Travel

New study ranks healthy airline food options. (Hint: Bring your own.)

Strawberry Fields Salad is one of the new first-class food selections offered by United Airlines, which announced in 2014 that it’s upgrading first-class food options and replacing snacks with full meals on some of its shortest flights.
United Airlines
Strawberry Fields Salad is one of the new first-class food selections offered by United Airlines, which announced in 2014 that it’s upgrading first-class food options and replacing snacks with full meals on some of its shortest flights.

Airplane food tends to be more of a punchline than a pleasure. And yet, at 35,000 feet, even a forlorn-looking tray can serve as both entertainment and sustenance for a captive audience. With that in mind, Charles Platkin, director of the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, sought to uncover just how healthy or unhealthy airplane food is, and the results are published in the Annual Airline Food Investigation, a survey he’s conducted since 2000 (it became annual in 2009).

For the survey, Platkin reached out to representatives with 12 major airlines to inquire about their meal and snack options. He ranks them based, in part, on calories, nutrition, menu innovation, and transparency (some airlines are more candid than others about what’s in their food).

‘‘They call me an airline food bully,’’ says Platkin, who is also founder of the site DietDetective.com. ‘‘I’m aggressive about it. People have choices about what airline they fly, but they don’t have choices about what they eat on that flight,’’ he says.

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Each airline is given a ‘‘health score’’ on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. This year, Delta and Virgin America tied for the lead, with each scoring 4 points, and Air Canada tied for second with JetBlue. Hawaiian Airlines came in last.

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It’s telling that no airline scored the highest rating of 5. ‘‘The airlines still have a tremendous amount of room for improvement,’’ says Platkin, who encourages health-conscious passengers to eat a full meal before they fly and to carry their own snacks (nuts, fruit, vegetables, hummus) onboard.

Here’s how the 12 airlines scored. (For the full survey, best bets for snacks, and nutritional info, visit dietdetective.com/annual-airline-food-
investigation-2017-18
).

Delta

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:

Excellent

Health score 4

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Average caloriesoverall (meals, snack boxes and individual snacks): 480

Virgin America

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:
Excellent

Health score: 4

Average calories overall 340

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Air Canada

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:

Very helpful

Health score 3.75

Average calories overall 320

JetBlue Airways

Cooperation in providing nutritional information: Somewhat helpful

Health score 3.75

Average calories overall 337

Alaska Airlines

Cooperation in providing nutritional information: Extremely helpful

Health score 3.5

Average calories overall 479.6

United

Cooperation in providing nutritional information: Somewhat helpful

Health score 2.75

Average calories overall 416

American Airlines

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:
Below average

Health score 2.5

Average calories overall 446

Frontier Airlines

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:
Very helpful

Health Rating 2.25

Average calories overall 372

Southwest Airlines

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:
Very helpful

Health Score 2

Average calories overall 125

Allegiant Air

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:
Very helpful

Health Score 1.75

Average calories overall 402

Spirit Airlines

Cooperation in providing nutritional information:

Helpful

Health score 1.75

Average calories overall 316

Hawaiian Airlines

Cooperation in providing nutritional information: Terrible/unresponsive

Health score 1

Average calories overall 568