Photo credit: Pavel L Photo and Video
When offered meal options on airlines, have you paused at the checkbox for “Moslem meal”? Ever wondered about the incongruity in offering followers of Judaism a kosher meal but a Muslim doesn’t get a specifically termed “halal” choice?
Airlines offer three main types of 'religious meals' on board: Moslem meal (MOML), Kosher meal (KSML), and Hindu meal (HNML).
MOML is meant to refer to halal meals, KSML to meals that conform to Jewish religious laws, and HNMLs are non-vegetarian meals suitable for Hindus.
The issue that has concerned the halal industry for some years, as described by Mohamed Jinna, CEO of certification body Halal India, in his open letter to IATA in 2011 is: “Today many airline food catering service providers claim and label meals as “MOML” without proper halal certification processes being followed, and they self claim that the food is suitable for Muslim travelers.”
“Moslem meal” is inaccurate and discriminatory, suggesting it is only for Muslims, when what it is meant to be – a halal meal – does not only have to be for Muslim consumption.
Further, the current “MOML” code stipulated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which may be assumed by many to represent certified halal meals, does not necessarily imply any type of certification at all.
BUT IS IT HALAL-CERTIFIED?
For example, Finnair describes their Muslim meal as: “Foods chosen, prepared and served in accordance with Moslem dietary laws and customs. Does not contain pork or pig by-products, gelatin, alcohol, flavoring extracts containing alcohol, or non-white fish meat from species without scales or fins.”
Yet, many Muslims eat salmon and shrimp, and Finnair’s customer chat operator did not confirm upon our inquiry that the airline had halal-certified meals. In fact, it was just explained that their caterers vary based on location.
The British Airways website states: “Does not contain pork, by-products of pork or ingredients containing alcohol. All meats come from ritually slaughtered animals. May not be available on some European flights.”
But one may question if that ritual process is officially certified by a credible agency? An email to British Airways for more information did not receive an immediate reply.
Even Garuda Indonesia, which won World’s Best Airline for Halal Travellers 2016 in the World Halal Tourism Awards with 1.9 million votes received from 116 countries, does not specify details about its meals on its website.
However, Garuda’s Global Contact Center wrote back to our inquiry stating, “ …we would like to confirm that our meals are halal-certified, and that MOML (Moslem Meals) [are] available on Garuda Indonesia International flights only.”
From another Muslim-majority country, Turkish Airlines does not have a special category for Muslim meal, but the side bar on the airline's site states: “All food served on Turkish Airlines flights is halal and prepared according to Islamic dietary requirements.”
Similarly, Emirates Airline says of its meals: "All meals on Emirates flights are suitable for Muslims and are prepared in accordance with the Halal method ... It does NOT contain pork, alcohol, or non-Halal prepared meals."
Interestingly, while Malaysia Airlines states on its website that it only serves halal food onboard and their food is prepared "according to Muslim rites and prescriptions", it was more specific for kosher: "Our Kosher meals conform to Jewish religious laws, are prepared and packed by Kosher-certified manufacturers." (Italics ours)
Considering all these different airlines, how can consumers know if one company’s definition of halal is qualified enough to be officially certified and industry-recognized as halal? It seems logical that a standard should be applied.
CATERING TO CHANGING CUSTOMER NEEDS
Airlines took interest in offering special meals to create a higher value perception to their patrons back in the 1970s when British Airways initiated vegetarian meals to first-class passengers.
As increasing dietary menu specialties have evolved (i.e., gluten-free, no salt, etc.), the number of menus and participation in these customer preferences has grown.
In a telephone interview, Michael White, VP of Government and Industry Affairs for Cargo at IATA, told Salaam Gateway that at one time there were over 20 special menus offered by Chicago-based United Airlines, but today only 10 are available.
IATA creates standards for 265 airlines that are responsible for 83 percent of air traffic. It publishes numerous directories of codes and offers training and reports to the industry.
(Click here for a list of airlines and their special meal options; and a site that chronicles photos and ratings of airlines’ meals, AirlineMeals.net)
Some travelers who favor halal meals are not even Muslim, but they enjoy exploring different cuisine, as is apparent from the contribution from this blog reader: “I always request the Muslim/halal meal on most airlines; it is usually some form of ‘ethnic’ food which is fantastic compared to the usual bleh stuff.”
Increasing familiarity of halal as a desirable special food option is even evidenced with the spectacular popularity in the United States of The Halal Guys, which evolved from being a New York City food truck business into a national spread of bricks and mortar restaurants with a Middle Eastern cuisine that features a special white sauce many Americans have come to crave. Often the restaurants have queues of patrons even waiting outside the door for their halal meal.
Travel is a growth sector, and IATA confirmed a 6.3 percent uptick in demand for air travel in 2016 over 2015. The increase was ahead of the ten-year average annual growth rate of 5.5 percent, said IATA.
Trisha Ramdihal of DO & CO, caterer and full-service hospitality provider with 30 gourmet kitchens in 11 countries and on three continents, reported to delegates at the April 2017 IFANCA Conference in Chicago that there was over 38 percent growth in halal meal requests between 2013/14 and 2016/17 reporting periods. She also specified that IATA indicated the number of international passengers worldwide is estimated to cross 7 billion by 2030.
Halal and Muslim travel specialist CrescentRating estimated 121 million Muslims travelled internationally in 2016, projecting the number to reach 157 million by 2020.
NEED FOR CHANGE?
There is a growing awareness of the need for halal certification and moving in tandem is the movement within Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries to safeguard their halal ecosystems and halal consumers, which can only be properly tracked and monitored by halal certification.
These developments are primarily aimed at ensuring halal standards are met by all stakeholders on the food supply chain, which include checks on manufacturing and logistics processes for non-contamination of halal products.
In line with these developments and given that Muslim air travel passengers represent a growing and significant market, there is an incentive for airlines to explore offering halal-certified meals.
When asked how the special meal MOML code descriptor could be changed to more accurately represent halal food certification and an “HLML” industry code, IATA’s White clarified there is a resolution process that entails airlines conferring at the World Passenger Symposium that could advance this agenda. Their next meeting will be in Barcelona, Spain, from October 24 to 26.
Airlines are the keystone to changing MOML Moslem meals to certified HLML halal meals.
Professor Bilal Jonathan Wilson, a thought leader in halal branding, sees a positive incentive for airlines to draft a resolution for the IATA to amend the current code. “The term ‘halal’ has become the norm and is associated with food consumption, with many products now carrying halal labeling—so to not conform with that today doesn't make sense,” he said.
“It would also make marketing sense, because then Muslim consumers could review and tag them on various social media platforms," he added.
IATA’s White said individual airlines can petition for a code change via resolution, but airlines would need to know consumers’ preferences. Consumers can let their airlines know if they want on-board halal-certified meals by contacting airlines’ customer relations directly and asking to improve the special meal request by creating an IATA resolution to have halal-certified meals (HLML) replace the current (MOML) Moslem meal code.
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