Not All American Airlines Asian Vegetarian Meals Are Created Equal…

Filed Under: American, Travel

Earlier this year American made the single biggest improvement to their domestic catering that they’ve made in quite a while. Or so I thought.

Specifically, they now let you order special meals on any flight where a meal is served, including domestic first class flights. This is great news because American’s typical domestic catering leaves a lot to be desired, and up until recently I only had good experiences with American’s Asian Vegetarian meals (which have the code “AVML”). This is almost always some sort of Indian food, which I love both because it’s healthier, and also because it typically tastes better (in general Indian food reheats well).

For example, here’s an Asian Vegetarian meal I’ve been served on a flight from New York to Los Angeles:

And here’s the Asian Vegetarian meal I’ve been served on a flight from London to Los Angeles:

I’ve almost exclusively gotten jealous looks from other passengers and comments from flight attendants about how good the food looks when ordering these meals.

Yesterday on an American transcon flight out of Los Angeles I ordered my usual meal, and was served the following:

Never before have I looked so longingly at the meals other people were being served on an American Airlines flight. For reference, American describes Asian Vegetarian meals as being “spicy vegetarian meals with limited use of dairy products.”

What was I served? An appetizer of celery sticks and chips (seriously?!?), the plainest salad imaginable, a hard, packaged bread roll, and a main course consisting of broccoli, carrots, and rice, with no sauce or flavor whatsoever. Then for dessert there was a small fruit plate.

I’m not sure if this was a catering glitch (this meal was the opposite of “spicy”), or if this is just what Asian Vegetarian meals look like LAX. The thing I can’t really get over is the appetizer of chips and celery sticks. Did they cater this from the Admirals Club?

So now I’m curious, have I just been really lucky with Asian Vegetarian meals on American up until now, or was I really unlucky here? Now I’m questioning the Asian Vegetarian meals that I’ve reserved going forward…

  1. I think you have just been lucky (hehe) so far. I have been offered worse when I have ordered Asian Vegetarian. Like the main course was just two vegetables.

  2. I think special meals are intended to accommodate dietary restrictions and are not intended to be upgraded dining options.

  3. At least if it had a sauce it would be better as it looks so dry. The ex-lhr looks good
    Catering should be consistent though worldwide
    It’s very inexpensive to prepare a good quality vegetarian/vegan meal. Look at all the tv programs we have showing how to eat well for less

  4. I think they took vegetarian to mean “just vegetables”. Obviously not a lot of thought put into that meal. Maybe it’s time to switch to Delta….

  5. There’s nothing Asian about that…wonder if they gave your “Bland” meal. could also be that AA catering at LAX has been a CF for the past 6-7 months, maybe they still haven’t fixed everything there.

  6. Haha. I’m almost hesitant to order AVML. I’m afraid I’d be served one celery, one mushroom and two roasted peppers.

  7. Looks very bland. This convinced me not to try AV meal, which I have been pondering.

    Maybe they thought you had constipation Lucky 😉

  8. I recently flew LATAM from JFK to Santiago business and ordered an Asian vegetarian meal. It looked very similar to what you got on your AA flight ex-LAX… steamed vegetables and rice. No sauce. No flavor. I was told this was actually a vegan meal – not Asian Veg.

    I would guess it was a glitch Lucky and you ended up with a Vegan special meal by mistake.

  9. That is one sad looking Asian Vegetarian Meal. In fact there’s nothing asian about it, other than the serving of rice! :p

  10. Chips? lol I think it’s because you’ve been praising their meals so much. AA had to reset your expectations lower.

  11. Perhaps you have once again ruined it for everyone. You blog about Asian Vegetarian meals. Next thing you know, orders of Asian vegetarian meals increase 5 fold. And suddenly AA needs to cut the cost of those meals. Well done.

  12. It is not a glitch; I was served utter crap (vegetarian meal) on Wednesday night MCO-DFW flight…this is after 3 awesome meals previously. AA has figured out a way to screw a good thing up in record time.

  13. Gee I was going to change my order on a upcoming flight, but sheesh, looks like they made that meal from leftovers.

  14. As vegetarianism becomes the preferred diet of the new youth in America (the responsible generation now replacing the profligate baby boomers), the situation will no doubt improve.

  15. I agree with @Eric. My experience ordering special meals is that they more closely resemble hospital restricted diet fare. I once ordered a vegetarian meal and got an apple, a banana, celery and carrot sticks, plain iceberg lettuce and saltines (the FA actually apologized when he handed it to me).

  16. Very airport dependent but they have fallen along with most of AA food offerings. London seems to have the best food consistently. In general, crappy regular meals equate to crappy Asian vegetarian meals at the same caterer.

  17. I’ve tried two times to get this. The first time my request was catered with a chicken dish. And the second it wasn’t catered at all. If fact, the flight attendant the second time told me you can’t actually order any meal you want. HA

    Boarding a flight now, request 3 was put in a few days ago. Fingers crossed I’ll actuall get to try it, but I don’t want want was just served to Lucky. lol

  18. I’m a FA and I’ve noticed different catering kitchens do different things with special meals. But, often, kitchens will create one meal to cover several dietary restrictions. I’ve seen Asian veg meals that are the same as Vegetarian and vegan. Great when you’re wanting an avml but I almost always get complaints when they order the vegetarian, basically wanting this, and they’re given an Indian inspired dish that has flavor.

  19. As the meals are meant to be for people with dietary restrictions, they will sometimes substitute meals for the “lowest common denominator”.

    That looks like a “bland” meal, which anyone who can eat an Asian Vegetarian meal can also eat. I regularly get given vegan meals when ordering vegetarian across many airlines. Whether it’s because they’re cost cutting or they genuinely just didn’t have enough on the day I don’t know.

  20. Wow. This literally looks like my 90 year old moms ICU meal, which, of course, she never touched.

  21. No sauce and seasoning is a actually very healthy. The only unhealthy part of the meal is the chips. I agree with @eric. It is meant for dietary needs, desires, or restrictions and not upgraded meals. The reason they are so good is that they cannot mass produce those and the caterers need to individually prepare and make those special dishes.

  22. Last week on a transcontinental flight, my preordered Asian vegetarian meal didn’t make it on board. The FA “gave” me 2500 miles. Maybe I was lucky…

  23. I follow your blog quite judiciously. I see that you enjoy Indian food. You should fly Sigapore suites Singapore to Delhi or Mumbai. They have an Indian Thai (platter) by chef Sanjeev Kapoor. I think you should try it if you can. Dom and Krug pairing doesn’t hurt. I would have attached some pics here if I could.

  24. I follow your blog quite judiciously. I see that you enjoy Indian food. You should fly Sigapore suites Singapore to Delhi or Mumbai. They have an Indian Thali (platter) by chef Sanjeev Kapoor. I think you should try it if you can. Dom and Krug pairing doesn’t hurt. I would have attached some pics here if I could.

  25. I had a similar experience on DL flying Delta One SLC-CDG. I ordered a gluten free meal and received piles of lettuce with bland dressing, a little bit of fruit and a roll. I felt like those preparing the meal figured gluten free meant vegetables. Needless to say I was starving, but it sounds like this was a dual-purposed vegetarian meal.

  26. Why on earth do they (and many other airlines too) not understand dairy products are integral part of AVML? That’s just vegan.

  27. Should have just pureed it for you with some fresh horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and a dash of Tabasco and served it up as a super-spicy-veggie-AAdvantage-smoothie.
    We’re flying in a few weeks LAX-SJD; not getting our hopes up though on this short hop international flight to Cabo.

  28. I’m vegetarian and always order the AVML – much better than the oriental vegetarian meal (Chinese style), which is often very bland, IMHO. Usually international J routes, the AVML is excellent, but if it’s a short route it might be crappy. Recently flew FUK-ICN in J on OZ and while everyone got a nice bento box, I got sliced, raw capsicum. That was it.
    Sometimes airlines combine all vegetarian meals on short or domestic routes – eg QF domestic you will see AVML sticker on the meal, but it’s also vegan, regular vegetarian… One size fits all.

  29. Like others, I suspect catering decided to make life easier for themselves and produce one meal for everyone ordering vegan/vegetarian/Asian vegetarian. And of course, the lowest common denominator (vegan) wins in such cases, because a vegan meal also technically meets the requirements of the other two, but not vice versa. You roll the dice when you order AVML, and it came up snake eyes this time.

  30. Man. You bitch the food is too unhealthy. Then you get a bland but very healthy vegetarian meal, and you bitch again. Put some salt and pepper on that stuff and bam, good to go.

    Americans need to spend some time growing up in a third world country eating basically rice everyday for meals. Then they won’t bitch about healthy food as much. That’s part of why you got so many fat disgusting people eating themselves to death (essentially) with all this nice looking, tasty, high calorie food so readily available in America.

  31. @Saurabh Rao I got one of the best Indian food by Emirates and Etihad from Mumbai to Dubai; Ahmedabad to Abu Dhabi as compared to Singapore airlines….
    Also I was served Indian food in business class so there’s no reason to pay more for just a mere dish….

  32. Had the Asian vegetarian meal this evening and it was the usual delicious veggie meal! I read this post just before my flight and was worried a little afraid of what I’d be served. Every time I have had the AVML catered ex-DFW it’s been great. The only bad one was out of Boston and it was a breakfast- just as bad as the regular omlette.

  33. I don’t eat cheese as it makes me physically ill. I often fly Qatar which offers a low lactose meal but they always load an Indian meal instead. Nothing makes me more ill than an Indian meal! I now order kosher meals as kosher does not permit cooking dairy and meat together. Those have consistently been pretty good; that is, when they load them!

  34. Healthy? Really? Isn’t that a paratha??? And I’m the sure the salt content will have your kidneys knocked off before you’re forty.

  35. “Why on earth do they (and many other airlines too) not understand dairy products are integral part of AVML? That’s just vegan.”

    Huh? Dairy is certainly not an integral part of Asisn Vegetarian cooking.

    Sure, it’s in a lot of South Asian cooking, but certainly not in Chinese or Japanese dishes

  36. Ordering special meals – you know you never get operational upgrades.

    Unless you need it (like for coeliac disease or religious reasons) if never order a special meal

  37. @RICH: Untrue. I have AVML in my FFP of TK and TK upgrades me 25% of the time.

    On other airlines (Hello CX!) I sometimes get plain carrots and piece of apple or so. It’s the meal for vegans, vegetarians, jain vegetarians, diabetes, it’s low-salt, it’s bland, it’s for lacto-ovo, for no-fish pax and for elderly. Basically: one ‘special’ meal answers all the requests.

  38. @JRML: AVML typically caters for Indian passengers and usually includes dairy product. For Chinese style that’s VOML. AVML should actually be re-named as General Indian Vegetarian or something to avoid confusions.

  39. I was a FA for an airline based in US about a decade ago… when the caters screwed up with special meal counts and last minutes deliveries of special meals happen during boarding, they tended to scramble whatever available nearby, like from other outbound flights or extra meals loaded on the flight. Or worse, once the flight had taken off, FA assigned to the galleys would force to creat a “special meal” using extra meals and crew meals on board. The photo of your AVML surely does not look appealing … Entree should have some sauce to go with , at least…?

  40. @ Aaron Tan. I don’t think eating Indian food will knock off your kidneys before 40. Being Indian myself the Indian food you get in restaurants is not what is cooked typically in Indian household. We have meals which are a very nice balance of healthy fats, complex carbs and protein.

  41. That’s why I’m hesitant to order the special meals. Their description is way too vague, so you never know what to expect.

  42. The variation and quality in special meals is a direct function of the departing airport and the catering contract that AA has there. For example, LHR, SFO and JFK consistently have good Asian vegetarian meals on AA flights. But ex LAX flights are terrible, as per your notes above.

  43. We are talking about airline food, which is (in general) a slight step above prison-quality, often presented in economy (sometimes even business) with the aplomb of a school cafeteria employee. I’m not talking about first class Etihad here. Most of the meals depicted in this blog (even in premium cabins) look unsubstantial at best and, at times, downright disgusting. Particularly when the caterers try to present poor quality food as “gourmet” dishes having limited appeal. I find it often laughable when I refuse a meal onboard and the flight attendants look at me like I have just turned down the most delectable victuals known to man.

    Normally I purchase something I want to (and will actually) eat from the relatively expansive variety of food establishments and/or lounges in the airport prior to boarding and bring it along with me.

    My dream would be if airlines simply stopped offering food and charged less as a result. I’m happy to fend for myself food-wise.

  44. Horrific. However, such can be seen on many famous blogs in the miles and points world. Some trip reports are banged out in 4 days, and some get stretched out over 4 weeks just so filler content can be posted instead to drive up engagement.

  45. @747always

    On Lucky’s blog he stretches one trip report out to 2 months, with a dozen articles chugging credit cards in between whilst bitching about food, service, plates and his disturbing door fetish.

  46. Where were you flying to? Although it might’ve been a transcon flight, it doesn’t look like it was an A321T flight, in which case you wouldn’t be able to do an apples-apples comparison to the JFK-LAX meal. Non-premium transcons receive the same lousy special meals which could fall under multiple special meal categories as standard domestic flights… Would love to find out what the AVML is like when flying LAX-JFK though!

  47. I just had the asian vegetarian meal on a flight yesterday in first class from DFW to MCO. It looked very similar to the first 2 pics in this post. I love all Asian food and really love Indian food, but I found this meal almost inedible. I generally am very pleased with American’s first class meals but will never order this one again.

  48. I got the exact same meal out of LAX heading to PHL just yesterday. This was after an excellent AVML doing the reverse earlier in the week. The flight attendant even said I got a regular vegetarian meal, so perhaps LAX just caters vegetarian for anything it can cover.

    It certainly could be worse.

  49. @Aaron Tan I love it when people who know zilch about Indian food make wildly ridiculous pronouncements about their ill-effects on human health. And BTW are you telling me your Chinese food is any lower in sodium? LOL

  50. I got nearly the same “meal” on the 11 hour AA flight from Auckland to LAX. Luckily I had precooked and pre-sliced two seasoned veggie black bean patties packed in my carry-on that I was able to toss on top of it to make it a meal. How AA could totally skip a significant protein source is beyond me, and you are right that the other passengers even had more robust servings of vegetables than my anemic “meal”. With AA, I’m sticking with continuing to bring my veggie patties and additional protein sources to supplement my vegetarian selection during travel.

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