Published On: Mon, Nov 27th, 2017

Airline food: Delta and Virgin America the ‘healthiest’ food choices in the sky

Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and DietDetective.com releases the 2017-18 Airline Food Study rating foods for twelve (12) airlines. The study assigned a “Health Score” (5 stars = highest rate, 0 star = lowest) based on ten criteria including health and calorie levels of meals, snack boxes and individual snacks, level of transparency (display nutrient information & ingredients), improvement and maintenance of healthy offerings, menu innovation and cooperation in providing nutritional information. The survey includes health ratings, average calories per airline, comments, best bets, food offerings, costs, nutrition information  (e.g., calories, and exercise equivalents. See the full study at Diet Detective

Image/corgaasbeek via pixabay

“This year Delta and Virgin America share the top spot as the airlines with the “healthiest” food choices in the sky with Air Canada and JetBlue tied for second,  says Charles Platkin, PhD, JD, MPH,  the executive director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and editor of DietDetective.com

The average number of calories per menu choice was 360 in 2012; in 2013 it was 388; in 2014 it was 397; in 2015 it was 400; in 2016 it was 392; and this year 405 calories, a 13 calorie increase over last year. Keep in mind, calories are not everything; we are looking at the nutrients in these foods when they are provided, as well as innovations moving toward healthy, tasty, inexpensive, sustainable foods.

Here are the major airline food headlines:

  • Delta is the clear leader among the major carries and is tied with Virgin America this year as the healthiest airline.
  • Alaska Air purchased Virgin America, and the goal is to maintain the status-quo when it comes to food in all categories until next year.
  • American and Delta have once again started offering complimentary meals in economy class on domestic flights, something we haven’t seen in more than 15 years.
  • Airlines are eliminating those oversized packages of snack foods and offering individual smaller packages or eliminating individual snacks altogether.
  • Some airlines are going back to serving individual complimentary snacks, but they’re not very healthy. How about an apple or an orange, or maybe a Clementine or a Halo (mandarin orange).
  • The “Shame on You” award goes to Hawaiian and United Airlines. Hawaiian just does not respond while United’s food and beverage department seems put-out by the process, and it shows in their responses to queries. American Airlines is not too far behind with a media rep who also seems put-out by the process.
  • Note to all airlines: It is not difficult to get nutritional information for all foods. Every airline uses detailed recipes; all they have to do is put the ingredients into a free online food calculator (such as supertracker.usda.gov), and in a few minutes they could have complete nutritional information.
  • Also, did you read the press release from the FDA commissioner? “One important step is ensuring consumers have access to reliable and actionable information about the foods they eat so that they can make more informed choices about their diets and health for themselves and their families.” Menu labeling is coming in May 2018.

The most prompt response came from Delta – honestly the airline reps are amazing, and it shows the airline is paying attention to their food. Alaska Airlines, representing both Alaska and Virgin America was very responsive, as were Allegiant, Frontier and even Spirit. Most of the other airlines needed some prompting but were, nevertheless, cooperative overall.

Here are the food-service offerings from several of the more popular airlines, along with Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center / DietDetective.com comments, ratings (Health Score: 5 stars = highest rating), calories, exercise equivalents (amount of walking required to burn off the food consumed) and personal favorites.

Summary of Health Ratings (5 Stars is highest): Delta 4 stars, Virgin America 4 stars, Air Canada 3.75  stars, JetBlue 3.75 stars, Alaska Air 3.5 stars, United Airlines 2.75 stars, American 2.5 stars, Frontier Air 2.25  stars,  Southwest Airlines 2 stars, Allegiant Air 1.75 stars, Spirit Airlines 1.75 stars, Hawaiian Airlines 1 star

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