By Bory Odype
If you’re a frequent flier and a vegan, you may feel like the world is against you. It seems the even the best airlines for vegan food limit us to mushy white pasta with tomato sauce, or maybe some white bread stuffed with a wilted leaf salad. Yum.
Even worse, some of you have probably been forced to survive a long trip on over-salted crisps and peanuts because the airline has forgotten to load the vegan meal you pre-ordered onto the plane. In fact, due to one unlucky traveller’s complaint about being fed just that on a long-haul Thomas Cook flight, the Vegan Society launched Vegan on the Go, a campaign to help travellers find the best companies for vegan food, and travel companies understand that vegan food is in demand and easy to make, too!
The Worst and Best Airlines for Vegan Food
Apparently, no one gets ANY food on domestic flights in the USA unless they opt to pay extra for a cold ham sandwich, or cheese and crackers that haven’t been sold out. Vegan options are few and far between: think salted nuts, chips or candy. North American airlines only serve free food on international flights over six hours long, as I discovered much to my chagrin on a flight from Los Angeles to Toronto. And guess what? There were no paid vegan options at all from Air Canada on that flight. Not cool!
Travelling is stressful enough without having to starve for six hours or more on a plane. Personally, the food on a long haul flight makes a huge difference to me, which is why I’ve compiled this list of the best airlines for vegan food.
Like American Airlines, United will not wow you with innovative flavours – you’re likely to get a lot of starchy food such as steamed chickpeas or lentil curries or mixed veggie rice with tofu (which, since it’s American, will be GMO. Yuk).
A bit low in imagination, but wine is on offer, yay! I enjoyed (a fairly small portion of) mushrooms with chickpeas and mixed grilled vegetables, a side of mixed salad and a (rather cold) fruit salad for dessert. My editor reported that she ate breaded mushrooms in tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, side salad and cookies (not the healthiest meal) on one flight.
Air Canada is pretty disappointing. It will allow you to book your vegan meal only 18 hours before your flight and if you don’t make it in that time frame, you’ll be stuck with pretty much nothing but maybe some fruit salad or bread. If you do order on time, you’ll possibly get a risotto with grilled zucchini and mushrooms as well as the usual cold side salad and fruit salad dessert.
This airline offers a surprisingly appetising mix of flavours, such as rice with eggplant, peaches and tomatoes, a side of minty potato salad, or falafel wraps with a fresh fruit dessert, all accompanied by your choice of wine.
When it comes to vegan options, Air France’s website uses the term vegetarian (no dairy or eggs). Typical meals will include a combination of flavoured rice, black lentils and potatoes or a vegan omelette with tomato sauce and a dark chocolate torte for dessert. Of course, the wine of your choice is de rigueur.
Loads of great options abound! Roasted cauliflower, red peppers and tomatoes are accompanied by fresh hers and spinach noodles with olive oil, bread and a vegan pastry for dessert. Or perhaps you’ll get to try a veggie kebab with some dolma – a.k.a. vine leaves stuffed with rice and spices.
Emirates has a great overall reputation and will be sure to delight you with some innovative vegan cuisine, like vegan lasagne with spinach and vegetables and a forest berry compote for dessert, or even better, Middle Eastern mezze like baba ganoush, tabouleh and falafel!
This is a great airline, in terms of not only food, but customer service, too. They will call your vegan meal a Vegetarian Oriental Meal (VOML), and that may include something like a mixed quinoa salad and a Moroccan tagine with mango cake for dessert, or maybe eggplant meatballs with spaghetti and a side of broccoli with garlic. Everything will be rich in flavour and fresh.
Once you know what to expect on each airline, there are still a few things to bear in mind:
- Airlines will have a disclaimer on their website that says special options are available on most flights – the only way to know if a vegan meal is offered on your flight is to call customer service in advance. When I called a few customer service teams to ask why this disclaimer is necessary, they politely changed the subject and assured me if I request my vegan meal on the airline’s website, it will definitely be provided during the flight.
- All airlines will ask you to make your meal choice at least 24 hours before your flight and to avoid confusion. They will also advise you of their definition of a ‘vegan’ meal.
- You will usually get your meal first which, let’s face it, is quite a perk – especially on a busy flight.
- All meals will come with some kind of beverage and bread roll.
- Food will always taste different on a plane. Regardless of your dietary requirements, you will not be able to taste saltiness or sweetness the way you usually do because of the lack of humidity, the cabin pressure and the altitude. While airline catering companies take this into consideration, it is still a challenging task so you can help them improve by providing constructive feedback.
If you want more information on how to pressure airlines to improve their vegan offerings, contact [email protected] for free advice.
What’s your experience of vegan food on planes? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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