- British Airways doesn’t let its cabin crew pre-order special meals
- The Vegan Society claims this could be discriminatory because pilots are allowed to order special meals
- The airline says cabin crew receive allowances to buy their own food
- Cabin crew representatives want the airline to offer full-range of religious and dietary special meals
British Airways has been criticised by a group of vegan cabin crew who allege the airline may have unlawfully discriminated against them for repeatedly refusing to provide vegan food in keeping with their beliefs. The flight attendants are being supported by The Vegan Society who have warned British Airways could potentially face a legal challenge.
At present, British Airways cabin crew mainly eat leftover non-vegan Business Class food and often have to bring their own food or get hold of snacks that are “inadvertently” vegan. While pilots at the airline are said to be able to pre-order special meals (known in the industry as “SPML” meals), cabin crew don’t enjoy the same perk.
According to the British Airways website, the airline currently offers 14 different types of special meal including vegan dishes, as well as Asian vegetarian meals, gluten-free and Muslim meals that passengers can order within 24-hours of travel. The Unite union, which represents BA’s cabin crew, would like to see the airline offer the full-range of SPML meals to cabin crew to cater for a range of dietary and religious needs, just like pilots can already do.
“On the face of it the BA food provision policy appears to be discriminatory because it puts vegan employees at a specific disadvantage,” the letter from Dr Jeanette Rowley, Legal Advisor at The Vegan Society wrote in an open letter to the airline.
“The BA food provision policy also favours one group of employees, namely the pilots, who have the option to pre-order vegan meals as required,” the letter continues.
“I understand that the vegan employees have requested vegan food on a number of occasions and are now prepared to progress formal complaints against BA for unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.”
Businesses such as British Airways are under a positive duty not to discriminate against employees who have what are known as “protected characteristics” – such as a religious or philosophical belief. Previous court cases have ruled that veganism is considered a protected characteristic. The Vegan Society believes BA’s current positive could be leading to so-called ‘indirect discrimination’.
However, British Airways points out that cabin crew receive an average of £800 ($1,050) per month in allowances specifically to purchase refreshments. The airline explained that its flight attendants are trained to work on four different aircraft types and their schedules can be swapped at short notice for operational reasons – as a result, it would be difficult to load special meals for cabin crew, especially if the flight they were expecting to work suddenly changed.
In contrast, pilots are only type rated to work on one aircraft so there’s a much smaller risk of them getting swapped out to work a different flight. However, British Airways says it holds regular crew forums as it works through various options to address these concerns.
“We offer all cabin crew members a choice of meals onboard, plus the majority receive an average £800 a month food allowance allowing them to supplement with any additional products they wish,” a spokesperson for British Airways told us.
“We regularly meet with our colleagues to discuss any concerns they have, and are working together to look at other catering options,” the statement continued.
The letter from the Vegan Society was sent in November, although has only just come to light. The non-government organisation is said to not have raised any further concerns having heard about the specific challenges BA faces with cabin crew schedules.
While there are plenty of cabin crew who bring their own food with them on long-haul flights departing from their home base, self-catering can be a lot more difficult when returning from a foreign destination – especially in certain cities where vegan options are limited, the hotel is located out of town or when it’s considered too dangerous for cabin crew to leave the hotel.
A ‘working group’ is set to be established by the airline early in the New Year to “explore what can be achieved”.
Updated to include comment from British Airways.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.