Vegan dining on South African Airways

There will be an update to this blog entry in January when I next fly on South African Airways (SAA), but this is a summary of my last flights with them. An epic failure if I do say so myself!

So last time I flew SAA was when I was off to Kenya for work (Sydney-Perth-Jo’burg-Nairobi). At the time, I was forced to fly economy class rather than business due to budget cutbacks, so bearing that in mind…

As usual, I booked my vegan meal and had it confirmed a few days before the flight, and again at check-in. Everything was good to go apparently. Get on board and settle in for the flight from Perth to Johannesburg, and what was the main meal served to me? Cheese ravioli. I kid you not. Cheese ravioli?

Ravioli contains egg. Cheese is dairy.

I brought this up with the SAA cabin crew and they said that it was a vegan meal. When I pointed out that it was vegetarian and not vegan, they said “same difference, right?”…

Uh, no.

They had nothing else on board they could serve me apparently. It’s an approximately 11 hour flight. At the time I hadn’t packed any rice crackers or Vegemite in my carry-on because I didn’t actually have the room (now I force myself to find room). I went hungry.

The flights from Sydney to Perth (Qantas connection) and from Jo’burg to Nairobi were actually ok. I got a vegan meal on those, albeit one that was full of gluten on SAA, but they were indeed vegan.

Then on the way back to Australia on the Jo’burg to Perth flight, same thing happened. I got served a vegetarian meal rather than a vegan meal. Thankfully by this stage I had lost confidence in them being able to get me a vegan and gluten free meal, so I made sure to pack some appropriate snack food in my bag before leaving Nairobi.

When I got home I checked all the booking information to make sure there hadn’t been a screw up on my behalf and that I hadn’t accidentally requested a vegetarian meal rather than a vegan meal. I hadn’t screwed up. South African Airways had.

I find it bizzare that it was only the flights to and from Australia that were messed up and it wasn’t the whole way through. Which indicates an issue with the catering company rather than with SAA themselves, since the meal trays did say it was VGML.

At any rate, I found SAA to be hit and miss with regards to their vegan offering,

Time will tell if the situation has been remedied. I have another work trip to Africa in January, this time flying SAA business class, so hopefully there won’t be another “but the cheese ravioli is vegan!” incident.

I know there’s a direct Sydney-Jo’burg flight on Qantas by the way, but the connections on that rarely work out very well for me as it lands late in the afternoon. So I’m usually booked Sydney-Perth-Jo’burg because that lands at 5am and makes for more convenient connections to the rest of Africa.

I wish I had a photo of the food to show you all, but at the time I didn’t think about it, as taking photos of my food never really occurred to me at that time. I’ll do it for the next trip though, promise!


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