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Should Airlines Compensate You if Your Requested Specialty Meal Isn’t Available?

Let’s say you request a vegetarian meal.  Or you request a kosher meal.  Or a diabetic meal.

Either way, the airline gave you an option to request a meal ahead of time, and when you got on the airplane, it wasn’t avaliable.

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What should happen next?

In India, a man was awarded compensation from Swiss Airlines because he wasn’t served his vegetarian meal.

From India Today:

The apex consumer commission has directed a foreign airline to pay a compensation of Rs 20,000 to a customer and upgrade his economy class ticket to business class if he travelled in future, as a penalty for serving him non-vegetarian food instead of a Jain meal he had opted for.

From the Hindustan Times:

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) upheld the district forum’s order also directing Swiss International Airlines, to pay Rs 10,000 towards litigation cost and dismissed the revision petition filed by Mumbai resident Amit Jay Kumar Jain to enhance the compensation.

“The opposite party (airlines) shall be bound by its commitment to upgrade economy class to business class in one flight booked by the complainant from India to Europe or Europe to India with a rider that the complainant must undertake that flight within one year,” the bench presided by Justice Ajit Bharihoke said

In other words, he was awarded RSs 20,000, or about $300 in retribution, plus $150 in lawyer fees.  He was also “awarded” a free upgraded trip, though Swiss Airlines offered that straight out at the beginning of the proceedings.

So should airlines compensate you if your meal isn’t avaliable?

I think it is awful that the airline did not have his vegetarian meal.  However, I’m hesitant to say that airlines should have to compensate customers for not delivering the meal they requested.

I say this as someone who needs speciality meals.  I’m afraid if the airlines could be held liable for not having specialty meals, they’ll choose to not have these meals at all.

It’s far better to have the occasional “mishap” than not have any food on the plane at all.

American Airlines, for example, only offers specialty meals domestically in its trans-con first class.  It had no incentive to keep those meals if someone sues, and certainly no incentive to apply those specialty meals more broadly if it increases their financial risk.

Starbucks just discontinued a lot of its diabetic options because they weren’t helping its bottom line.  I don’t want airlines to start discontinuing their specialty meals for the same options.

Anyone else in the same “special meal” boat?

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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3 comments

  1. Damn right they should. I was told they were out of my pre-ordered meals in AA F last year as the FAs gave it all out by the time they got to me.

  2. On a recent transatlantic business class award flight on American, they didn’t have the meal I had ordered because the menus were wrong. It wasn’t even a special meal, just the one I had requested ahead of time. I wrote a nice email about it, and they gave me 7500 AA miles for my trouble.

  3. People with true dietary restrictions normally bring their food even on ultra-long flights. Diabetic meals are especially a joke. All you need is take any meal and eat less of the carbs if you are watching sugar intake or push carbs if you are afraid of hypoglycemia.

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