Did United Airlines do enough for mystery meat victim?

Something happened to Steve Mukherjee on his recent flight from Accra, Ghana, to Washington — something that even to this day makes him “sick to my stomach.”

During breakfast, with the cabin lights still dimmed, the flight attendants walked through the cabin with their meal carts, he recalls.

The flight attendants were serving the breakfast in a plastic bag, literally throwing it at you if you were awake.

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I found it very disturbing that the flight attendant was literally throwing breakfast at you, and not even telling what is in the breakfast bag.

But Mukherjee was hungry, so he opened the bag. In it, he found a croissant, an apple, a chocolate bar, and a piece of cake.

I should mention this about Mukherjee: he is a man of faith. And his faith prohibits eating pork.

Mukherjee said a prayer before eating and then took a bite of the croissant.

“I immediately realized that this was something foreign to me,” he says. “I was told it was ham.”

Mukherjee was shocked.

“I felt very sick, and felt like vomiting,” he says.

He spoke with several crewmembers about the situation. They apologized and suggested that he send a letter to United Airlines after they arrived, explaining what happened.

And that’s what he did. He sent an email directly to the CEO. Here’s the United Airlines response:

I regretted to read of your in-flight meal experience on your recent flight with United Airlines.

Please accept my apologies for your frustrating and unpleasant travel experience. We realize that at times we are not doing as well as we should be in assisting you when there are circumstances that disrupt your travel.

I regret the inadvertent error made with your morning breakfast snack. Our flight attendants are not required to make an announcement concerning the contents of the snack served and are unaware of a passenger’s special dietary or religious restrictions.

I can assure you this was not an intentional act by the cabin crew. I will share your comments in a report to our onboard leadership team for their review with the cabin crew to understand how their actions impacted your travel experience with United. However all reviews and investigations are considered internal and are not for public dissemination.

While we cannot undo your circumstances, please accept 7,500 miles added to your Mileage Plus account as our gesture of apology and goodwill.

Is that enough?

First, it goes without saying that Mukherjee should have asked a crewmember what was in the croissant before he took a bite. When you’re traveling abroad, you can’t make assumptions about anything, and especially about the food you eat. (Believe me, as someone who spent 16 years as an expatriate, I know what I’m talking about.)

At the same time, I can’t understand why you’d serve ham on a nonstop flight from a country where more than 10 percent of the population is Muslim. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The United Airlines response to Mukherjee was not a form letter, at least not entirely. And that’s good.

But can it do any better than 7,500 miles? Should it?

106 thoughts on “Did United Airlines do enough for mystery meat victim?

  1. If he didn’t give the airline anything specific that could compensate him then I think that the miles are enough. The reality is that he didn’t ask what was in it before he started eating, and it doesn’t sound as if he made a special request of the airline to have a pork free meal in advance of the flight. It is up to the customer to make requests regarding meals in advance of the trip. Airline staff onboard have no way of knowing who has special dietary requirements if they don’t.

    I’m also curious about your Islamic population numbers. The first line of your article indicates that the passenger was flying from Ghana to Washington, but you also say he is travelling to a country that has an Islamic population of 10%. The United States currently has an Islamic population of less than 1% according to Pew as of 2010. Perhaps you meant that he was travelling from a country with an Islamic population of 10%? Or was he flying from Washington to Ghana?

    1. It was Washington to Ghana.  Estimates of religion in Ghana are probably inaccurate, but 10% is probably as good a guess as any.  It used to be about 30%.

      In any case, pork is commonly served in Ghana.

      1. The article says, “from Accra, Ghana, to Washington” which is why I asked the question. That indicates that the traveller was going to Washington.

        1. OK.  I did a quick readthrough the first time.

          So in that case it would be pretty obvious that the meals were likely prepared in Ghana. If so, then it’s not as if there’s any local blanket policy to not serve pork products.

  2. Since when is Ham a mystery meat? As someone with allergies, I always look at things like sandwiches to make sure there isn’t a cheese on it I’m allergic to. One glance at the meat would have told him something was amiss for him and he could have asked.

    1. Not only that, but it’s not like ham has no smell. I think they were pretty nice giving him 7,500 miles for something that was 100% under his control.

  3. Sounds a little bit odd. Mukherjee is a Bengali name and generally belongs to Hindus. As far as I know, the only Hindu prohibition against eating any kind of meat is with beef, and I know of a few Hindus who have no problem eating beef (I had a friend from Bangledesh who indicated that on a visit to Calcutta, he saw plenty of places that served beef).  Many are vegetarians however, although it’s not a religious requirement per se.

    Maybe he’s a convert?

    Besides that, there’s very little meat that you’ll find in a croissant save ham.  You’re not likely to find chicken or lamb processed in Washington for a croissant. There’s also nothing particularly offensive about pork in Ghana. It’s a majority Christian population with a sizable Muslim minority. Pork is readily served in the country.

    http://www.meattradenewsdaily.co.uk/news/171209/ghana___pork_festival_great_success.aspx

    I work in a field where there are an inordinate proportion of Hindus. It’s not as if companies have stopped serving beef in their cafeterias as a result.  In fact I’m guessing that a lot don’t really care, as I’ve seen them order burgers, although I can’t necessarily tell their particular religion (could be Indian Muslims or Pakistani?).

  4. Wait. The OP takes a bite of something without even looking to see what it is. It’s not harmful to him, but goes against his religion (which no one could know). I’ve been on those early morning breakfast runs, and the FAs are normally quiet because some ppl are still sleeping. If there’s only one breakfast choice, the FAs don’t normally say anything. It’s binary. Either you want it or you don’t. Nothing to prevent the OP from opening his own mouth to ask what it is (hmmm. Ask. Take responsibility for your own actions. What a novel concept…)

    I also abstain from eating certain things for religious reasons. But I don’t presume other people would know. I usually ask before I order, or just take it out afterwards. I’m surprised United offered him anything. But 7,500 is probably nothing to them and is their standard offer to any type of frivolous complaint. The OP should be grateful he got anything as I don’t see where United did anything wrong. If he wants a menu along with his meals, perhaps he should invest in first/business class or pre-order his meals or heaven forbid, actually LOOK at what he’s putting in his mouth?

    http://www.dreamtravelblog.wordpress.com

    1. Yes, a simple request would have avoided the problem – I always order vegetarian, because I only eat chicken or turkey generally, and am NOT a fan of red meat.  That way I can assure myself of meals AND snacks I can enjoy – like a simple cheese croissant!

  5. If United did something religiously insensitive — which I don’t think they did — then a reasonable reaction would be for them to apologize and change their policy. Compensation in miles or cash seems inappropriate since he got the trip he paid for; his religious values, not his travel, were compromised.

    United apologized and offered compensation as well. Seems reasonable to me.

  6. Did he order a special meal in advance? Did he ask what was being served? What else DOES he think would be fair compensation?

    A US based airline serving a typical meal, who does provide special meals for dietary and religious reasons upon request. What did THEY do wrong?

    I would expect a Kosher meal option on a flight to Israel, but if that was a dietary requirement, I would still make it a point to confirm that with the airline in advance. So…he is flying a major airline of a non-Muslim country to that country’s capital, and expected a Muslim meal? Seriously?

    1. …and at what point was the type of meat a mystery? By the account, he identified it soon as bit into it. Perhaps simply lifting the top off would have been a clue that it may have been objectionable. But then, we wouldn’t have another “victim”.

  7. Why are you calling this “mystery meat” in the title when the story clearly states the OP knew what the meat was?  The FAs didn’t try to hide the identity of the meat or say it was anything else.

    As with several of the other posters, the OP is 100% to blame for this situation.  I have food allergies and the first thing I do when served something on a flight is to check the label for the contents and if there isn’t one, I ask *BEFORE* I take a bite.

    Personally, I think the OP was hoping to play the religion card and get cash compensation for his own mistake. Did the OP indicate to the airlines he had dietary restrictions? Probably not since he didn’t indicate that in his message.

  8. I have certain religious dietary restrictions as well, so I always ask what is in the food before eating it.  Also, on United’s website you can update your itinerary and preference with meal requirements.  They have vegetarian, kosher, gluten free, etc.  Back when then served food in coach my family used to always order dietary specific meals on United.  Now that they only serve meals on long international flights I haven’t had the opportunity to order one recently, but I still see the option on their website. Why they don’t serve a meal on the 9 hour ORD-HNL I have no clue.  They are going downhill with their service, but I digress.
     
    The flight may be originating in a country with 10% of the population being Muslim, however it is a US carrier and they serve the type of food people it in the US.  When I flew Thai airways, they only had Thai food.  I feel for the OP having eaten ham without knowing it.  That is horrible.  But I feel like this was hi responsibility to ask.  I mean, it is airline food after all.  I still have no idea what they have my on my recent LH flight, but I asked and was told it was pork, and I didn’t touch it.
     
    Also, as funny as it is to imagine, it’s hard to believe the flight attendants were throwing bags of food at people.  I wonder if this was added to try to make his case stronger, but in fact made him sound like he is exaggerating.  I think the 7,500 miles was extremely generous of United.  I recently had a 9 hour flight with no working video and was told too bad so sad by customer service.

  9. Yes, it’s the OPs responsibility to ask what’s in the sandwich but the airline has some responsibility too.

    My husband has food allergies and always requests special meals. The exception to receiving those meals is the “snack” or breakfast where everyone is often given the same meal. Sometimes, there is no vegetarian or gluten-free breakfast option. We have gotten that same mystery ham sandwich on Delta. It seems like that is what has happened here. 
    When I’ve planned meals for large international groups (200 – 10,000 people), pork is always excluded from the meal planning since it brings up this issue for many people of the Jewish and Islamic faiths and people who simply don’t like pork. Chicken doesn’t have the same issues.

    Perhaps the food companies that United (as well as the other airlines) contracts with need a bit of training on cultural sensitivity.

    1. The airline can’t be expected to cater to EVERY possible dietary restriction that may, or may not, walk onto their plane that day.  If a special meal was requested and confirmed, then subsequently not delivered, then it’d be UA’s fault. 

    2. Actually, I DO fly on United – and the breakfast option is usually just a cheese croissant if you order vegetarian – so he didn’t choose to make a special order, but expected special treatment – HIS fault, not the airlines.

  10. Ham is NOT a mystery meat. This doesn’t sound like a case of insensitivity on the part of the FAs but more of a lack of communication on the part of the OP.

    I’m allergic to some types of shellfish. When I don’t know if something contains shellfish, I ask. If they can’t tell me, I don’t eat it. Better hungry than sorry.

    So, I have a question. This was a long haul flight. Did the OP not order a special Muslim meal? Or did he just assume that the rest of the world adopts his dietary restrictions?

    I think the OP is just looking for a money grab. 7,500 miles seems fair in this case.

  11. While I do believe that the compensation offered by the Airline is more then sufficient, Does anyone else wonder why an American Based Airline is allowed to serve food that doesn’t list the ingedients and dietery values on it?
    Everything you eat now, with the exception of food from a Restaurant, has all of this information plastered somewhere on it.  Are the airline except from this when even Fast Food places have to put it out there?

    1. While having food facts on an inflight meal is an idea worth investigating, I don’t believe it would have made a difference in this particular case. The OP didn’t bother to even look at the food he was putting in his mouth, why would he read the fine print?

  12. The whole “I felt very sick, and felt like vomiting” thing makes ME want to vomit.  If you have such an objection to eating meat, why not look at your food before sinking your teeth in?

    If a Catholic bit into a lasagna on Ash Wednesday and found meat in it, would he get “sick to his stomach”?  Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?

    The food was fine; you just didn’t want to eat it. 

    And Christopher, I agree with the others. Some of your headlines of late have been over-the-top misleading.

    As far as Did United do enough:  Did he land safely in Washington?  If so, then yes.

    1. Catholicism isn’t a fair comparison unfortunately. For a devout Muslim eating pork, a good comparison might be a Catholic accidentally killing someone. Yes, that seems silly to us, but it is THAT serious a sin.

      I also don’t entirely blame the airline, but this was a seriously upsetting thing for the traveller. It’s worth remembering that he hasn’t necessarily demanded more compensation, either. Perhaps all he is asking is for a label on a plastic bag, or a flight attendant telling people what the food is. Not too much to ask, really.

      1. Oh nonsense.  I am no expert in Islamic law, nor do I care, but for purposes of discussion, the Quran says:

        “He has only forbidden you dead meat, and blood, and the flesh of swine,
        and any (food) over which the name of other than Allah has been invoked.
        But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience, nor
        transgressing due limits,- then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

        And the question wasn’t whether United should consider labeling their food (which I agree might be a good idea).  The question is, per the title, Did United Airlines Do Enough For Mystery Meat Victim.

        A “victim” even.

      2. And not too much to ask that he ORDER a special meal, or ASK what is in this one!  The idea that EVERYONE ELSE is responsible for YOU is getting ridiculous!

      3. I don’t for one second believe your comparison, but let’s say it’s true. Even more reason for the “victim” here to check what goes into his mouth before he eats it.

  13. I’m a vegetarian and would never bite into anything served on an airplane without looking carefully to make sure there was no meat in it! 

  14. I always despite religious excuse.
    “Believe in a stone if you like but don’t throw this stone at me.” Wafa Sultan.

    1. Yes.  For international flights United does offer meals conforming to multiple diets.  However, it is only the main meal served at the start of the flight that they will provide in the requested form.  Anything else including the breakfast served later in the flight is not covered by that request.

      1. Interesting…I was not aware of that. So perhaps the OP requested and received a Muslim meal for the main meal and assumed the FA’s remembered that and handed (thrown) him a Muslim meal for breakfast? 

        Still a bad assumption on his part, and you know what happens when you assume, but beginning to make a little more sense. 

      2. Again – not necessarily true.  I order vegetarian, and when my sister got the ham & cheese croissant for breakfast, I got a simple cheese croissant instead.

        1. Good to know.  I guess it depends on which part of United you are flying.  My experiences are mostly with what was Continental (now United).

  15. Last week, I went to an international airline lounge and filled a flat plate with salad labeled “yellow squash and mixed greens with creamy dressing.”  It was dark, and it looked like a combination of typical young salad mix, green and dark red, with yellow squash.  After two bites I realized I was eating mystery lunch meats in the salad.

    I approached the lounge workers and they agreed, the salad should have been correctly labeled as including meat.  As a vegetarian, I would not eat it then.  They removed the lunchmeat-laced salad and replaced it with a meatless variety to conform to the menu signage throughout the lounge.

    I did not ask for compensation, and none was offered.  Case closed.      Mistakes happen.  Nothing intended by anyone involved.

  16. Last week, I went to an international airline lounge and filled a flat plate with salad labeled “yellow squash and mixed greens with creamy dressing.”  It was dark, and it looked like a combination of typical young salad mix, green and dark red, with yellow squash.  After two bites I realized I was eating mystery lunch meats in the salad.

    I approached the lounge workers and they agreed, the salad should have been correctly labeled as including meat.  As a vegetarian, I would not eat it then.  They removed the lunchmeat-laced salad and replaced it with a meatless variety to conform to the menu signage throughout the lounge.

    I did not ask for compensation, and none was offered.  Case closed.      Mistakes happen.  Nothing intended by anyone involved.

  17. I think “mystery meat” is a bit misleading.  While there may not have been a label on the croissant sandwich he was given identifying the contents, I seriously doubt that the airline attempted to hide or disguise the meat to make it appear to be something else.  One sniff of the meat and I believe anyone would have known what it was or at the very least been able to identify it as something different from their standard diet.  

    And why should the airline not serve pork products when flying from a country where the vast majority probably have no dietary restrictions against pork?  Should everyone stop serving pork simply because there are people in the world who don’t eat it?

    How about my dietary restrictions?  I can’t eat strawberries yet every airline I have flown on where I got fed has served them to me at one time or another. Should I receive compensation because the airlines have served me something that could literally kill me?

    Assuming that what you are fed when you have not ordered anything specific fits your dietary restrictions is just not very smart.  The OP should have looked at what he was served before blindly biting into it.  The offer from the airline is more than generous.  Nothing else is owed.

  18. Something I find curious is the comments putting the onus on the PAX, which I agree with, but the poll being overwhelmingly in favor of the airline taking responsibility.  Think there might be some poll crashing?

    I’m with the posters here – the PAX was on a flight bound for the US.  This is just my personal observation but, don’t airlines generally served food relative to where the flight is bound?  I’ve been on a flight to France and was offered food from the country.  I’ve been on a flight to Dublin and been offered Irish type foods…  Is it such a stretch the airline would offer for breakfast a croissanwich type meal?

    If the PAX had a dietary concern, he should have communicated that to the airline or attendants BEFORE taking that first bite, not after.  Had he been diabetic, would he have eaten candy handed to him because no one communicated to him it was candy?

    The miles are more than generous in this situation given the PAX is the one who really caused the problem.

    1. I think maybe you are not interpreting the poll question correctly. The poll is asking essentially if the 7500 miles offered to the passenger is enough or if Chris should pursue more. The overwhelming response to the poll is that the 7500 miles is enough (or more than enough in my opinion) and that the customer is not due any further compensation. 

      That lines up with the comments on the site. Anyway, there is no rule here that says that in order to vote in the poll you have to leave a comment as to why you responded the way you did.

  19. A little too dramatic to be taken seriously.  Food thrown at him?  He feels sick about it still today?  He should have asked about the contents.  

  20. I think that since he did not ask for a specific amount of compensation, that 7500 miles is appropriate. Now, if he had asked for more, he might have gotten it.

    When the flight originates overseas, I always look before I bite. I also avoid ice in my drinks and uncooked vegetables if I wouldn’t drink the tap water in the originating country!

    I fly EWR-BRU a lot. The FAs are usually pretty quiet during the morning meal service so people who want to sleep can. There are frequently a lot of Orthodox Jewish passengers on the EWR-BRU flights. The FAs are very careful about their kosher meals. The catch is, the passengers request the kosher meal before getting on the flight. I would imagine that the same thing occurs on the ACC-IAD flights to accommodate the Muslim passengers.

    What this sounds like to me is that the passenger forgot to put in a meal request at booking or check in and then wanted to make a stink about them not accommodating him once airborne.

  21. Chris, why the sensational headline? I came here expecting some indescribable atrocity found on his meal tray but we’re talking about ham on a croissant!

    Steve lays plenty of blame on everyone but himself. The stewardess did this, the flight crew did that…seriously Steve? Let me tell you one thing you didn’t do, look at your freaking croissant before eating it! Do you always eat things that are thrown at you? How about raising your hand like a big boy and asking the flight attendant what’s in it, that would be a good start. 

    All of this aside, I’ve never had a religious dietary constraint but I’ve had plenty other issues that prevent me from eating certain food. If I’m at all in doubt about what’s inside the dish put in front of me, I don’t eat it. Or I take a good look at what it is before taking a bite. 

    United did a good thing by offering you some FF miles, be happy you got that. 

          1. Are you sure it wasn’t also Mystery Bread?  Was he sure it was a croissant before he bite into it?

          2. The term “Mystery Meat” has a certain connotation to most readers.  It reflects something that was served to us either in our childhood in the school cafeteria that was completely unidentifiable or has been used to describe inedible items served in various other circumstances.  While I do understand the feelings of the OP, it just doesn’t fit here. 

        1. Yep.  Not buying the excuse either.  “Mystery Meat” has implications that simply do not exist here.  Ridiculous headline. 

  22. If you require special dietary things,  you are suppose to notify the airlines ahead of time. As it stands he was not eating an “allergen” and only had to not eat anymore. His choice. Now the term throwing should be defined. I’ve been to the throwing “rolls” place in Foley, Al. I would guess this meal was just put in front of him on the tray that he had opened. If you put your tray down you are accepting whatever they put on it. You don’t have to eat it and have the right to complain that it was terrible. Heck, I have been sick eating some lobster on a 1st class flight. I kind of had an idea it might be bad, but ate it anyhow. My fault. I always eat pasta on flights now. The airline didn’t know it was spoiled. I was the specialist in seafood selection and chose to eat it.
    I don’t think United owed him anything.

  23. Didn’t Mukherjee request make a special dietary request when he booked his flight? If my faith, food allergy, etc., prohibited my eating certain foods, I’d sure as hell find out what was in a food item BEFORE I bit into it! I have to say, though, that his sniping about having the food bag “thrown” at him made me view his entire tale with suspicion. The more hyperbole, the less benefit of the doubt.

  24. The problem wasn’t what they offered him, in my opinion. It was that their letter was totally impersonal. They could have indicated their understanding of his distress on finding that he was eating pork and gently suggested that in the future he check with FAs before eating something as Chris and some of the posters have suggested.

    1. Correct. Neither the hosties nor the person who sent the email have any real understanding of the distress involved. Cultural sensitivity training is in order here. The customer is not blameless, and does not necessarily need more compensation, but I’m sure would be VERY pleased to hear that the staff would undergo more training.

  25. I am Jewish, so I have similar dietary restrictions to Muslims. What was he doing eating any food that wasn’t certified as Hallal or Kosher? (If I’m not mistaken, Muslims are permitted to eat Kosher food.) 

    Pork products can creep into foods in many ways that you wouldn’t expect, especially pastries! I think United was fair in compensating him for his foolishly eating something that wasn’t certified as Hallal. Also, since you presumably have this guy’s contact info, I would urge you to contact him and let him know that it is a sizable risk to eat baked goods without knowing their ingredients. 

    1. You mean with the use of lard as shortening?  I know several coworkers and former coworkers who are Muslim.  One indicated that she accepted that living in the US meant that sometimes one can’t necessarily tell that something may or may not contain lard and accepts that occasionally there might be a little slip.  I’ve even been told it’s not necessarily that they’re terribly religious, but that they’re not used to the taste of pork and it grosses them out.  Sometimes with lard, they don’t particularly care as long as they don’t discern that it’s pork.  Nabisco used to label many of the cookies and crackers as possibly containing lard as a shortening.

      As far as the Halal restrictions go, I don’t think most Muslims are that strict.  It would be next to impossible to eat anything in this country if that’s all one could consume.  Every trip would have to be carefully planned.  I even knew one person who was Muslim who didn’t particular want to dine at a Muslim Chinese restaurant out of a concern that the halal meat they served may not have been fresh.

      However, I’ve seen many foods that are both certified kosher and halal.  Many Similac infant formulas carry both certifications – I think Orthodox Union (the familiar circle around a U) and from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America.

      http://abbottnutrition.com/Downloads/KosherCertification.pdf
      http://www.ifanca.org/news/?id=1236571

      1. I’m going to assume that if Steve went to the trouble to complain to the airline for feeding him a ham croissant, that he is religious enough that he would want to avoid eating any pork in any form. The Muslims that I know who are observant are just as strict as we are on this point. 

        Obviously everybody has to live their lives on their own terms, but you have to admit that it sounds a little silly for your coworkers to abstain from eating a pork chop (muscle+fat), but happily eat a pastry that contains lard (pork fat). 

        Anyway, hopefully Steve has learned his lesson and will carry some emergency food with him on-board for future travels, in case his Hallal meal is unavailable (it happens).

        1. I wouldn’t say they happily ate something that contained pork fat. However, the gist I got was a realism of living in the US and eating things that were given to them where they might not be able to know precisely what might go into them.

          I had a HS classmate who was an observant Muslim.  A group of us were getting a pizza and he refused to partake since we ordered pepporoni rather than just cheese. It certainly wasn’t halal, and I don’t think he made that a requirement for any meat or dairy that he consumed. He also worked a part-time job at a hot dog stand where he was preparing sausages that contained pork.  I asked him how he aligned that with his religion, and he said that he was told it was OK as long as he washed his hands thoroughly before eating.

          There is a company out there making kosher bacon-flavored salt.  I’m not kidding.  It was started by a couple of guys who loved bacon but wanted to bring the flavor to observant Jews, vegetarians, or others who wouldn’t necessarily eat real pork.

          http://www.baconsalt.com/buy/kosher.php
          http://www.jdfoods.net/products/kosher.php

          They also have a limited edition product that originally started out as a joke – called BaconLube.  And yes it is what it sounds like.

          http://baconlube.com

          1. I don’t know about the Baconlube though.

            “We’ll make no judgments about why you want this or what you want to do with it, but baconlube is here and it’s real for a limited time. Keep It Sizzlin’.”

  26. Since some information is omitted here I am only posting an alternate to the arguments made here overwhelmingly. First, I think Chris calling it “mystery meat” was not misleading as the OP said that he had no idea what it was that he had just eaten. It was indeed a mystery to him. 

    Second, since we do not know if the OP requested a Muslim meal or not we can not assume that he did not. If he had then he had a reasonable reason to think his breakfast would not include meat, additionally since his breakfasts may often or always not include meat it stands to reason that he wouldn’t have assumed there was meat in the croissant. Don’t forget since it was dim in the cabin he may not have even noticed there was something inside the croissant. I am sure all of us have seen the sandwiches with the other ingredients well hidden inside. Next, we have to take into account the feeling to a devout man of faith of eating something he has taken a vow not to. Imagine if someone served you cat or dog meat without telling you and you found out what it was. Would you feel sick? I know I would and would feel sick every time I thought about it! Finally, I don’t think the “compensation” was enough but I don’t think there is enough compensation in a situation like this. I think the airline threw out a token gesture because they didn’t know what else to do. They need to change their procedures so things like this don’t happen. We pay the airlines for a service and no, I don’t think it was all the OPs fault because he didn’t notice the ham or ask about it. The bag should have been clearly labeled with its contents. The best compensation the airline could give the OP is the assurance that this will never happen again. The answer of all matters are internal is just bad customer service. I wouldn’t expect to be made aware of any direct interaction of management with the people involved but a business should let their customers know how they intend to change things. It would go a long way towards improving the customer’s point of view of the situation. 

    1. If the OP had put in a request, I would surely expect that to be mentioned in his complaint that he sent to Chris.  That would make his complaint stronger, so with that, I am fairly sure he didn’t put in a meal request at the time of his reservation. Therefore the gesture by UA was fair.

    2. The cabin was dim, but there are reading lights.  If something is that important to him, he really should check before eating.  If I am in a foreign country, I always ask what I am being served.  He is on a US Airline bound for the US, he should have asked.  I don’t eat pork either, I always ask before eating mystery food of any kind, even sandwiches.  I use to not eat Oreos because the label said they contained lard.  If something is that important to someone they always need to check.

    3. But the airline HAS a system in place – you make a special order.  Of course, they cannot babysit each and every passenger – I travel, I order vegetarian – once I got a sandwich delivered with everyone else’s, so I checked – yes, ham.  Easy solution – I removed it and just ate the rest. 

  27. I do appreciate that horror this customer must have felt. I’m sure that many readers will NOT (as so many people know almost nothing about Islam). But please. How can you survive to adulthood, live/travel in countries where pork is OFTEN served, and not think to question what’s in a breakfast when you don’t know what it is? He will have spent his entire life ensuring that what he eats is halal.

    The traveller made it very clear that the bag’s contents were unknown to him. That should have been enough to prompt him to ask whether there were any pork products in it. UA made their apology and it was enough compensation.

    A better question would have been to ask whether UA staff will be undergoing training on cultural sensitivity, because it was clearly lacking in this instance. That would have been a more appropriate response to the customer.

    1. I have a Hindi friend who is very strict about her religion which includes not eating beef.  She had never eaten it in her entire life before.  Every time we went to a restaurant she always asked if the food contained beef or beef stock, and if they didn’t know, she didn’t eat it.  Unfortunately one day she ordered a lamb burger, and after she took her first bite she spit it out and asked the waitress who said “oops, I think we gave you a hamburger instead.”  She started crying.  The waitress apologized.  My friend then had to leave for a while to collect herself.  But the difference between the OP and my friend is that afterwards, when my friend came back and the waitress apologized again, my find told her that she forgives her, that it was an honest mistake.  The waitress compped her meal, but my friend insisted on paying.   My friend still insists its her own fault for not double checking.  However she did say that this was a mortal sin and that she is no longer pure, and will never be again.  But she blames herself, not the restaurant.  The OP on the other hand didn’t even bother to ask what was in the sandwich, ate it without looking, and them blames the airline.  If it was as important to him as the dietary restrictions are to my friends, then he should have asked.  I on the other hand accidentally ate pork once, I don’t eat it for religious reasons, but oh well.  Life goes on, I didn’t let it bother me, I believe I am entitled to make mistakes every once in a while.

      1. I would be very careful calling anyone “Hindi”.  I used that term to describe someone, and was promptly infomed that “Hindi” is a language.  It might be used to describe religious or cultural aspects, but apparently not for describing people, where the term is Hindu.

        As for it being a mortal sin, I’d think she probably has already committed several mortal sins in her lifetime.  It’s nearly impossible to avoid the use of beef products in this country – whether it’s beef tallow in shortening or even used to make soap.  See if there’s “sodium tallowate” on the ingredient list for a bar of soap.  She probably had no way of knowing which was the case when she took a bite of that burger.  And speaking of lamb sandwiches, I could use a Persian Burger at Bongo Burger in Berkeley (yum!).

        I remember a friend who is Hindu.  He wasn’t terribly religious, but he didn’t eat beef.  He said he tried it once and spit it out almost immediately because it was so foreign to him.  He was comfortable eating McDonald’s fries because it was supposedly cooked in vegetable oils.  Then he found out that in the US, the fries contained beef extract for flavoring.  McDonald’s locations in India didn’t use this, but it still created a boycott in India.  Another Hindu friend had no problem eating beef.  He’d order hamburgers with no regrets.  I asked if it was a violation of his religious upbringing.  He said “eating beef is considered a sin” as he took a bite into a burger.

        I do understand that the actor Kal Penn didn’t actually eat any beef during the filming of “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”.  He’s a strict vegetarian, and they rigged some sort of substitute meat like product.

        1. Thank you, I didn’t realize my error.  I need the sensitivity training :).  She is actually a specific sect religion, though I can’t spell or even pronounce the name correctly.  I appreciate the correction.
           
          I remember reading in Fast Food Nation that McNuggets actually contain more beef than chicken.  I could go for a Lamb burger too now, yum.  But you are right, she probably has eaten beef hidden in something, though she refuses to go to McDonalds at least.

    2. It wasn’t mentioned that he’s Muslim, but it was hinted.

      In any case, I don’t know of any Muslim who will exclusively only eat meat that is Halal.  It would be nearly impossible for anyone in the US to live like that if they eat meat.

      The best that can be hoped for is to avoid eating certain types of meat.

      1. Actually its pretty simple to eat halal as there are many halal butchers all over the nation – plus – in a pinch, kosher works too – same general idea. 

        1. I certainly understand.  I myself enjoy an occasional meal at a halal deli near where I work.

          However, I’m pretty sure that there is a realism among many observant Muslims in the US that they can’t possibly plan their lives around solely eating halal-certified foods.  There have to be practical considerations.

    3. Why should they undergo even more training?  To NEVER serve anything someone may find repulsive/insulting etc?  Kissing his [email protected]@ is what you really mean – the airlines shows sensitivity by offering special meals – he failed to order, and so he expects a free ride???

      1. I never said they should stop serving anything, and he never asked for a free ride. So your entire reply is off the mark.

    4.  “Horror”?  I’ll give you shocked, stunned, angered.  But really, we need to start using the language with some credibility.  Horror would have been biting into a finger.

  28. This complaint is absurd:  ask what is in the meal package, while saying why (I do not eat pork, or non-Halal, or non-Kosher food).  He might have gotten a straight answer, or then … but at least he showed some responsibility.   But above all, order a meal which follows dietary restrictions in advance.  No sympathy at all for the passenger, and as for feeling like vomiting – these food taboos have nothing to do with the edibility of the food – they are just cultural practises, and although you may observe them, you are not being asked to eat unhealthy or dangerous food.

    Chalk it up to experience Mr. Mukherjee, and be more aware next time.

    1. It doesn’t sound as if kosher or halal preparation was critical to Mr. Mukherjee if he was willing to eat a product containing meat without first asking.  It does sound as if the type of meat was important to him.

  29. If he did not make a special request when making the reservation then it is tough to sympathize with him.  It is unrealistic to expect everyone else to know what your needs are when you do not make them clear to begin with

  30. Why did a croissant have ham in it? It’s pastry, for heaven’s sake! Have a little ham in your Danish? How about a nice pork cupcake?

  31. He is from Ghana?  Where did he get this American sense of entitlement from?  TV shows?  Maybe he is American.  Gosh, he really is the only person in the entire world and the all of us must bow down to his self-imposed dietary restrictions.  That is the implication of his whiny complaint.

    I am going to presume he is either Orthodox Jew or Muslim – which begs the question . . . HE is SOLELY responsible to ensure that he meets the dietary restrictions – NOT anyone else.  HE is required to make certain that he does not consume pork products- not United, not his wife, not his friends – no one except him.   Thus – he needs to ask or look before he bites.

    That said – United bears some responsibility to tell its passengers what they are serving them – ‘ham and cheese croissant, with breakfast carb fest’ would be a nice wrapper for the bag – but a label might cost 2 cents – and the airlines would string up their grandparents to save 2cents per passenger. 

    As for the ‘demand’ for compensation, bah.  What SHOULD have happened when he got backto Ghana was find someone to put a Fatwah on United and maybe sacrifice an idol or two for bad juju for the next year. . . Or, alternatively, DON’T FLY UNITED NEXT TIME – ah, what a concept . . . . but then UA was probably $22 less than British Airways . . .

    Moving on the bogus ‘makes me still sick’ claim, yeah yeah yeah, that and 25 cents buys you a cup of senior coffee at McDonalds ..  . stop whining and accept responsibility for what you did without thinking . . . .

    The REAL take away from this event is that United served a meal that you could not even smell the ham since it was so processed it was probably mostly just chemicals and water! 

    As for the flight attendants throwing food at people – thats been going on for at least a decade – probably closer to 15 years now.  The industry has waaaaay tooooo many ‘high seniority number’ flight attendants – both male and female – and their surly nasty ‘I don’t want to work here’ dispositions are truly part of what makes airline flying the trial it is today. . . .things were MUCH better in this department when we had weight limits and age limits for flight attendants – working month after month with great unwashed and dealing with entitlement mentality from passengers destroys any senses of customer focused service.  We all get a little jaded in our chosen careers as we get older –

    1. Steve Mukherjee. That conjures up all sorts of theories on the origin of the name.

      Personally I’m guessing he’s not Ghanaian, although there was a small amount of migration from India to Ghana.  My guess would be that he was born in the US to one or more Indian parents, and that either he or his parents were converts to Islam without changing the distinctly Hindu family name.

  32. Oh for God’s sake… 7,500 miles and the OP’s STILL whining? With a tip of the hat to Major Frank Burns, I’d have given Mukherjee a high colonic and sent him on a 10-mile hike. United Airlines… shame on you for caving to this kind of PC nonsense.   

  33. As an observant Jew, I always make sure to order a Kosher meal or snack, and to confirm that they have me down for such before boarding the plane.  I never assume that what the airline has generally available will be acceptable for me, and the onus is on me to ensure that I order the proper meal.  I’m really shocked that a “man of faith” would ever leave that up to chance.

  34. If he is deeply religious and for his entire life he has gone without eating pork, I would imagine he would be ‘religious’ about ensuring he doesn’t eat pork. It should be automatic to question the contents prior to taking a bite.  I don’t buy his story that out of exhaustion he suddenly forgets to check and ask. I’m religious about making sure I have my bag cuz I would HATE losing my wallet. I always check for my bag when I stand up.

  35. Also, most major airlines would accommodate dietary restrictions. It look like the poster didn’t notify the airlines or made an attempt to do so before the flight. 

  36. Sorry ~ if it is important to you for your personal, health or religeous reasons ~ ask.

    I thought the letter from the airlines was well stated and generous.

    I can’t eat cheese, so I always need to ask.

  37. Dear god, I am getting sick and tired of people that aren’t taking responsibility for themselves and their actions.

    If you have a dietary restriction due to religious reasons/alleries/severe aversion to that particular item of food, when someone puts food in front of you and you are not sure if it contains the unwanted item, ASK!! LOOK!! If you aren’t satisfied, simple-don’t eat it. Either ask for something else or go a little hungry. If waiting to eat is an issue, learn to pack some snacks in your carry on.

    When you book a flight/hotel room/rental car/cruise, read all of the fine print. Be smart and proactive. Don’t pack important documents like your ID and make sure if you are traveling out of the country that your passport has at least 6 months or more of time left. Take pictures of your rental car/room or whatever so that if there is an issue down the road, you have proof.

    And if things go wrong, be polite, know what you want and be reasonable about your request. Let management know what is wrong but not at the top of your lungs. You get more butterflies with honey than with vinegar.

    And if you have to go through the xray machine at TSA screening, be sure to stick your tongue out at the machine and cross your eyes. Then turn to the screener and say, I couldn’t resist. Works for me every time. 😀

  38. My husband’s comment, after reading this story: Would the OP’s stomach-sickness be somehow alleviated with either a cash compensation or more miles? Both of us are bothered by equating religious principle with a cash equivalent.

  39. What happened to personal responsibility?  If he doesn’t want ham, he should have looked at his food to make sure that there was no ham.  I don’t eat bread but I’m not going to cry to you (Chris Elliott) if somebody gives me a sandwich with bread.  I know to take the bread off.  Steve should have known to take the ham off.  

  40. Wow – sensationalize much? United Airlines didn’t serve anyone “mystery meat”; they served ham, which the majority of the population has no objection to. If the passenger wanted to be sure he didn’t eat ham, the simple solution would have been to ask what was in the sandwich before eating it. If that wasn’t possible, he could have maybe *looked at* what he was going to eat if he was so concerned.

    I think compensation of around 7,500 miles was appropriate given that he says the flight attendants were rude in serving the food (though I also find it interesting that he says that they didn’t say what was in the meal, not that he asked them what was in it and they ignored him). I would also tend to agree that United should probably label food items to avoid confusion like this in the future. All that said, though, people with *any* dietary restriction (whether it’s based on allergies, religion, or just personal preference) should understand that it is their own responsibility to speak up and ask questions, not anyone else’s.

    I also take exception to Chris’s comment about United serving ham on a flight from a country that is roughly 10% Muslim. I’m no mathematician, but I think 10% is a minority and a relatively small one at that. I don’t understand why any business should be expected to bend over backwards for 10% of their customer base. (A Muslim, or anyone else who doesn’t want to eat ham, has every right not to – but why should United eliminate it for the other 90%?)

  41. Just asking…did FAs even know the filling inside the croissant in the breakfast pouch?  Do  FAs even know whether alcohol is used to flavour foods or in cooking techniques used to prepare an airline meal?  IMO the OP is fully to blame as there is no evidence to show that the airline, knowing his dietary requirements, served him an incorrect meal.  It was good customer relations on the part of United to offer him any compensation at all.
     
     For those of us who have dietary laws that prohibit the consumption of certain foods and beverages, we have to be cautious and be our own food police.  The ham sandwich was in the OP’s possession, would it have been too much to ask of him to exercise due diligence and look at what he was about to put in his mouth? 
     
    In case of doubt, do not eat it.  When appropriate, pax are at liberty to either request a special meal at the time the reservation is made or to bring our own food on board.  It pleases me no end that here in Canada the rules against bringing our own food, absolutely forbidden after 911, have now been relaxed. 

  42. Take your own food! Kosher food, vegan meals, any deviation is now tough luck. My son was vegan and always asked on everything before eating it. No complaint.

  43. I’ve been a vegetarian by choice for nearly all of my adult life.  The man in this post is an IDIOT.  He had every opportunity to control what he ate, but chose not to. 

    1.  Pre-order a vegetarian meal.  Do this when you make your booking, confirm again by phone close to your trip, and double-check when you do your online check-in.
    2.  Pack your own food.  Even when I’ve pre-ordered I often pack a few extra snacks, just in case.  A protein bar can serve as a full meal replacement if needed.
    3.  ASK the flight attendant!  Even if they’re throwing the croissants from passengers from halfway across the plane, if you wait a minute or two until they’re done they will TELL you what is inside.
    4.  ASK another passenger!  Eat the apple, chew thoroughly, and by the time you’re ready for the croissant you’ll be able to ask anyone nearby what was inside!
    5.  LOOK at your food!  Why wouldn’t you break the croissant apart a bit to see what was inside? 

    I cannot even fathom how Steve functions independently in his normal daily life. 

  44. I would think that any person who has such firm diet restrictions as Muslims do, would find out what it is the airline serves on it’s flights beforehand, or at least ask what it is they are being served or look at it before eating it. This person grew up Muslim and doesn’t know that the rest of the world loves ham, bacon and sausage for breakfast? On the other hand, the airlines should label their food. Don’t they have to provide allergy warnings?

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