What special meals can you order on airplanes and are they worth it?

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You’ve probably noticed when flying long-haul that some other passengers get their meal before you do. This is because it’s a meal that is classed by the airline as a “special meal”. Ahead of flying, passengers can pre-order a special meal at no extra cost and the options are endless. We’re here to tell you the advantages of ordering a special meal and what the available options are.

Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Advantages of ordering a special meal

You will get served first: The cabin crew will always serve your special meal first, so if you are in 35F at the back of the aircraft, then there can be advantages of pre-ordering a special meal.

You can choose a diet according to your dietary need: Whether vegan, gluten-free or kosher, rest assured you can eat according to your lifestyle when travelling.

Sometimes it can be healthier: Opting for a slightly different meal to the standard offering can mean the meal can look fresher and be better for you. For example, sometimes choosing the gluten-free option can mean a fresh fruit platter compared to the high-sugar processed dessert.

Special meals available

Most airlines have around 14 special meals to choose from. There are available if you are flying long-haul or short-haul in Business Class/Club Europe.

Vegetarian: Does not contain any meat, fish or seafood products but can contain dairy. There is usually a vegetarian option available on the normal menu in the form of a pasta dish.

Vegan: More people are choosing this option as veganism is becoming increasingly popular. This dish will have no meat, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs or even honey. Dishes usually include tofu or bean stew or curry.

Asian/Hindu vegetarian: Same principles as the vegetarian dish but spicy.

Halal: Does not contain pork, alcohol and the meat is Halal.

Jain: Vegetarian but also does not contain any grown below ground vegetables in case the production harms microorganisms.

Kosher: A dish that conforms to Jewish dietary regulations and excludes pork and shellfish.

(Photo by Bubiana/Trip Advisor)

Child meal: A meal for children aged 2 to 12 years of age.

Baby meal: Most airlines have a limited stock of baby food and milk. They offer a bottle warming service but recommend you bring your own baby food and equipment in your hand luggage.

Diabetic: A low-sugar meal which has no added sugar or syrups to support your blood sugar.  There may be some diabetic substitutions and it’s recommended to check your airline service times to manage your meals and plan your medication.

Gluten-free meal: A meal that does not contain any wheat, barley, oats or rye. This meal is a must for people with celiac disease but also for those who are gluten sensitive. It’s also good to take your own gluten-free snacks on board for in between meal times.

Low calorie: Low in protein, fat and sugar.

Low fat: A high-fibre meal with reduced fat. This meal would be a good choice for those who do not have a gallbladder which means they need to be careful of fat consumption. Individuals may also choose this meal for dieting purposes and also if they want to reduce their cholesterol. However limiting fat for these purposes was something that was recommended in the 1980s/90s but the science around fat being the enemy has since changed.

Low salt: This meal does not contain salt, MSG or baking soda and is flavoured with herbs and spices.

Read more: How to stick to your diet when you’re a frequent traveller

(Photo by Getty Images/Cheryl Chan)
(Photo by Getty Images/Cheryl Chan)

Read more: The ultimate guide to travelling with allergies

Low lactose: People who are lactose-intolerant lack the enzyme lactase to digest lactose found in dairy products. A lactose-free special meal does not contain any dairy products so it’s also good for those who are casein-intolerant (the protein in milk).

Fruit platter: Simply a selection of fruit (not available on all airlines).

How to book

British Airways offer vegetarian, vegan, Asian/Hindu vegetarian, Halal, Jain, Kosher, child meal, baby meal, diabetic, gluten intolerant, low calorie, low fat, low salt and low lactose. You can request your meals at least 48 hours before your flight departs here.

Virgin’s options include low fat, low sodium, diabetic, fruit platter, gluten intolerant. kosher, vegetarian, low lactose, vegan, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Asian vegetarian, child, baby and pureed. Order your meal more than 24 hours before your flight. For full details how to book then visit here.

easyJet do not currently have any special meal offerings so best to take your own food on board. If you have a medical need for a special meal (e.g. celiac) then you are permitted to have an extra piece of hand luggage for that food alone, providing you have a medical note. See here for details.

Ryanair only offers an adult meal and vegetarian meal which you can prebook in advance. They also state they allow you to bring any food items except hot drinks on board with you.

Sinapore Airlines offers similar to British Airways and Virgin and you can pre-order here. Qatar also offer the same and all their meals are Halal.

For all other airlines, you should search for “special meal” on their website for their offerings and policies.

Bottom line

It’s recommended to request your special meal 48 hours before your flight. You can do this in the “manage my booking” section of your airline’s website. If you have a more serious allergy then it’s recommended to inform the airline at the time of booking.

If none of these meals grab your attention, British Airways also offer gourmet meal options which you can purchase before your flight.

Featured image: Getty Images/Jeffkwon

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