”If you have any special dietary requirements, then please ask one of our cabin crew for a vegetarian option”… Excuse me?


As I was browsing Air Malta’s website this morning, I came across this: 

air malta

It is great that our National airline, Air Malta, is one of the few airlines in Europe that still offer free in- flight meals. Some airlines have ceased to serve these in economy class to cut costs. But if Air Malta are choosing to use the fact that they are one of the few still providing in-flight meals as a marketing strategy, did they have to stop serving all special meals except vegetarian? They should know that some people follow a special diet due to a medical condition. So  why target this group of people to cut costs?

Amongst others, people who suffer from coeliac disease have been affected by this. For anybody reading this who does not know what this condition is, I will give a short summary.

It is a well-defined, serious illness where the body’s immune system attacks itself when gluten is eaten. This causes damage to the lining of the gut, and means that the body cannot properly absorb nutrients from food- resulting in many symptoms and complications if not treated. Coeliac disease affects about 1% of the population, and 5-10 % of people with type 1 diabetes. The only treatment is a lifelong strict gluten-free diet, and even a few crumbs can make a person with coeliac disease ill. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives. and is thus found hidden in many food items and food must be prepared in a gluten free environment for it to be safe for coeliacs.

So, if you think about it, there is not much that a person with coeliac disease can buy to eat from the airport once security is cleared. Keep in mind that gluten free food for coeliacs must have no traces of gluten, so it is not like one can order another meal and eat what we can from the plate. It has to be specifically prepared.

What would a a child with coeliac disease feel if she is hungry and is unable to eat like other passengers on the plane? Imagine having to fly to a European destination to catch a connecting flight, and having nothing to eat except the few snacks coeliacs carry with them in their carry on luggage because no meal is provided on board, and no gluten-free options are found at the airport. Did they even consider that a diabetic with coeliac disease would have no option when regular meals are advised for health reasons?.

But it is the last sentence  in the On Board Experience piece on Air Malta’s website that prompted me to write this:

If you have any special dietary requirements, then please ask one of our cabin crew for a vegetarian option, which is available on all flights” 

This is frankly thoughtless and insulting to anybody with coeliac disease, or for anybody who suffers from diabetes, allergies or intolerances for that matter.

It can also be dangerous. We are talking about people’s health here! Does Air Malta know that if a sandwich made with wheat bread is given to a coeliac that they can get severely ill?

For a coeliac, a gluten free diet is not a choice. It is a necessity. Although some coeliacs may choose to follow a vegetarian diet, their meals should still be totally gluten free.

Air Malta, please do not offend us by offering a vegetarian meal for any special diet.

At least, revise your meals to make one special meal that suits all- vegetarian/gluten free/ nut free/ lactose free. With a little effort, it is possible.


7 thoughts on “”If you have any special dietary requirements, then please ask one of our cabin crew for a vegetarian option”… Excuse me?

  1. Candie perhaps there is a simple solution for this problem. We all know that gluten free food is more expensive, however I know that we coeliacs are prepared to pay a little bit more just as long as we would be able to have a safe meal on board. The airline does not need to lose any profits this way as we would have paid for our own needs ourselves!


    • Thanks for your feedback Mary Ann.

      Gluten free food does not necessarily have to be more expensive. They could serve a fruit salad or make the vegetarian meal gluten free/lactose free/ nut free. We do not have to be served gluten free bread, especially the dry flaky bread they used to serve.

      Although I would be willing to pay for a gf meal, it would be discriminatory if they had to serve a vegetarian meal free but charged passengers with special needs for other meals. With all due respect to vegetarians, that is a choice. We do not have a choice. And unlike some intolerances, where a few crumbs won’t hurt, we cannot just eat what we can from the plate.

      When Air Malta initially stated that they will not be serving special meals ( including vegetarian) , vegetarians claimed that it was discrimination. So only one special meal was re-introduced.


  2. When I flew Air France, not only did they have GF meals on the flight, they had GF mini bread loaves with the GF meals. I was SHOCKED (and this was YEARS ago!). In the USA, asking for a GF meal on a plane seems like we are asking for someone to fly us to the moon! I take my own food on flights. I have had ‘GF meals’ delivered to my seat by a flight attendant that contained gluten crackers, gluten-breaded items, etc. I give up on trusting the airlines to provide safe food. Pack your own!


    • I should also mention that I follow a ‘paleo’ type diet to control my auto immune diseases, including celiac, and so a vegetarian plate is NOT an option. I need high protein and LOW carb, not the opposite. That’s why I pack my own.


  3. I definitely share your frustration!! When me and my family went abroad last year I was shocked, to say the least, with the reply and attitude I got from Air Malta personelle when I asked for a gluten free meal. I have shared my frustrations on the phone and also with various emails but I never got any satisfactory reply. In fact, after various emails, their ultimate response was:

    “Rigward l-ikel, nixtiequ ninfurmwak illi sfortunatament m’ ghadux possibli li jsir’ Special meal request’.”

    I feel this is pure discrimination and what frustrated me the most was the rude attitude and reply that I got from an Air Malta representative on the phone when with all politneness I shared my disappointment and explained my condition. To justify the case she told me:

    “Madame, keep in mind that we are one of the few airlines that still give a complimentary meal. We have only one dish and it is at the discretion of the passenger to decide if he likes and wants to eat it it or not”.

    Seriously?? First of all, I chose Air Malta and not any other cheap flight so that is already not a justification! Secondly, I am paying like any other passenger on board. Thirdly, and most important, being cealiac is not a question of liking or not liking the food. If I had to base my every day decisions of what I eat on my likings I am sure that I will eat certain food that contains gluten! But our diet is no joke! This is a condition that us cealiacs have to struggle with every day of our lives, and listening to such ridiculous justifications makes me feel very frustrated. Moreover, with all due respect to vegetarians, offering a vegetarian meal as a ‘special meal’ makes the matters worse, since becoming a vegetarian is by choice. I did not choose to become cealiac and I am sure other people with other intolleances did not choose it either!!
    My final argument with various Air Malta customer care representatives was: “If you have a passenger with a physical disability, what do you say? We have the stairs. If you like you can use it?!” By email no one dared answer my question, but on the phone, the person I was complaining to started laughing and told me with a smile: “we designed a special lift for such passengers”. Rightly so! I believe that being just requires not treating everyone as equal at times. If a person has a condition, being physical or medical like in our case, it is offensive to discriminate and show lack of sensitivity towards one who has no control over his situation!


  4. Pingback: A reply from Air Malta | Candie's Adventures in Gluten-Free Land

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