Traveling to Beijing I had ordered my normal vegetarian meal for the flight. The first meal came and went, and then we recieved our midflight snack at roughly 1am Chicago time. A man visiting the bathroom had decided to walk around and strech his legs. During this time a flight attendant had informed me that he'd be back with my vegetarian meal. The man immediately perked up and started asking me questions. He too was a vegetarian, but was unaware of how to go about requesting such a meal. This made me realize that maybe it's not well known that this is even an option with almost all airlines.
There is one caviate to this before I even get started. Domestic meals, only in first class, do not have a speciasl meal option in the US. You cannot preorder any meal in the US as a first class passanger. If you are vegetarian, fear not as most airlines, are at the very least American Airlines offers one vegetarian option in first class if a meal is given. On the down side, this is often full of cheese, so vegans are out of luck in this arena.
Ordering a special meal for international flights is actually decptively simple. I haven't had much experience with economy class special meals outside of American Airline international. For an international flight on American Airlines and likely most other carriers, you may make your food choice over the phone. Simply call the American Airlines, or other carriers, reservation telephone number and request your meal. It really is that simple.
Should you be flying in a premium cabin, the process is even more simplified. In my experience, this is true for Bristish Airways, Emirates, Qatar, and United. Using your booking code, if you booked through another carrier using points or a code share, then call your carrier and request that reference number. Log into the carriers website as if you were managing a booking, and in premium class cabins you should be able to choose right on the website which meal you would like.
Wheather or noth these meal choice screens are available to economy class passangers is a question I cannot answer, as I've never had the chance to try to book a meal in economy on a foreign carrier. Check it out and it may be just that easy.
Aerican Airlines premium class cabins are a bit different, and often a purchased domestic first class cabin works the same way on American Airlines. If you are in these classes of travel, you are able to secure your preffered meal online ahead of your flight, but American only allows this feature withing 30 days of your flight. So while you may be able to make this choice very far in advance with many carriers, American Airlines only allows the online method within a bout a month of travel. Fear not, you can always still call and put int he request manually.
BBefore you call, you may want to check out the meal options that each carrier has available. A quick search should bring it up for most carriers. Vegetarian isn't the only option, below is an example of the range of options for American Airlines.
These are just the options on AA, while Emirates seems to have far more extensive list of possible meal options. So if you require a special meal for certain dietary needs, you should probably see if it or soemthing close to your preference is available. You may need to remind the flight attendant you ordered that meal, but they will do everything they can to provide this service to you.