Flying With Dietary Restrictions? Increasingly, That’s Not a Problem

Historically, fliers have ordered special meals because of religious or medical reasons. So why are they asking for them more today than they did before?

Airline experts say that it now may be a matter of personal taste and also because the current generation of travelers adhere to diets that have proliferated in popularity.

Michael Holtz, the owner of SmartFlyer, a global travel consultancy specializing in airlines and airfare, said that many of his clients follow diet plans such as no-carb, gluten-free, low-carb and vegan and want to stick to these plans when they’re in the air. “I even have one person who prefers to drink only green juices and tried to order a green juice meal for a recent flight,” he said. “Needless to say, that wasn’t an option.”

SmartFlyer sells around 25,000 tickets each year, and in 2017, a few thousand of these came with special meal requests, Mr. Holtz said, compared with a few hundred in previous years.

There’s also a perception that special meals taste better, according to Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research Group. “People think, especially those in economy class, that special meals are fresher, healthier and tastier,” he said.

Ben Schlapping, the founder of the online travel site One Mile at a Time, certainly thinks that this is true. He flies more than a dozen times a month, usually in first or business class, and almost always orders an Asian vegetarian meal, even though he is not a vegetarian. “I get to eat a delicious meal, which is usually Indian food,” he said. “The regular food is so bad, even in first class.”

But one flight attendant, who has worked for a major United States airline for more than three decades and requested anonymity to protect her job, said that special meals aren’t a step up from regular meals and are definitely not healthier.

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