You may be astonished at the variety of special meals available, some of which include vegetarian, Japanese, Muslim, seafood and spicy Hindu. Before ordering the spicy Hindu, though, I encourage you to consider its after-effects and the comfort of your seatmates.
Whether you are purchasing online or through a travel agent, you can easily request a special meal. Special medical meals are available for legitimate medical needs, but can just as easily pacify the hypochondriac. These meals include diabetic, gluten-free and even the don't-judge-me-by-what-I-eat bland meal.
Airlines are notoriously secretive with their recipes, but most indicate they cannot guarantee any meal will be served without a peanut product, seafood or dairy (though not necessarily served all together.) For you special allergy travelers, it's probably best to pack your own snack bag to ensure your safety.
There are two user-friendly websites designed to assist special people with their special repasts. Log onto www.airlinemeals.net to view photos of more than 2,000 in-flight meals taken on over 225 carriers. At www.vegparadise.com, airlines are broken down by which meat-free special meals they will prepare. It's particularly easy to maneuver through this site -- just scroll down to see which airlines serve what.
Please note that no one checks on your background to verify your need for a special meal. For example, you can be a devout Muslim and order a kosher meal. You don't have to produce any paper work or wear special religious garments. Image-conscious vegetarians can discreetly enjoy a huge hunk of red meat and no one need ever be the wiser.
Because the airline's main concern is transporting you safely from point of departure to point of destination, they cannot guarantee that your meal will match your pre-flight order. Most airlines ask for a three-day advance notice for kosher meals, and recommend you give them a reminder call for any special meal request 48 hours before your departure. Also, it doesn't hurt to double check that your dietary needs are being appropriately recognized. Ask your flight attendant to verify your meal prior to take-off.
Some domestic carriers, including British Airways, won't take special orders but do carry a certain number of lactose-free meals. They offer these on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you're looking to feel special, I don't recommend flying domestically with these guys. Special people, after all, deserve a confirmed meal.