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FAQ: Air Traveler's Handbook 3/4 [Monthly posting]
Section - [3-5] Special Meals

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Most of the major airlines will provide alternate meals on
meal-flights upon request, if the request is made 24 hours in advance.
(The airlines provide each flight's meal inventory to the inflight
caterers 24 hours before the flight. Although the caterer can and do
adjust the balance of meals up to two hours before flight time, the
likelihood of their having your special meal on hand without advance
notice is extremely low.)

Special meals include: Kosher, Muslim, Hindu, vegetarian (dairy,
non-dairy), children, low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol, low-calorie,
low-carbohydrate, diabetic, fruit, low-gluten, sulfite-free, seafood
(cold, hot), soft, and bland.  Simply ask for the meal when you make
your reservation; there is no extra charge.

Things to watch out for:

   o  The Hindu meal is just a non-beef meal. If you are interested in
      Indian vegetarian meals, make sure you say "Hindu Vegetarian meal" 
      when ordering.   

   o  Low-cholesterol may not be the same as low-fat. The low-cholesterol
      meal will still include some fat. Sometimes the vegetarian meal
      has less fat than the low-fat meal. Some airlines treat
      low-cholesterol and low-fat as synonyms.

   o  Your definition of low-fat is probably not the same as the
      airlines. For example, you might get chicken and margarine
      instead of beef and butter. Chicken is lower in fat than beef,

   o  Vegetarian means different things to different people. Be sure
      to say whether you mean vegan or ovo-lacto, and be prepared to
      explain the difference to the travel agent. Some caterers think
      that a vegetarian meal means a meat meal with the meat removed.
      So be prepared for disappointments. When traveling overseas, the
      words carry yet a third interpretation, with vegetarian meaning
      vegetables, and nothing else. You may wind up with better luck
      asking for a fruit platter, which are usually very good on most

   o  Low-gluten meals may include items that are not low-gluten.

The Kosher meals are glatt and double-sealed. Wilton Caterers is the
largest supplier of these meals, although there are a number of
smaller companies as well. 

If you will be having a special meal, be sure to let the flight
attendant know as you enter the plane. Airlines sometime forget to
load the meal (especially kosher), and if you let the flight attendant
know, they can sometimes catch this. (And feel very guilty if they don't.)

If the airline forgets to load your special meal, ask for a meal
voucher. Even if you can't eat in the airport restaurants, you can buy
nuts, candy or fruit at the gift shops and the airline will reimburse
you within reason (e.g., $3-$5). 

When in doubt, bring your own food. Airplane food tends to be bland
for travelers who don't like spices, so your own food will almost
always taste better anyway. Airline food is also prepared about 8
hours in advance of the flight, so your own food will be fresher as well.
Coordinating and scheduling menus is a nearly impossible task, so even
on good days you have a fair chance of being served the same meal twice.

If you have dietary restrictions, it is best to bring your own food,
in case the airline doesn't load your meal, or you get hungry before
the meals are served.

Southwest is a "no frills" airline, so don't even bother. The most
you'll get from them is peanuts, pretzels, trail mix, or other light
snacks. You won't get a full meal from them. But what do you want for
some of the cheapest fares in the industry?

If you need a non-carbonated non-alcoholic beverage, most airlines
include apple juice, orange juice, and tomato juice on their beverage
service carts. Tomato juice actually tastes very good, so you might
want to try it on your next flight.

The trend these days is for airlines to not serve meals on short
flights to save money. Continental Airlines doesn't serve meals on
US domestic flights of 2.5 hours or less. Southwest Airlines has never
served meals on its flights. Most airlines that discontinue meal
service on short flights, however, continue to serve beverages and
light snacks (roasted peanuts, almonds, and pretzels, depending on the
airline). Even though the meal itself only costs a few dollars, when
you add in the cost of galley space, storage, preparation, cleanup,
and staffing, it can be as high as $20 a flight. Other airlines, like
Midway and Continental, offer ``No-Peanuts Fares'' on certain flights.
These are usually no-frills, short-haul flights. Some peanuts fares
still serve complimentary beverages.

The three largest inflight catering services are Dobbs International,
Caterair International, and Sky Chefs.

Many frequent travelers report that the special meals actually taste
better and are often 'lighter' than the regular meals.

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Top Document: FAQ: Air Traveler's Handbook 3/4 [Monthly posting]
Previous Document: [3-4a] Air Pressure Problems (Colds)
Next Document: [3-6] Jetlag

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