vegan flight.
- When you book your flight check what meal options will be served if any.
- If meals are to be served pre-book the vegan option when you book your ticket.
- Approx. 72hrs prior to flying check again that your meal has been ordered.
- Check your meal has the VGML label to confirm that it is vegan.
- Check the condiments to ensure they are vegan.
And the advice I give for any form of travel as a vegan be it by car or train, a boat trip or a flight is always pack a filling snack (or two!). That way if there is a problem, your meal wasn’t ordered or it just looks that unappetising at least you have an option to fall back on.
Have a happy safe and fun trip and come back to see more travel tips in the coming weeks. And finally be nice to your cabin crew, if you are nice to them they’ll be nice to you!! Happy flying.
Have you had good or bad experiences travelling as a vegan. If so we would love to hear from you in the comments below.