In-Flight Catering Requirements for Religious, Medical, Allergic and Health Considerations

PT 4 M minute read
In-Flight Catering Requirements for Religious, Medical, Allergic and Health Considerations

This is a post by author Roger Leemann. Roger is the senior vice president of Culinary Operations for Air Culinaire Worldwide, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, with kitchens in Aspen, Colorado; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Las Vegas, Nevada; London, U.K.; Long Beach, California; New York, New York; Paris, France; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Van Nuys, California; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Washington, D.C. Also, Air Culinaire Worldwide provides in-flight catering services at hundreds of airports around the world via hundreds of catering partners. Roger is an expert on catering menu development and training for business aviation operators and can be contacted at

There’s enhanced awareness these days of a wide range of passenger dietary requirements. You’re probably familiar with sourcing special food requests – based on individual religious, medical, allergic and health requirements – at your routine destinations. But, be prepared for potential in-flight catering challenges when operating in the international environment. Best practice is to work closely with your 3rd-party provider and in-flight caterers – in advance of any international trip – when dealing with passengers’ dietary requirements.

Here is an overview of what you need to know:

1. What are general forms/types of dietary requirements for in-flight catering?

It is important to keep in mind various religious catering considerations, including Kosher (specific type of food and preparation), Halal (specific type of food and preparation) and Mormon (types of food), as well as assorted limitations due to specific vegetarian diets. Medical-related catering requirements take into account conditions such as diabetic (type 1 and 2) and gluten-free diets. There are eight common allergies all business aircraft operators should be aware of:

a) dairy products
b) peanuts
c) shellfish
d) tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.)
e) eggs
f) fish
g) soy
h) wheat

2. How do vegetarian diets differ?

While there are many different types of vegetarian diets, the most common are lacto-ovo vegetarian (dairy and eggs, as well as plants), ovo vegetarian (no dairy, but eggs as well as plants), lacto vegetarian (dairy and plants, no eggs) and vegan (no dairy, eggs or meats).

3. What are the most frequent dietary catering limitations?

Food allergies represent the most prevalent catering requirements, followed by medical limitations. Every catering order has its own set of challenges based on passenger preferences and dietary requirements. Some of these challenges include how to best communicate dietary requirements in countries where local residents are not accustomed to such restrictions; how to ensure that your catering meets those restrictions; and how best to prepare when the catering does not meet those expectations/requirements.

4. How do dietary requirements impact catering at international locations?

When traveling outside your home country, it’s best to research availability of specialized catering for all planned destinations. Carry a list of passenger dietary requirements, printed in different languages, to assist in accurately ordering foods based on religious, medical and health needs. It’s important to be aware of individual passenger needs, to carry certain non-perishable foods onboard (as a back-up plan) and to be aware of catering capabilities at international locations. Kosher foods, for example, will not be available at every international location and may not be available to order, or pick up, on Saturdays. Special requests – Kosher, Halal, etc. – may increase the cost of your order due to additional pickup and delivery charges. There is also the "Double Provision" option: taking two legs’ worth of catering at one stop, which can also increase catering costs, as additional equipment (coolers and dry or wet ice) will be needed, in addition to the catering.

5. How complex are diet-restricted catering orders to arrange?

Strict Glatt Kosher cuisine must be prepared in a Kosher kitchen. Halal cuisine has similar requirements on ingredients and preparation techniques. Such facilities will not be available at all international destinations. All is not lost; another option is to order the catering in the "style" of the requirement. This can be as simple as stating "No Pork" or "No Alcohol" and ordering the catering as "Bulk" (separated ingredients) so that you can verify ingredients before you put them together.

6. How do we determine that the food was prepared properly?

The first step is to clearly communicate catering requirements with your in-flight caterer. Have your caterer mark packaging so that there will be no confusion when it is delivered. Always do a visual inspection when food is delivered. For gluten-free bread products, for example, request that the caterer send the original packaging with the order so that you can read the packaging label to confirm contents. Likewise, if peanut-free cookies have been delivered, keep them in the original packaging until ready to serve.

7. Can we prepare for allergic emergencies?

Ensure that you have insurance to cover allergy incidents at international locations. Also, have a list of local hospitals for all planned destinations. It’s good practice to carry onboard medications – including antihistamines and epinephrine – to treat allergic reactions that may occur in-flight.

8. Are there back-up or contingency options?

It’s a wise idea to carry an assortment of "on-board stock" that is non-perishable and meets your passengers’ dietary needs. Typically, if purchased in the US, items will have a symbol or list their ability to meet dietary requirements. Items will mention "Does not contain nuts" or have symbols that denote Kosher or Halal, or even be "Sugar-Free." This practice includes snacks and beverages, as well. Be aware that "gelatin," frequently used in Jello or fruit snacks, is a pork product and should be avoided unless the product is marked "Kosher."


The vast majority of in-flight caterers are familiar with general requirements for religious, medical, allergic and health reasons. It’s important, however, that crew be aware of all passenger dietary requirements, how to communicate them to the caterer, how to ensure that the requirements have been met and what to do in case they can’t be met, or worst yet, you have to deal with a medical emergency. Awareness, planning and execution are the keys for worry-free travel, whether you are concerned with fueling the aircraft or fueling your passengers.


If you have any questions about this article or in-flight catering for business aviation, contact me at

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