Qantas brings back vegetarian meals, snacks on short flights

Vegetarian meals are coming back on the menu for all domestic Qantas flights after their removal on short-range routes resulted in a fierce public backlash.

The airline has also promised a “broader menu refresh” to launch in October, which will include “new vegetarian options” along with fresh fruit on all domestic flights under 3.5 hours.

“As an example, for evening meal service a zucchini and corn fritter could be carried onboard in addition to a chicken and leek pie.”

Qantas pared back its inflight menu on all domestic flights under 3.5 hours in early 2020, at the start of the pandemic, which resulted in some flights having just a single snack option – and if that was familiar chicken and leek pie, for example, it often meant vegetarian passengers went hungry.

That streamlined menu has since remained in place. “We now offer a single meal/snack option per flight on our shorter flights, such as a chicken pie or a zucchini and onion frittata,” the carrier explained earlier this week.

“If the option on a particular flight is not suitable for vegetarians, we try to offer an alternative of a small sweet or savoury snack which is vegetarian.”

The airline recently cited “high levels of wastage” as one driver for the reduced menu, but today pledged to would reinstate vegetarian options and fresh fruit on all flights after coming under fire from passengers this week.

Vege meals and fake meats

“We had to make a lot of alterations to our service during COVID and we’re still in the process of bringing things back and updating others,” said Qantas Executive Manager of Product and Service, Phil Capps.

“We’ve heard the message loud and clear about having vegetarian offerings on all of our flights and so we’re making that change as a priority.”

Capps added the airline is “in the middle of a broader menu refresh for our domestic network that will roll out from October, which includes new vegetarian options.”

“There’s a lot of work happening to get Qantas back to its best and that includes listening to the feedback from our customers as we keep investing in our product and service.”

Executive Traveller has sought further clarification from Qantas on which flight timings qualify for a traditional breakfast, lunch or dinner as opposed to a small snack served in a cardboard box.

However, even a dinner service can leave vegetarian passengers wanting: by way of example, on a recent 6.40pm Qantas flight from Cairns to Sydney, one of the Executive Traveller team was served a small economy dinner box containing three party-sized pies, only one of which was vegetarian (lentils and mushroom).

As previously reported, Qantas will soon launch ‘artificial meat’ meals on flights and in lounges by the end of this year.

“We’re doing a lot of menu planning for the future in the next month, and I think in the next six months we’re hoping to launch some things” Qantas chef Neil Perry told Executive Traveller in July.

“We’ll have a complete plant-based dish on each of the menus and we’ve also started looking at plant-based meats like Beyond, Impossible and V2, which is an Australian product.”

The Roo’s latest stumble

Arch-rival Virgin Australia has shifted to a ’buy on board’ menu for economy – a move which Qantas promises it will not replicate – while challenger Regional Express offers a free snack and drink to economy passengers.

However, Qantas’ meagre economy meals on short flights is arguably making it easier for travellers to reconsider the overall value when it comes to the difference in airfares charged by Qantas, Virgin and Rex – and to ask how much travelling on a ‘full-service’ airline is really worth.

For its part, Qantas says it remains “the only domestic airline to offer complimentary food and beverages, baggage and onboard WiFi on its domestic Boeing 737s and Airbus A330s, on all economy fares.”

Catering cuts and reduced meal options are the latest in a series of stumbles to beset the airline since the long-anticipated travel rebound began in late 2021.

The growing list of seemingly never-ending woes has included included hours-long telephone hold times for call centres, delayed and cancelled flights, and lost bags.

This led to CEO Alan Joyce making an unprecedented public apology, saying “when it comes to what you expect from Qantas, it‘s not good enough” – and promising to bring the airline “back to its best” while also offering a bevy of make-good measures to the airline’s 14 million frequent flyers such as a 12-month status extension, $50 flight vouchers, complimentary lounge passes, bonus Qantas Points and opening up more points-based award seats.

Additional reporting by Matt Lennon

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