The best airlines for vegan meal options: choose before you fly

Julia Mikhaylova /

Happy World Vegan Day! This day was founded on November 1, 1994 by vegan animal activist Louise Wallis. 

According to the official World Vegan Day site, Wallis specifically set November 1 as the date because it falls between Halloween (October 31), and the Mexican Day of the Dead (November 2). 

“I liked the idea of this date coinciding with Samhain/Halloween and the Day of the Dead – traditional times for feasting and celebration, both apt and auspicious,” Wallis said in an Animal Rights Zone interview in 2011.

For 28 years, World Vegan Day has provided a welcome occasion for vegans in all parts of the world to celebrate and promote veganism with all of its positive aspects.

What is veganism?

Veganism is a philosophy and way of living that abstains from the use and consumption of animal products and bi-products. The most common way of practicing veganism is through diet, while many vegans also avoid wearing or using items sourced from animals such as fur and leather.

As of September 2022, the worldwide vegan population is estimated to be 8 million (out of a total population of 8 billion). 

According to the Good Food Institute’s US Retail Market Insights, the sale of plant-based foods grew three times faster than overall food sales in 2021. 

Vegan airline meals

The demand for vegetarian and vegan food means that many airlines invest in and continue to improve their vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meal options . 

However, despite the growth of vegan food demand, there are still some cases where vegan passengers are left with little or no meal options. Vegan passengers have complained of being given dry sandwiches as vegan meals on domestic US flights. But a paltry bite can be better than nothing. In August 2022, an Air Canada (ADH2) passenger who pre-ordered vegan meals was given only a bottle of water for a 10-hour flight.

So for World Vegan Day 2022, AeroTime has compiled a list of airlines that have stepped up their game when it comes to vegan in-flight meals.

Emirates: Best in variety

Emirates vegan in-flight meals.    Image:

Emirates has been serving vegan in-flight meals since the 1990s. Initially, vegan in-flight meals were served only on specific routes such as Addis Ababa where vegan meals are required during certain times of the year by members of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith, or across the Indian subcontinent where certain religions adopt a plant-based diet. 

According to Emirates, demand for vegan in-flight meals have grown over the last decade, specifically on the airline’s US, Australian, some European and UK routes.

Emirates spent a year developing vegan menus for its first and business class services, employing diverse cuisine specialists like Chinese, Indian and Arabic speciality chefs, to create a wide range of flavors and textures. The tasting panels also included vegan and non-vegan chefs and team members.

Vegan menus on Emirates’ economy class service are also refreshed every month so that frequent travelers can have a wide variety.

Ingredients from Emirates’ vegan options are sourced from several UAE-based suppliers including fresh locally grown kale, heirloom cherry tomatoes, salad leaves and herbs from Bustanica, the world’s largest hydroponic vertical farm.

Emirates currently offers more than 180 plant-based recipes catering to vegan customers.

A handy tip for vegan fliers: Emirates also serves Jain vegetarian meals, possibly the most rigorous form of vegetarianism. A Jain vegetarian diet is completely lacto-vegetarian and also excludes root and underground vegetables, such as potatoes, garlic and onion, to prevent injuring small insects and microorganisms. Additionally, Jain vegetarians cannot eat plants that have been uprooted. 

So, in the rare event that Emirates cannot offer a vegan meal, passengers can opt for a Jain vegetarian meal as backup. 

Alaska Airlines: Best in salads and gluten-free vegan meals

Gluten-free, vegan meals by Alaska Airlines       image:

When Alaska Airlines received feedback that passengers wanted plant-based options when flying, the airline partnered with Evergreens, a restaurant that specializes in healthy food and ingredients. 

Together, the airline and restaurant developed a new vegan option available on board called ‘Soy Meets World’.

One of the Soy Meets World vegan salads includes roasted broccoli, fresh cucumber slices, scallions, pickled carrots, fried tofu and brown rice served over a bed of crisp romaine and baby lettuce greens, topped with roasted cashews, fried onions and paired with a Tamari Chili-Lime dressing.

“We built our menu thoughtfully to offer more plant-based, vegan and gluten-free options, which include a range of fresh, bright flavors inspired by the West Coast and ingredients that are authentically healthy by nature such as roasted broccoli, crisp romaine and baby lettuce greens, quinoa, fresh fruit and more,” Todd Traynor-Corey, Alaska Airlines managing director of guest products, said in a statement.

Japan Airlines: Best in presentation

Japan Airlines’ vegan meal        image:

There’s something appealing about a Bento meal. By definition, Bento is a Japanese-style packed lunch where meal components are neatly divided and separated ornately in small boxes. 

Japan Airlines seems to have ‘Bento-fied’ its in-flight meals, including the vegan options. 

Since 2015, Japan Airlines has partnered with food industry professionals to develop vegan and vegetarian meal options. In 2020, the airline teamed up with Los Angeles-based company Beyond Meat to provide plant-based meat substitutes for the airline’s Tokyo to US routes.

Japan Airlines’ vegan meal options are rich in soy and protein. Its plant-based menu includes tofu omelet, healthy soy meats rich in protein and minerals, cruelty-free vegan ham, as well as menus using almond milk and soy milk.

Swiss International Air Lines : Best in indulgent vegan meals

SWISS vegan food options     image: Swiss International Air Lines Facebook page

A survey by Swissveg revealed that 2.6 million Swiss people (31% of the population) are cutting back on or have eliminated meat consumption. 

It’s not surprising then that Switzerland has been officially named the European epicenter of vegetarianism by eco-friendly solutions website EcoExperts. Since 2016, Swiss International Air Lines has partnered with Hiltl, the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant (established 1898) to develop the airline’s vegetarian and vegan meals. 

In early 2022, the airline developed the SWISS Saveurs menu on its short and long-haul flights. 

One of the specialties that SWISS developed for its longer European flights is a vegetarian Beyond Meat burger with plant-based meat and Swiss mountain cheese.

Other meals the airline developed are tantalizing and indulgent enough to tempt even non-vegans to try them out: 

  • Vegan bulgur salad with radishes and cherry tomatoes from renowned European confectioner Confiserie Sprüngli 

  • Charcuterie platter with Confiserie Sprüngli tree nut bread

  • Swiss chicken breast sandwich with corn roll, tomato and mayonnaise from Confiserie Sprüngli

  • Vegan organic date balls with cocoa and coconut by Noshballs

  • Wafer-thin oven-baked pretzels with sea salt by Zweifel Chips

  • Organic aperitif biscuits with Gruyère AOP by Biscuits Agathe

United Airlines: Best for meatless substitutes

United Airlines’ Impossible Meat Bowl

One of the struggles of being vegan or vegetarian, especially those who have transitioned from a carnivorous diet, is the tendency to crave meat

United seems to understand this plight. The airline partnered with Impossible Foods, a Los Angeles-based company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat products. 

The two companies developed a vegan meal exclusive to United Airlines for all domestic flights more than 1,287 kilometers (800 miles) in the continental US: the Impossible Meat Bowl. The hearty ‘meatballs’ are made from plants and broccolini served on a bed of couscous and topped with an herb-infused tomato sauce, seasoned with a savory homestyle spice blend.

And for United lounges in Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark and San Francisco, the airline offers Impossible Sausage as an optional omelet ingredient and Impossible Sausage breakfast patties in the buffet.

We’d love to know: are you vegan? Which airline has the best vegan meals for you?

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