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  It's been a great trip. You made two fabulous contacts, strengthened one shaky business relationship, and caught a few rays to boot. Now you're nestled into your seat at 35,000 feet, and you are hungry. Your special meal was confirmed three times. Here comes the cart with dinner; you raise a finger to catch the flight attendant's attention and say, "I have a kosher meal."

"Sorry, ma'am, we don't have any kosher meals on this flight."

It's five hours to home and you haven't had a bite since lunch. What went wrong? And what do you do now?

What Went Wrong...

Most of us expect kosher meals to be available, but the truth may surprise you. In smaller cities, most kosher meals are flown to the regular airline caterer and kept in storage. But the caterer can run out due to unexpected requests; and your ticketing agent won't know that.

Then there are locations such as St. Maarten, according to David Broth of Caves Travel, that don't let airlines import food; all meals are catered locally. Since there's no kosher caterer, there is no way to get a kosher meal on a St. Maarten flight. On computer your meal is confirmed; but on the ground it doesn't exist. Delhi, India is another infamous location where kosher meals may be confirmed but they never show up.

Richard Aiken, arguably the world's most experienced Orthodox traveler, cites Northwest Airlines as a frequent culprit. Aiken has flown first class out of major US cities with kosher meals confirmed, and not received them.

Northwest Airlines' Keith Molacek, Manager of food service automation, blames Northwest's computer system. "If the travel agent hits one wrong keystroke" in the kosher ordering process, her screen will show the meal confirmed; but Northwest's computer system won't recognize the order. "Our system is very unforgiving," he says. While they're working on a programming fix, Molacek suggests calling in your own kosher meal confirmation through Northwest reservations after your travel agent has booked the flight. Aiken, on the other hand, charges that many of the times his meal didn't arrive, he had booked and confirmed by phone.

A less frequent cause on any airline is the last-minute plane change due to mechanical problems. If your flight is delayed, it's worthwhile asking the desk if there's been an aircraft switch. Then confirm, before you enter the plane, that your meal has made it on board.

"The bottom line," says Richard Aiken: "Always carry food."

...And What Can You Do Now?

You have the best chance when an airline admits that kosher food service is not available. Particularly in first or business class, Aiken suggests that you ask them to fly in a kosher meal on the incoming flight.

Remember the first rule of travel: it never hurts to ask.

In a foreign country, make sure you have some idea of what kosher products can be bought at the airport. Freda Rosenfeld, a nutritionist from Brooklyn, NY, advises fliers to stick with high-fiber, low-sugar foods. "Fiber helps regulate the flow of sugar into the bloodstream," she says. When your blood sugar level drops, as it does when you haven't eaten, you can feel weak and shaky. Fiber helps maintain a more even blood sugar level. Specifically, the types of fiber found in apples, citrus, and oats.

Protein is another priority. It's not a bad idea to carry a small amount from home, even on the return trip, in the form of cheese or nuts.

If you get your nasty surprise while in the air, the first class compartment has fruit and sometimes Stella D'Oro breadsticks. Ask for some. Milk may be available, but some flights only serve creamer. And of course there are the nuts, which are often kosher.

As for candy and fruit juice: "If you must," says Rosenfeld. But try to temper it with a high-fiber food, such as fruit (the juice has none) or almonds, to keep you from crashing after the sugar high. Rosenfeld and Aiken both note that drinking anything, even fruit juice if necessary, is essential because cabin pressure causes dehydration. Stay away from drinks that act as diuretics, such as caffeine and beer.

Remember not to expect a full meal on any domestic flight under two hours. You also might not get more than peanuts if your flight isn't during mealtime: say, on a 9:00A.M. - 12:00A.M. flight.

Of course, if your meal never arrives and you have time to spend at the airline's courtesy desk, you can usually be reimbursed for your missed meal. Considering the state of kosher airline food, that could be the better than getting to eat.

 "The Bottom line," says Aiken: "Always carry food."

What to bring along

  • crackers
  • cheese
  • pbj
  • carrots

What to buy at the airport

  • trail mix
  • fresh fruit
  • pretzels
  • plain yogurt

What to ask for on the plane

  • apples and oranges
  • bread sticks
  • nuts
  • milk