Most airlines will provide alternate meals on meal-flights upon request, if the request is made at least 24 hours in advance.
Special meals include: Kosher, Muslim, Hindu, vegetarian (dairy, non-dairy), children, low-fat, low-salt, low-cholesterol, low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, diabetic, fruit, low-gluten, sulfite-free, seafood (cold, hot), soft, and bland. Simply ask for the meal when you make your reservation; there is no extra charge above the service fee we charge.
Things to watch out for:
The Hindu meal is just a non-beef meal. If you are interested in Indian vegetarian meals, make sure you use "Hindu Vegetarian meal".
Low-cholesterol may not be the same as low-fat. The low-cholesterol meal will still include some fat. Sometimes the vegetarian meal has less fat than the low-fat meal. Some airlines treat low-cholesterol and low-fat as synonyms.
Your definition of low-fat is probably not the same as the airlines. For example, you might get chicken and margarine instead of beef and butter. Chicken is lower in fat than beef, but...
Vegetarian means different things to different people. Some caterers think that a vegetarian meal means a meat meal with the meat removed. So be prepared for disappointments. When traveling overseas, the words carry yet a third interpretation, with vegetarian meaning vegetables, and nothing else. You may wind up with better luck asking for a fruit platter, which are usually very good on most airlines.
Low-gluten meals may include items that are not low-gluten. The Kosher meals are glatt and double-sealed. Wilton Caterers is the largest supplier of these meals, although there are a number of smaller companies as well.
Southwest is a "no frills" airline, so don't even bother. The most you'll get from them is peanuts, pretzels, trail mix, or other light snacks. You won't get a full meal from them. But what do you want for some of the cheapest fares in the industry?
The trend these days is for airlines to not serve meals on short flights to save money. Continental Airlines doesn't serve meals on US domestic flights of 2.5 hours or less. Southwest Airlines has never served meals on its flights. Most airlines that discontinue meal service on short flights, however, continue to serve beverages and light snacks (roasted peanuts, almonds, and pretzels, depending on the airline). Even though the meal itself only costs a few dollars, when you add in the cost of galley space, storage, preparation, cleanup, and staffing, it can be as high as $20 a flight. Other airlines, like Midway and Continental, offer ``No-Peanuts Fares'' on certain flights.
These are usually no-frills, short-haul flights. Some peanuts fares still serve complimentary beverages.
Many travelers report that the special meals actually taste better and are often 'lighter' than the regular meals.