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Was airlines failure to provide vegan meal discrimination?

View profile for Rebecca Topping
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Veganism is a practice based belief of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.

It was reported in the news recently that a vegan passenger, who boarded a transatlantic flight from Manchester to New York was allegedly forced to eat “crisps and nuts” during the seven hour flight, as a result of a well-known airline operator failing to ensure that the passenger’s specifically requested meal made it on-board.

The passenger, who reportedly informed the airline operator of her requirement for a vegan friendly meal on the transatlantic flight, (and was required to pay a £5 supplement for the meal), did not have the enjoyment an in-flight meal and was left with no option but to consume crisps and nuts for the duration of the flight. Despite reporting the issue on her outbound flight, it is understood the same mistake occurred on the passenger’s inbound flight.

This article raises the question as to whether veganism is a protected belief under s.10 of The Equality Act 2010.  

The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals if they hold one of the following protected characteristics; age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and/or civil partnership, pregnancy and/or maternity, race, religion and/or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

The Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1st October 2010 and as such, it is still regarded as being fairly new and the scope of some of the provisions being open to interpretation.

Over the last couple of years there has been a significant rise in veganism and statistics show that ‘millennials’ appear to be the central drivers of this worldwide shift away from consuming animal products. In the UK, it is reported that the number of people identifying as vegans has increased by 350% compared to a decade ago. In light of this, one could suggest that the Equality Act 2010 is not equipped to address whether veganism is a philosophical belief, given that it did not have the same platform as it does in today’s society.

In many other countries, the law protects vegans on the basis that veganism is an ethical and/or philosophical belief. In order to be a protected party under s.10 of the Equality Act 2010, a philosophical belief must:

  • Be a belief genuinely held by you
  • Be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • Be a belief as to weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Although there does not appear to be a precedent confirming that veganism is a belief pursuant to s.10 of The Equality Act 2010, both the UK Government and the European Court of Human Rights consider veganism to be a “belief” under Article 9 0f the European Convention on Human Rights in accordance with the principle set out in H –v- UK (1993). In this particular case, the applicant believed that the dye that he would be required to work with had been tested on non-humans and he would therefore be required to rescind his vegan belief and comply with specialist practices.

Whilst the incident concerning the well known airline operator is more likely to be considered an administrative error, rather than a potential discriminatory act, it is likely that there are individuals who have been subjected to discriminatory behaviour as a result of their belief in veganism.  

If you feel that you have been discriminated against as a result of a protected characteristic, you may be able to bring a claim for discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010. Please contact our specialist discrimination team for further advice on  01616 966 229.