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VEGETARIAN MEALS ON AN AIRPLANE

As any vegetarian who travels by plane knows, there are more details to hash out than just departure date, price, airlines, and layovers when booking a ticket-there is also the issue of meal preference. It seems simple enough to just request a special meal and be done with it. But it's not always so simple! Many a vegetarian can tell you stories of meal requests that didn't get logged in for one reason or another. Following these simple steps will ensure that you won't go hungry in the air.

Before flying, verify your meal request at every level: with the travel agent, with the airline a couple of days before the flight, and at the ticket counter when you check in. Anyone who needs to make a special meal request should look into the requirements and available choices that each airline offers and take those things into consideration when choosing an airline. Don't assume that your travel agent knows what you mean when you say that you need a "vegan" or "kosher" or "gluten-free" meal. Clarify and restate your preference several times, verifying that the meal request was made before you pay for your ticket. Check it again when you pick up the hard copy of your ticket. Call the airline(s) two days before you fly and again verify that your meal request was put through. Then ask again at check-in. Finally, ask the flight attendant to check for your meal as you enter the plane. There is sometimes still time to make a last-minute change.

This may seem like overkill, and some vegetarians believe it's simply easier to pack their own snacks. You really shouldn't have to bring your own food on board when you've already paid for a meal, but when you're traveling across the U.S., this is one way to make sure you get to eat on the plane. Traveling internationally, however, it's difficult to carry much food; it is either confiscated or must be thrown out each time you cross into a different country. Each has it's own regulations and level of stringency in enforcing food laws. You may not want to take a chance and get slapped with a huge fine for that little baggie of raisins and nuts. Pack only a small amount of food that you won't mind dumping if you have to cross international lines.

If you don't take some food with you on the plane, keep in mind that last minute change in a flight make it difficult to coordinate the needs and desires of all the passengers on board. If there is an airplane mechanical problem that requires a delay in take-off or change to another craft, it's almost a guarantee that you will be left high and dry during the flight when mealtime comes around. Now, if you're in the San Francisco airport, you can just run to the vegetarian deli and eat before you get on the plane. But if you are in a less veg-friendly airport, the pickings can be slim to say the least.

Most airlines do have at least one vegetarian meal option, and many offer a truly impressive variety, from a fruit plate to your standard ovo-lacto veg meal to several ethnic choices. But remember that things can still go wrong even when you've done all your homework, and don't get on the plane hungry. Then take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!


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