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Survey Rates The Healthiest (and The Worst) Airline Food Options

Photo: Delta

This holiday is setting records for air travel. By the time New Year’s, Christmas and Thanksgiving are over, USA Today predicts more than 51 million people will have passed through airport gates. That is an increase of about 3.5% over last year. Carriers say air travel in general is seeing an uptick since fares are not rising as fast as inflation.

With the large crowds come ginormous appetites. Walking through airports carrying all those gifts and excess baggage can make you ravenous, but many folks have said losing weight is their New Year’s resolution. What is a hungry traveler to do?

Here is how airlines stack up when it comes to providing in flight meals. According to this year’s Airline Food Survey from dietdetective.com, there are a few clear leaders that have pulled ahead of the pack and a few not-so-savory fliers pulling up the rear.

2017’s Healthiest Airline Is ….

This distinction goes to Delta and Virgin America. The two are tied for first place for healthy options. A move toward sustainable, nutritious foods and a moderate calorie count put them at the head of the class.

Delta has decreased average calorie count per meal from 628 to 559. Vegan, vegetarian, non-GMO, gluten-free, and kosher items are available for those with special dietary needs or preferences. More kudos to Delta for providing the Tapas box, the only non-GMO snack box offered by the domestic airline industry. It includes Super Seed Crackers, Snapea Crisps, almonds, hummus, quinoa with pepper dip and even a bit of dark chocolate. Must have those antioxidants!

Lunch Box from Delta Airlines, 2017’s Healthiest Airline. Photo Eric Salard (CC BY-SA 2.0)

And now every class of passenger can join the feasting. Delta joins American in once again offering complimentary meals in economy class on some routes. It has been more than 15 years since these airlines offered a meal to economy class passengers. Bon apetit!

Alaska Air has acquired Virgin America and plans to maintain the current meal standards at least until next year. Virgin is unique in that it provides nutritional information as well as calorie counts. No other airline does that.

When flying on Virgin America, vegetarians can enjoy a quinoa wrap that checks in at a healthy 420 calories. Meat eaters can have the Protein Plate with roasted chicken and farro salad, a nutritious punch that is sure to keep you full for hours.

From the Best … to the Worst

We know at this point you are probably wondering who else made the list. Because we are optimists, we will start with the rest of the top contenders.

1.) Delta and Virgin America

3.) Air Canada

4.) JetBlue

5.) Alaska Air

6.) United Airlines

7.) American Airlines

And the bottom dwellers….

8.) Frontier

9.) Southwest

10.) Allegiant

11.) Spirit

12.) Hawaiian

They weren’t impressed with Hawaiian

Hawaiian Airlines holds down the bottom with less healthy food on offer than any other airline. For this, Diet Detective gave them the dubious “Shame on You” award. (Shrugs … don’t shoot the messenger! I am just reporting).

Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines apparently did not do a good job replying to reporters’ requests for info. This lack of transparency meant the nutritional information is an estimate. While Hawaiian does offer food on all of their Pacific long-haul flights, the menu does not offer much in the way of healthy options.  They offered no non-GMO, no organic or sustainable options, et cetera. Oh, the humanity!

Hawaiian has hummus and pita chips on the menu. It provides some semblance of a proper diet with its balanced protein/fat/carb ratio. And the salted macadamia nuts do provide some vitamins and minerals but you would be packing in a lot of calories, 550 to be exact. That equates to 119 minutes of walking. Popcorn would be a better option, right? Nope. The caramel macadamia nut popcorn sure sounds delicious but in my opinion, it should be classified as a dessert with its sky-high sugar content and 600 calories (which would equate to 130 minutes of schlepping through the airport for one small snack).  Not ideal for a bikini body, but to be fair you’re probably on vacation when you fly them and aren’t that worried about the calories.

Other food trends: Small is Becoming Smaller. Your Bag of Peanuts is Shrinking

It is not your imagination. Snack foods on offer at most airlines are indeed shrinking in size. Large packages are being replaced by smaller ones and in some cases, snacks are being totally eliminated. Maybe it is an effort to improve health statistics for the airlines. Maybe it is a way to save them money. Either way, snacks are getting pretty skimpy.

 

For those airlines who are offering free munchies, the types of snacks they are giving passengers are not very healthy. Expect to get an extra dose of unneeded salt and sugar with your packaged goodie. Depending on what you are washing it down with, this may be just fine with you. Just remember if you have health problems or are watching your weight, read that label. Full details of the Airline Food Survey can be found here:

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Kim Clark

Written by Kim Clark

Former CNN Radio News Network anchor Kim Clark is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in the aviation industry and financial markets. She currently freelances for S&P Global and works as a club and event Disc Jockey in Atlanta, Georgia, after having held positions doing news on radio morning shows and holding down the position of Music Director of commercial radio stations owned by Cumulus and Clear Channel.

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