Vegetarians: Don’t Fly American!

22 Oct

I am now going to do my first vacation update. No, really. Part of me doesn’t want to start on a sour note, but part of me would like to get this post out of the way. So, I apologize in advance for the crankiness of this post.

Let’s talk airplane food. I have no delusions of walking on a plane and receiving the best meal of my life. I know that airplane food will be slightly above edible. As a result, I always bring snacks. I did, however, expect the airline to fulfill my special meal request, especially since their website says:

Special meals are available on Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack and Breakfast Snack flights when ordered in advance.

Order at least 24 hours prior to the flight:

  • In First and Business Classes on transcontinental flights in the U.S.
  • In all classes to or from Europe and Asia
  • In all classes to or from Belo Horizonte, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador or Sao Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile or Montevideo, Uruguay.

And even after all the hoops I jumped through, yeah, not so much.

American doesn’t allow you to complain by phone — seriously. It’s either fax, email, or snail mail. The email I sent to them to complain about the fiasco explains exactly what happened:

On October 1, my traveling companion and I flew on AA flight 36 from Dallas to Madrid. We requested vegetarian meals. I called two days in advance, as recommended, to confirm, and the automatic voice said that they were ordered. When we arrived at the airport in Dallas, we verified again with the employee at the gate, and he told us that our meals were ordered. I then also told the flight attendant upon boarding that we had vegetarian meals. When meal service began, we were informed that, though the meals had been ordered, they were not on board the plane. Two very helpful and friendly flight attendants helped to piece together something, but I was very disappointed by the situation. I went through a lot of trouble to ensure our requests were met to no avail.

On October 13, we took flight 235 from Rome to New York. To avoid the meal problem, we spoke with the woman at the gate who informed us that no request had ever been made. She later said the request was in the system but that it was made “improperly.” They were unwilling to do anything. Then a supervisor arrived who told me, after being informed that I needed the meal for health reasons, that she would not let me fly. She changed her mind and then called catering to try to do something. Then she said the problem was solved. On board, the flight attendant said nothing had arrived, and again they cobbled a make-shift meal together.

I am very disappointed by this experience. How will AA try to rectify this situation?

So even after ordering my meal four months in advance, calling ahead, and speaking to two people in person, I was still stranded on board a 9+ hour flight with no meal. I mentioned that the outbound flight attendants were awesome and scrambled to give me something to eat. Here’s the dinner we ended up with:

Two iceberg salads, surprisingly tasty dressing, a roll, “butter,” crackers with Gruyere, a cheese-sundried tomato salad from the first-class meal, and a chocolate caramel brownie. I had decided in advance not to worry about eating vegan on this vacation. To make it easy on the airline (ha!), I chose the lacto-ovo meal. It’s a good thing, too, because this was pretty artery-clogging. BUT it was food that I could eat, and I appreciated the flight attendants’ hard work. For breakfast, we had:

Croissant, strawberry-banana yogurt (gelatin-free), more “butter” (which I never touch — don’t worry), and orange juice. This was acceptable. I can’t complain about it at all.

The flight back is a different story, as you can see above in my letter. In fact, I was so livid after fighting — in Italian, mind you — with the airport folks that I didn’t photograph anything. We ended up with mushroom lasagna, salad, dressing that contained anchovies (didn’t eat it), bread, and some kind of cookie. The small meal at the end was pizza Margherita. The cheese had rennet in it, possibly animal, but I was so starving I ate it anyway.  I wish I hadn’t, but I could only eat so many granola bars without having a blood-sugar spike and crash.

American did respond relatively quickly. Their email has some kind of disclaimer about privacy, so I won’t repost it word-for-word, but the gist is that they are oh-so-sorry to have disappointed me with meal service. Won’t I please accept their apology with a $50 voucher? I decided that they deserved to know my answer:

This is in regards to your response to my previous complaint, #XXXXXXXXX.

I know that the attached flight voucher was intended to make amends for the major inconvenience caused by your company as well as the extreme rudeness by your Rome-based employees. However, a $50 voucher is nowhere near enough recompense to cause me to fly American again. My traveling experience made it clear that American Airlines has no interest in serving those with special dietary needs. It was only through the hard work of the flight attendants that I had anything to eat at all on two 9-plus-hour flights. It’s a good thing that I do not also have a dairy intolerance, because the only things available were filled with cheese and milk. If your airline does not wish to accommodate vegetarians or those with religious restrictions, then you should not offer the option. As it is, I have no confidence that I would ever receive a meal that meets my dietary needs on your flight. As a result, I will take my business elsewhere and encourage my vegetarian friends to do the same.

In addition, I hope you will tell your Rome-based employees that blaming the customer for your company’s mistake is not appropriate, and threatening not to let a vegetarian fly because you failed to provide the appropriate meal ordered four months in advance is terrible business practice.

No, American, I will not use your $50 flight voucher to let you screw me out of the meal I ordered again. I paid over $900 for my ticket; $50 probably doesn’t even cover the meals I wasn’t served.

Vegetarians: I urge you NOT to fly American Airlines, especially not on international flights. If you do, bring a lot more food than I did. I had six granola bars, an apple, and a sample packet of Justin’s Nut Butter. It wasn’t enough. I’ll know better next time, in that I will pack entire meals, and I will NEVER fly American again.

I promise my next post will be happy and full of beautiful photos and delicious food!


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