It took me a long time to post this, but the warning to friends and readers with food allergies or special diets was too important not to post. This summer, I flew from London to Chicago on American Airlines without a full meal. American Airlines promised on their website and on the phone that they would cater to my very necessary dairy-free diet by providing vegan meals on the plane, but they did not deliver.
I probably wrote this blog post about five times already, scrapping it because it kept getting bogged down. But the details are important, so I’ll try to be as short as possible telling you what happened on my flights to and from London:
Before the Flight
At least a week or two before we flew from Chicago to London, I checked American Airline’s site on in-flight meals. Being the kind of person who brings granola bars to weddings, I knew I had to be prepared to fly about eight hours to another continent.
On their website (and the partner airline’s website), I saw that they did, indeed cater to special diets, and that all I had to do was put in a request for a vegan meal. I called the airline, and they confirmed that yes, I would have a vegan/vegetarian meal. I asked if it was always vegan and they told me that the two special meals were one in the same.
On the Flight to London
On my flight to London, I got served a vegan breakfast (some kind of hot cereal) and then only vegetarian snacks (cheese pizza and other items). I was fairly satisfied with the non-dairy foods presented to me and chalked it up to a misunderstanding on the phone.
On the Way Back Home
On the way home, I ate a fairly substantial meal from an airport restaurant, in case the same thing happened again. Once again, I called the airline, almost 2 weeks before we headed home, and double-triple-checked that there would be a vegan meal available for me. Again they said, yes, they have vegan meals that they will save for me. I told them that on the way over, I did not have food that worked for me, and they assured me the same thing wouldn’t happen again.
But wouldn’t you know it, the girl who packs granola bars for weddings was right. This time, it was even worse. I was served a cheese-laden pasta dish as my vegan option, which was definitely not made with soy cheese. There were some non-dairy options in the pack (like a honey wheat roll) but almost nothing that would work for someone who was vegan, outside of a very small green salad.
I was seated next to a couple vegans who, if I understood their reactions to the meals correctly, also expected their meals to be vegan. Their diets were stricter than mine and they were left with very little food to eat on a long flight.
No Other Food on the Plane (but Pretzels)
I hate being someone who complains, but after a really long trip home, I started to get mildly irritated. One flight attendant felt bad for me and gave me lots of pretzels (thank you, kind person!). However, it wasn’t that satisfying to eat them when I was watching everyone around me enjoy full-size hot meals.
By the time the plane landed and we got on the shuttle, I was sobbing. We landed in an airport where nothing but McDonald’s was open (OK, I caved and got an apple pie, one of the only non-dairy items on the menu) and I think between being tired and not getting much food on the plane, I was done.
Sending a Complaint
I emailed American Airlines to tell them about my experience. It took me a few tries to get my complaint routed to the right person. My major grievance is this: If you say you offer a vegan meal on a plane, offer it. Otherwise, don’t tell me you offer it on a phone call. Don’t advertise it on your website. I’m a resourceful girl; I can bring food with me. It is the deception and lack of understanding of food allergies and dietary restrictions that really bothers me.
What I ended up getting from American Airlines wasn’t much, considering that I never wanted to fly their airlines again after the experience. However, to their credit, they did send me a $100 gift certificate. I did not use it, but I did gift it to my parents, who used it to fly to Hawaii for their 40th wedding anniversary. So, if anything good came out of my terrible experience, there’s that.
The Lesson: Be Prepared for Anything
So, what do you need to know about all of this? Why did I ramble on for so long? Before you travel, consult sites that talk about vegan inflight meals (or whatever your dietary needs are). Bring food with you; be prepared no matter what. Demand proper information from airlines, and if you don’t trust them, complain. I don’t want to see what happened to me happen to you.