The pleasures and sorrows of ordering a special meal in flight

Plate with forkPhoto courtesy of Curt Fleenor

I’ve talked about how anyone can order a special meal on a flight if it’s one of the rare ones that still serve meals.

It just so happens that I had such a flight recently, flying British Airways from Seattle (SEA) all the way over to Heathrow (LHR).

And I got to experience the highs and the lows of the special meal.

The scene

The flight was around 9 hours, taking off at 1:00 PM and landing at 7:00 AM. With this rather dizzying change in time zones, this meant that we were offered not one but two meals, even in economy: dinner and breakfast.

I opted for a special meal, as I knew that the defaults would all contain some kind of animal product I wouldn’t want to ingest. This meant that I had the following choices:

  • Ovo-lacto vegetarian
  • Asian vegetarian
  • Vegan vegetarian

I always find it so interesting when airlines specify a type of cuisine or culture in its special meals. And while any of the three would have worked for me just fine, Asian food (pretty much all of it ) happens to be my favorite kind of food, so I decided in a spirit of adventure to go with the Asian Vegetarian.

Meal #1: Dinner

The meal service started not long after takeoff. As far as I could tell, I was the first person in my entire area to get served. This is always a little unsettling, but also quite fun, as it lets me get a rare sense of special treatment (which isn’t a usual occurrence when you’re sitting in 43D).

The meal consisted of a kind of lentil dal, some curried vegetables, and a basmati rice. Or at least I think that’s what it was. This wasn’t business class, and flavor gets rather lost around 30,000 feet. It was topped off (literally) with some roti, and with a salad on the side. For dessert there was gulab jamun (donut balls in a sweet syrup).

Dinner1

And quite a nice touch was the mouth freshener

Dinner2

Not half bad for economy, BA.

The food wasn’t exceptional, but it was very good, and it was certainly satisfying enough, not too heavy to cause regret, but not too light to cause immediate hunger afterward.

The flip side of getting your meal first is that you don’t get it picked up first. So if you order a special meal, you will sit with it for much longer than if you had ordered a regular meal. On this occasion, as I was sitting way at the back, it did feel like I sat with my empty plates for a long time.

Meal #2: Breakfast

I eventually fell asleep, and awoke to my flight attendant putting down my tray for the next meal.

Once again, I got served before everyone else.

Groggily, I eyed my little box, wondering what exciting pick-me-up would be inside.

I had a big day coming up, and there’s nothing like a good jolt of energy first thing in the morning.

The options were vast, and the expectations were palpable.

I opened the box and this is what I found:

Breakfast

Instead of a substitution, the airline geniuses instead performed a subtraction. You could tell that there was something supposed to be there, only it didn’t adhere to the “specialness” of the meal. So they just left it out.

So for now, let’s all groan at the airlines for finding yet another way to disappoint. A special meal isn’t always so special. Don’t forget your Clif Bars.

But enough about me. What’s been your experience when you’ve ordered a special meal?

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on September 1, 2016