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Flying as a vegan: What are your options, and which airlines do it best?

Aug. 29, 2022
25 min read
vegan meal
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Editor's Note

This post has been updated with new information.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with new information.


I've been vegan since 2004. Airline food has come a long way since then, but still, some airlines are better than others in terms of the food options they offer (and whether they even load your meal on the plane in the first place).

Over the past 18 years, I've realized some airlines are more reliable than others when it comes to actually delivering the vegan meal I requested and confirmed in advance. Let's look at what your options for vegan meals are on flights, how to request them and which airlines are the most reliable for following through.

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Vegan meal options on flights

Most airlines require you to request a meal at least 24 hours — though sometimes 48 hours — before takeoff. It’s also advisable to double-check upon your arrival at the airport to make sure your special meal request went through properly. That way, you can eat in the airport or buy something to bring on the flight if the airline doesn't have the meal you requested.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, airlines also have different meal codes, which can add to the confusion about what you’re actually ordering:

  • VGML — Vegetarian Vegan Meal. This meal will be completely free from all animal products including meat, dairy, eggs and honey. However, this will typically come with the same bread as everyone else, which is often not vegan, as well as butter and a standard cow’s milk for your tea or coffee.
  • VLML — Vegetarian Lacto-Ovo Meal. A traditional vegetarian dish with no fish or meat, but it may contain other animal products such as eggs, dairy and honey.
  • VOML — Vegetarian Oriental Meal. These are typically found on Asian airlines. They are almost always vegan and prepared in an Oriental style, such as vegetables with rice. This option also tends to be gluten-free.
  • AVML — Asian Vegetarian Meal. This is most likely not vegan, as it typically includes spiced vegetables (which may contain ghee), as well as dairy products, such as paneer cheese.
  • VJML — Vegetarian Jain Meal. This is a very safe option for vegans as this meal will be in accordance with the Jainism religious principles. This means it will only contain fruit and vegetables that grow above the ground, and no animal products.
  • RVML — Raw Vegetable Meal. If you’re looking for a vegan dish, you can’t go wrong with this option, as it will exclusively be a selection of raw fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, that often means it's the blandest option.
  • FPML — Fruit Platter. For any fruitarians out there, this is the one for you.

These codes are the basic principles, though you may see some airlines simply offering a "vegetarian meal" as their only vegetarian option. In many instances, these are vegan and designed to cover every type of vegetarian meal request.

But what's the real-life experience here? How consistent are airlines in delivering these vegan meals? Are they any good?

How airlines handle vegan meal requests

Aeromexico

Aeromexico passengers can request a special meal up to 48 hours before takeoff, and vegan meals are available on flights beyond Mexico that are at least three hours in length — though not always. Some flights less than five hours in length may have preset meal boxes without the ability to request special meals. Make sure to understand what's being served on your particular flight.

Aeromexico offers a Vegetarian Meal that should be vegan, distinguished from the Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian meal that isn't. The details are here.

Air Canada

Vegans can choose the Western VGML or Indian-style VJML when flying on Air Canada. Special meals are available on all flights departing North America, as well as for passengers in business class or premium economy when flying within North America. These requests are handled reliably, minus occasional non-vegan butter packets on your tray.

If you're a vegan flying in the economy cabin within North America, you'll need to bring your own food. This is because the meal boxes aren't vegan and special meal requests aren't possible.

Air China

Air China offers four vegetarian meals, but only the Vegetarian Vegan Meal is suitable for vegans. Requests for vegetarian and vegan meals must be made by phone at least 24 hours before takeoff.

Air France

Air France offers a wide range of special meals, all of which can be requested online or even through a private message to their Twitter team. The website says you must request special meals at least 24 hours in advance, except 48 hours for Kosher meals.

In my experience, the airline struggles with providing vegan meals. I have never received an appropriate, vegan meal in economy class, despite confirming it in advance of every flight.

In business class, I received a vegan main dish on two occasions (out of four flights), though both included numerous non-vegan items on the tray. On other occasions, I received macaroni and cheese as a main dish, which was a big disappointment after confirming a vegan meal in advance.

The airline also has a bad habit with breakfast. They will serve something non-vegan, even if they tell you in advance it's vegan. You can expect copious amounts of dairy, eggs or both — such as this meal below and another time where they served me an omelet.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Air India

In a country with so many different diets and religious observations, vegan meals are easy to obtain when flying with Air India. The Vegetarian Vegan Meal, Fruit Platter, Raw Vegetable Meal and Vegetarian Oriental Meal are vegan-friendly. The description of the Jain meal on Air India does not guarantee that it's vegan, unfortunately.

You'll need to request your special meal at least 48 hours in advance by calling a customer service center.

Air New Zealand

The vegetarian meal is VGML and suitable for vegans on Air New Zealand flights. Travelers can request this online at least 24 hours in advance.

This airline is reliable in providing special meals — both in terms of meeting the dietary requirements and delivering them. Details are available here.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines promises to always have vegetarian options on board. The options can change, though, meaning it's impossible to know whether it will be vegan. The airline handles food service on board differently depending on the length of a flight, but it is possible to request special meals in advance (with at least 24 hours' notice) if your trip will include meal service.

If your flight doesn't include a free meal service, you can still pre-order items to enjoy on board. These must be reserved at least 20 hours before takeoff. The Soy Meets World Salad and Mediterranean Tapas Picnic Pack are both vegan. Details are available here.

All Nippon Airways (ANA)

Japan's ANA offers over 20 special meals, most of which can be requested online under "manage reservation" (except for the allergen-free meals). Requests must be done at least 24 hours in advance. Vegan options include the Vegetarian Jain Meal, Vegetarian Oriental Meal, Vegetarian Raw Meal and Vegan Meal.

American Airlines

American Airlines is inconsistent in its handling of vegan meal requests. When seated in economy, my vegan meals tend to be delivered with a thick covering of cheese, despite having a VGML sticker on top. When seated in business class, the airline fares better, typically delivering a vegan main dish at dinner time; however, it's always accompanied by packets of dairy butter and usually a dessert that isn't vegan.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

American Airlines doesn't tend to do well with breakfast, in my experience. The meal usually includes yogurt, dairy and croissants as a base of the meal.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

According to the airline's website, you can request special meals online from 30 days to 24 hours before takeoff.

Asiana

South Korea-based Asiana offers 20-plus special meals. These must be requested by phone at least 24 hours in advance. Vegans can choose from the following: Vegan Vegetarian Meal, Vegetarian Oriental Meal, Fruit Platter Meal, Vegetarian Jain Meal and Raw Vegetarian Meal.

Avianca

Colombia's Avianca recently made some large cutbacks as it goes through bankruptcy. At present, the airline's website says special meals are only available on select routes to Europe lasting seven hours or more. You must request these at least 24 hours in advance. You'll need to call to request a special meal.

Before these cutbacks, Avianca was not reliable with special meals. I never managed to have the airline fulfill my request for a vegan meal, despite confirming it in advance on three occasions.

Azul

Brazil-based Azul offers a growing network of flights within South America, as well as connections between Brazil and Florida or Portgual. I have flown on long-haul flights with Azul three times and can say the airline has consistently failed to provide vegan meals.

Whether the airline simply forgets your meal or gives you something that isn't close to being vegan, the end result is the same: vegans should bring their own meals when flying with Azul.

The airline does advertise a "Vegetarian Meal (VGML) — Meals prepared from plant foods, free of animal products or their derivatives" on its website. You must call at least 48 hours in advance to request it.

British Airways

British Airways' website states that the airline “cannot offer every special meal type on all flights, and there may be flights where we cannot supply your chosen meal." Social media reports suggest that BA’s vegan and veggie options aren’t the best. Plus, the airline has consistent issues with adding non-vegan sides to its vegan main courses — plus yogurt-based breakfasts, even when passengers have confirmed a VGML in advance.

This could be extremely distressing for most vegans and even potentially dangerous for those with intolerances and allergies. As such, it might be necessary to err on the side of caution when flying with BA as a vegan.

You must request special meals at least 24 hours before departure. Meals vary, so it's difficult to know in advance what your vegan meal may contain. You can view the carrier’s full special meals terms here.

Cathay Pacific

Oneworld alliance member Cathay Pacific is based in Hong Kong and offers over 20 special meals. Vegan options include the Fruit Platter Meal, Vegetarian Raw Meal, Vegetarian Jain Meal and Vegetarian Oriental Meal. Special meals can be requested online under "manage booking" or by calling the nearest customer service center.

China Airlines

This SkyTeam member airline offers seven different vegetarian meals. Vegans can choose from these options: Vegetarian Oriental Meal, Vegetarian Vegan Meal, Vegetarian Jain Meal, Fruit Meal and Vegetarian Raw Meal. Requests must be done by phone at least 24 hours before flight departure with China Airlines.

Copa Airlines

Copa Airlines is a member of Star Alliance, and as of 2020, it no longer offers special meals. However, this changes nothing in practice. The airline never once provided a special meal to me or my wife, though we flew countless segments with the airline while living in Brazil and traveling throughout South and Central America.

Despite requesting the meals in advance and having both check-in agents and boarding gate agents promise the meals were on board, they never were. The airline ended this charade two years ago, and now they advise you to bring your own food.

Delta Air Lines

With much fanfare, Delta announced five new vegetarian meal options on flights that will come as standard options — no special requests in advance needed. Unfortunately, all of these include dairy. Vegans will still need to request a special meal in advance.

Delta's website outlines several special meal options, including VGML for vegans, and states all requests must be submitted at least 24 hours before departure. You can do this online.

While the airline consistently delivers vegan meals that are actually vegan, don't expect to be impressed with flavor. You'll encounter plain tofu or plain rice cakes in many dishes. However, you'll at least have a full belly.

The airline has also improved its vegan offerings in its Sky Club lounges. My wife and I recently had breakfast sandwiches with Beyond Meat's Beyond Sausage patties at the new Sky Club at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

El Al

Israel's El Al offers a "pure vegetarian (vegan) meal" that you can request online. Details are available here, but there is no specific cut-off time listed for when your requests must be made. Err on the side of safety and submit your request at least 48 hours in advance.

Emirates

Emirates has ranked as the best option for vegan travelers for several years now, according to a Veg News poll. Even non-vegan passengers are known to get food envy about the airline’s vegan dishes. In January of 2019, Emirates reported that requests for vegan meals increased by more than 40% — an indication of the demand for the alternative.

Emirates’ VGML options range from vegetable curry with rice to vegan lasagna and even vegan pancakes. Since the carrier noticed an increased demand for vegan options, it also added a nut-based vegan cheese to some flights. Be cautious though, as some passengers have reported that the roll and butter served as sides are not always vegan.

With Emirates, all special meal requests must be booked at least 24 hours in advance of your flight. In addition, the airline says that some special meals may be unavailable in economy on shorter flights. You can view the carrier’s full special meals terms here.

Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines allows you to request special meals online in advance (here), though the website is prone to errors during this process. Previously, the airline also offered a chat that you could use for special meal requests, but this has ended. I've found the best way to request vegan meals is through its Twitter team, using a private message.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

The airline consistently delivers main dishes that are vegan, as long as you request at least 24 hours in advance. These may be Western-style meals or traditional Ethiopian food, and I've had success on every flight, whether in economy or business class. However, the Western-style meal usually comes with a non-vegan dessert, which you can see in the photo above.

Etihad Airways

Famous for its onboard chefs, Etihad Airways offers multiple types of vegetarian meals. However, only the "vegetarian meal VGML" is guaranteed to be vegan. You can request these online, and details are available here.

On both short-haul and long-haul flights, I've had great experiences with Etihad delivering my requested meals and providing something that was vegan — even down to the side dishes.

Finnair

I consider Finnair the example of what every other airline should strive to be when it comes to vegan meals on flights. Finnair's website lists a "Vegetarian diet (VGML)," which you can request online. Requests must be submitted at least 24 hours in advance.

Finnair has delivered not only some of the best vegan meals I've ever had on flights, but it's also the only airline to offer me a curated vegan dessert. Rather than just a fruit cup, I've had raspberry mousse and even miniature cupcakes.

Japan Airlines (JAL)

JAL offers over 20 special meals, most of which can be requested under "manage booking" online (exceptions are the kosher and minimal allergen meals). Meals must be requested at least 24 hours in advance. Vegans can choose from the following: Vegetarian Vegan Meal, Vegetarian Raw Meal, Vegetarian Oriental Meal and Jain Vegetarian Meal.

Kenya Airways

Despite the fact Kenya Airways has had a typo in its special meals section for several years now, there actually is a vegan meal option. You'll see "Vegetarian meals (AVML)" on the website, but this is actually a vegan meal and should say VGML. When requesting meals from the airline (which you can do online), you'll see VGML in your confirmation, so don't fret.

I've had great success with this airline delivering on special meal requests. Aside from a salad dressing here or a butter packet there, most of what you will receive should be vegan, including the main dish and side dishes. Just be sure to read the ingredients on condiments with Kenya Airways.

Korean Air

Korean Air offers six different vegetarian meals; four of these are suitable for vegans. Requests can be made at least 24 hours before your flight's departure, and this can be done by phone or online in "manage booking." Choose from the Vegetarian Vegan Meal, Vegetarian Jain Meal, Vegetarian Oriental Meal or Raw Vegetarian Meal.

KLM

There are some positives and negatives with vegan meals on KLM. First, the airline says it has vegetarian meals preloaded onto all flights, though there is a limited number of these. If you want to guarantee one — or want to ensure it's vegan — then you should request in advance, which you can do online at least 24 hours in advance.

While the airline consistently delivers vegan dinners and main courses for breakfast, it also consistently includes non-vegan items like yogurt and butter on the breakfast tray. Also, don't plan to be impressed by the vegan meals; they will include things like a pile of lettuce passed off as a salad, but you'll at least have something to eat when flying with KLM.

LATAM

I lived in Brazil for the last six years, and I've lost count of how many times I flew on LATAM — South America's largest airline. However, the airline only delivered my special meal once.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Dinner on the one flight where LATAM actually honored my vegan meal request included a super-salty meatless meatloaf. Breakfast was slices of plain, silken tofu with slices of fruit — nothing creative and honestly the type of food most people mock vegans for. However, they provided something appropriate to eat, which was an improvement for a change.

Vegan meals (and special meals in general) are not available in economy class for most flights within South America. However, you can request a special meal when flying long-haul between South America and other continents (or when flying in premium economy or business class within South America). You must request your special meal at least 24 hours in advance and will need to call to do so. Details are here.

Lufthansa

I lived in Germany for two and a half years and Lufthansa consistently honored my vegan meal requests. These included medium-haul and long-haul flights, in both economy and business class. Even the butter packets are typically vegan with this airline. Plus, the basket of warm bread rolls is fantastic.

Unfortunately, special meals aren't available in economy for flights less than 185 minutes (three hours and five minutes) in length. You can see details and request your VGML here.

Qantas

My first-ever business class flight was on Qantas, and I remember being wowed when I received soy milk to go with my coffee during breakfast.

Qantas flights are said to have exceptional vegan food available on both intercontinental and domestic flights. Special meal options have been known to include pasta with tomato sauce, stir-fried vegetables with noodles, white bean and pumpkin curry, rye rolls and fresh cakes.

Qantas says that special meals must be requested at least 24 hours prior to departure (or 36 hours for Kosher meals). Additionally, the carrier says that special meals are not available on domestic economy flights of three and a half hours or less; the carrier only serves refreshments on those shorter flights. You can view the carrier’s full special meals terms here.

Qatar Airways

Whether you're flying in economy, business or first, Qatar Airways is known for its service. This even includes short flights like Doha's Hamad International Airport (DOH) to Dubai International Airport (DXB) — a flight of just 75 minutes where you can still request (and consistently receive) a vegan meal.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

When I flew Qatar's Qsuite product, I received a delicious dish of noodles with General Tso's tofu. On shorter flights or when flying in economy, the airline has consistently delivered vegan meals every time I've requested one in advance.

The airline's website says you must request special meals at least 24 hours before departure, and you can do this online.

Royal Air Maroc

Morocco-based Royal Air Maroc offers vegan meals and other special meals available for request online. The only vegetarian option is the VGML, which is a vegan meal. The website states that all requests must be occur at least 48 hours in advance.

Unfortunately, vegan meals are a bit hit-or-miss on this airline.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

While dinner is consistently vegan, minus packets of dairy butter on the side, it won't come with much flavor. However, that is an improvement over the airline's breakfast, which consistently includes numerous non-vegan items (croissants, yogurt and butter). This is because you will receive the standard tray of items served to all customers, though with a substituted main dish.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Royal Jordanian

Unfortunately, Royal Jordanian has removed all details about special meals from its website. Instead, it simply advises travelers that special meals are available and says they must request them at least 24 hours before departure.

In practice, the airline has multiple special meal types available, including vegan meals. The airline has never let me down on the delivery of a special meal request. Request these on the website when managing your reservation.

Ryanair

It's likely not the first airline you think of for meals during a flight — especially since you have to pay for them — but Ryanair consistently has great vegan meal options on its flights. You can preorder meals online in advance. If not, there are options on the in-flight menu with green indicators for what's vegan. Note that they don't have an unlimited supply of these items, though, and it's not guaranteed that your preferred items will be available if you don't order in advance.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

That being said, the airline has a vegan sausage roll for 5.50 euros ($5.48) and a vegan lasagna for 6.50 euros ($6.48). I highly recommend this lasagna. It's much better than the vegan snack options on many other airlines.

SAS

Special meals are available on SAS' intercontinental flights or when traveling in premium cabins on flights more than 80 minutes within Europe. There are three vegetarian meals available, including a clearly-indicated vegan meal. The website says you need to request special meals at least 24 hours in advance.

The airline performs well, consistently delivering vegan meals that are actually vegan — including the margarine packets. However, decline the box of chocolates when the flight attendants offer it, as these won't be vegan. If you get lucky enough to have the vegan gnocchi on one of your flights, you won't be disappointed.

South African Airways

You'll need to request your meal at least 48 hours in advance when flying with South African Airways (or 72 hours for Kosher meals). There are no details about what's in the meals listed on the website, but SAA promises the availability of vegan meals if requested in advance. These are only available on long-haul flights, however.

From personal experience, SAA will deliver a vegan main dish and appropriate sides during lunch or dinner, though you should be wary of condiment packages. For breakfast, it's a toss-up on whether you'll get something vegan. The airline tends to deliver yogurt or egg dishes, though you may also get stuck with another plate of exactly what you had for dinner.

SWISS

Switzerland-based SWISS consistently delivers well on its vegan meals. You'll get a tray full of items that are actually vegan. However, don't expect to be overwhelmed with taste. The fact you'll get vegan food as requested is more than other airlines can claim, though.

You can request special meals up to 24 hours prior to departure, and the website says these are available on all long-haul flights, as well as flights within Europe for passengers traveling in business class. There are four types of vegetarian meals available, though only one is vegan.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines offers a "strict vegan meal (VGML)," which you can request online, via the app or from their Twitter team, as long as you do so at least 24 hours in advance. The airline has multiple types of vegetarian meals available, and its Jain meal (VJML) should also be vegan; choose this if you like Indian food. The VGML option tends to match the culinary traditions of your departure point (such as Chinese food in China or Italian food in Italy).

Turkish Airlines consistently delivers vegan meals without non-vegan items.

United Airlines

United's website says it offers special meals, including VGML vegan meals, on flights more than 2,000 miles in North America as well as premium transcontinental flights, flights from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii and all international routes beyond North America. You need to request a special meal at least 24 hours in advance.

United has finally returned to offering special meals after refusing to offer any during much of the coronavirus pandemic. During this time, the airline often had vegetarian options that tended to be vegan, such as Thai curry, which is nice to know in case you forget to request your vegan meal in advance.

Virgin Atlantic

With high ratings for both vegan food and healthy dishes, Virgin seems to be a great choice for inflight meals. Through its partnership with the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the airline looks for alternatives to — or sustainably-sourced versions of — beef, seafood, soy and palm olive products.

You must book your meal at least 24 hours before your flight departs (48 hours if you’re requesting a Kosher meal). Additionally, Virgin says that special meal requests only apply to your main meal and do not include snacks and condiments. You can view the carrier’s full special meals terms here. It says vegan meals are available on all flights.

Bottom line

Flying as a vegan can still be a challenge, but it is improving. Some airlines are leaders in the space when compared to others. The best advice for vegan travelers is to be well-prepared before a flight by researching the airline's policy for requesting meals and the likeliness of actually receiving it.

It shouldn't take this much effort, but my wife and I make sure to request our vegan meals more than once, and confirm the selection at the check-in desk (asking if there's a special meal but not telling the agent which type we requested, so we can understand the reality of our meal situation). We also still bring a small snack on board just in case. Some easy travel options include bananas, nuts, dried fruits, protein bars, vegetable sticks or even oatmeal cups that require just hot water.

Feature photo by Alexander Spatari/Getty Images.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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