Why not order a special meal on your flight?

Lunch pail

Long gone are the days where one got served meals on flights by default. These days, you may get served a meal if you’re flying domestic first class, but aside from that, you really only get something approximating a meal when flying international or other long-distance flights.

And personally, I don’t even know for how long this setup will last.

If you are fortunate enough to get one of these flights which offer you a meal, you may not know that you can in fact order a “special” meal in some cases. I do this all the time, in fact. And you can too.

What’s so special?

A special meal on a flight is a meal with some sort of difference from the standard options. The most common reason for ordering a special meal is for dietary restrictions or preferences. And as you may know if you’ve hosted any potlucks recently, there are all sorts of dietary restrictions and preferences: vegan, vegetarian, lactose intolerant, gluten-free, kosher, Muslim, etc.

But there are other types of special meals: you can sometimes order a “kid’s meal” for example, or even a baby meal.

Here is a list of special meals offered by various airlines:

If your flight offers you a meal, you need to contact the airline to request a special meal. This must be done at least 24-48 hours in advance of the flight. (Some airlines have different restrictions; bottom line is that you would be best to let them know as soon as you can.)

Sometimes, you can request this meal online. For instance, with British Airways, you can look up your flight reservation, and if applicable, there will be an option to “Request a special meal”.

British Airways - Request a special meall
Requesting a special meal is free. For now.

On the next screen is a select box, where you can make your choice.

British Airways - Special meal choice
Take your pick.

That’s all there is to it.

Some airlines may not allow you to request a special meal online. (I recall US Airways being pretty terrible at this, but then again, where technology was concerned they were pretty terrible at everything.) In this case, you will need to call the reservations line and get them to add the request to your reservation.

Why bother?

If you have dietary restrictions such as allergies, it’s obvious why it’s worth the effort to request a special meal. If you have religious objections to certain foods, or if your preferences are as immutable as religious objections (such as gluten- or animal- avoiders), it’s also obvious. If you’re going to be incarcerated in a plane for many hours, you don’t want to be in contact with foods that you may not consider food.

But all that said, I don’t see any reason why anyone can’t request a special meal if they want one.

It’s certainly not forbidden by the airlines. I don’t need to pass a religious test if I want to order something kosher, and there is certainly no vegetarian membership club. I can make that choice, and airlines have no reason not to respect it.

Furthermore, one of the benefits to ordering a special meal is that, by definition, there will be fewer of them, and therefore there’s a chance that your meal will be a little more customized, perhaps a little more “special” than the standard meal.

Also, there’s a little bit of protest involved here (much like how I always used to opt-out at airport security lines, at least before I got NEXUS). There are usually two options for meal choice by default, and sometimes neither of them work for people (me, in particular). Ordering a special meal forces the airline to recognize this. I think there’s nothing wrong with more people doing this.

But I enjoy ordering special meals, and not just because if I don’t, I most likely won’t eat any meal served to me. But in a low-grade way, it’s also a little fun. I enjoy being just a little bit different and out of step when flying. It’s free and it’s harmless. Wouldn’t you want to feel the same way?

But enough about me. Do you ever order a special meal?

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