Friday, November 27, 2015

2015 Airline Food Investigation

Survey Provides Travelers with the Best In-flight Food including Health Ratings - Making Healthier Choices 35,000 Feet in the Air

(NEW YORK, NY) - According to Airlines For America, there are approximately 25.3 million passengers traveling during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period, the highest number since the Great Recession Knowing what are the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ choices is a valuable tool for any traveler, so once again rated the best ‘Calorie Bargains’ and “Calorie Rip-offs” at 35,000 feet. releases the 2015 Airline Food Survey rating foods for twelve (12) airlines. The survey 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, improvement and maintenance of healthy offerings, menu innovation and cooperation in providing nutritional information. The survey includes health ratings, average calories per airline, cost, comments, best bets, food offerings, calories, and exercise equivalents.

“This year Virgin America wins the top spot again with the "healthiest" food choices in the sky with Delta and JetBlue tied for second. Frontier Airlines received the lowest score, was the least cooperative and received a low health rating.  The 'Shame on You' goes to Frontier" says Charles Platkin, PhD, MPH, public health advocate, editor of and Distinguished Lecturer (professor) at HUNTER College and the City University of New York School of Public Health.

The average number of calories per food item was 360 in 2012; in 2013 it was 388; last year 397, and this year it’s 400 (399.96), a 3 calorie increase over last year. In addition, they also appear to be decreasing the number of choices they offer.

Below are the surveyed airlines’ “Health Scores” (Health Score: 5 stars = highest rating, 0 stars = lowest). For full survey results including full listings of the snack/on-board food, comments, ratings, cost, calories, exercise equivalents, and tips go to or email Mary Cummings, 212 -367-6199 ext 117

Summary of Health Ratings (5 stars = highest rating): Virgin America 4.5 stars, JetBlue 4 stars, Delta 4 stars, Air Canada 3.25 stars, United Airlines 3.25 stars, American 2.75 stars, Alaska Air 2.5 stars, Southwest Airlines 1.5 stars, Allegiant Air 1.5 stars, Spirit Airlines 1.25 stars, Hawaii 1.25 stars, Frontier Air 1 star

Virgin America (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: **** ½
Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 352.27
Average Snack Box Calories = 394
Average Meal Calories = 408                                                          
Average Individual Snack Calories = 259.38
Comments: Average calories for all items on Virgin America fell this year from 386.25 to 352.27 – a 34 calorie drop – that’s good news. But I still don’t understand why VA doesn’t put all their nutritional information on their website and in the air. Another year and the snacks are still the same – can’t we get at least one super healthy snack? How about an apple or an orange? But I am impressed that the total for the average meal has dropped by more than 70 calories - a 15 percent reduction. Nice work.
Best Bets: Avoid the individual snacks, since none of them is very healthy. Even the nuts, which are the best choice, are high in calories if you consume the entire package.  For breakfast try the Udi's Granola with Yogurt and Fruit, which is a bit high in sugar but overall low in calories at 330. The best snack box is the Protein Meal with hummus, nuts and tuna; the others are a bit high in calories and are not really worth it. For kids, skip the Jet Set Kid Pack if you can, and go for the half peanut butter and jam sandwich (which unfortunately jumped 60 calories from last year). It's still a better choice.
Best Bets: For the free snacks (on flights of more than 1.5 hours) the peanuts are the best choice. None of the "for sale" individual snacks is a good choice – still – same as last year. If you do get the nut mix, make sure to share it with at least two others. The snack boxes are very high in calories too. However, there are some good choices within the EATS Tapas box; you can certainly eat the hummus, bruschetta, olives, almonds, apricots and dark chocolate. Skip the rest, and make this a meal, not a snack.

The reality is that Delta is a big airline and has a complicated menu. It changes depending on where you are flying, so make sure to check below and online to see the food choices before you’re in the air. Of the breakfast options, on almost all flights you will see the continental breakfast. It’s 300 calories, but you can skip the muffin and save calories. If you’re on a transcontinental flight, your best bet is the LUVO Fresh Breakfast Medley (without the muffin). For Lunch/Dinner on regular westbound flights, the LUVO Grilled Chicken Wrap, and on eastbound flights the LUVO Roast Turkey & Havarti Wrap, are good choices (the sandwiches are available in reverse from last year). Again, you can skip the cookie to save calories. For Lunch/Dinner transcontinental flights the LUVO Quinoa Crunch Wrap Snack Box is a good choice and will fill you up; you can skip the cookie to save calories if you want. Don’t fall for the high calories in the Roast Beef Slider Combo or the Black Angus Burger.

JetBlue Airways (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful
Health Score: ****
Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 327
Average Snack Box Calories = 513
Average Meal Calories = 483
Average Individual Snack Calories = 157.75
Comments: Not much has changed with JetBlue except that the calorie count for the snack boxes is up by an average of 30 calories from last year. The individual snacks are still low in calories and nutritional value. The airline is showing progress, however, by posting nutritional information for its meals (See: drinks/nutrition-facts/). All the other foods are packaged, so they must not feel the need.
Best Bets: This is the third year in a row that JetBlue has not done much with its snacks­still nothing much in terms of healthy individual snacks, and no nuts (maybe because of peanut allergies?). And keep in mind, just because the individual snacks are free doesn’t mean you should take more than one. If you buy the New York Nut Factory Omega-3 Mega Mix you need to share it with at least 3 other people, and avoid the jerky if you’re sodium sensitive.
As for the meal boxes, Pump Up has healthy ingredients (Mary’s Gone Crackers-Original, olives, humus and raisins) but remember that it’s a meal and should not be eaten as a snack. Skip the other meal boxes, which are high in calories and fat and offer little in terms of nutrition. If you are on a flight that offers the Eat Up Café, the Yogurt and granola, the Kale & Quinoa Salad, the Spicy Soba & Korean-Style Chicken, and the Veggie Platter are all good choices. Skip the Grilled Chicken and Brie Sandwich, which is very high in calories and low on nutrition.

Air Canada (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: (***1/4)
Average Calories Overall (Meals and Individual Snacks) = 327
Average Meal Calories = 343.6
Average Individual Snack Calories = 311
Comments: The staff is VERY helpful in getting the information out, which is nice, and shows that Air Canada cares about its food. It keeps calorie counts low for meals. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when I look for healthy choices, defined as high in nutrient value, there is not a lot to choose from.
Best Bets: For breakfast, the Greek yogurt parfait is good – and will probably fill you up. And while the egg sandwich has bacon, it’s still low in calories. If you’re looking for a snack, pick the Chicken Soup. It's more like a meal than a snack – a good thing. The cashews or almonds need to be shared. The Celery & Carrots with Ranch Dip (if you limit the dip to no more than half) is also a good choice. While the hummus sounds healthy, the pretzels offer little nutritionally, and you’d be better off having a meal if meals are available. The Chicken Club Wrap is good; it has turkey bacon, which is better than regular bacon. I would skip the falafels. On flights of more than 4 hours departing from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the sushi is a very good choice.

Alaska Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
Health Score: ** ½
Average Calories Overall (Meals and Snack Boxes) = 537
Average Snack Box Calories = 399.5
Average Meal Calories = 606
Comments: For the first few years of the survey Alaska Airlines was excited to be a part of the mix. Now, they say they want to opt out. Too bad Alaska – this is not an opt in–or-out kind of thing. Just because you’re not happy with the results, you can’t pull out. Interestingly enough, the average number of calories in their foods has skyrocketed from 444 to 537. The calories in an average meal also went up significantly from 456 to 606. I was looking over Alaska Airlines’ website, and under its snack section they have the following under the header Healthy Snacks: “Our inflight snacks are a little different, we offer a range of snack boxes that are free of Trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, and MSG.” They’ve actually added the term “Healthy Snacks” since last year – and it’s not entirely accurate. While having no MSG, HGCS or trans fat is good, there are many products that have eliminated those ingredients and are still not healthy – basically, it’s a marketing ploy. Keep in mind, all nutritional information for Alaska Airlines has been calculated by our staff registered dietitian.
Best Bets: Among the snack boxes, the Mediterranean Tapas hasn't changed much from last year and is still the healthiest choice. It has olives, hummus, almonds, dried fruit and even a dark chocolate bar. But keep in mind that 497 calories is a bit high for a "snack" (or even a meal), so it's best if you share the box or have it as a meal replacement. For kids, the snack box may be tempting, but it's always better for children (and adults) to eat a real meal than it is to "snack" aimlessly. FYI, the beef jerky is low in calories but very high in sodium. As far as breakfast goes, you have one high calorie, unhealthy choice and a somewhat healthy Fruit and Cheese plate. For the cheese plate, skip the crackers and half the cheese. For dinner your best bet is the
Homestyle Chicken Dinner at 453 calories.

Southwest Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
Health Score: * 1/2
Average Calories = 108
Comments: Not much variety and not much in terms of nutritional value.
Best Bet: Go for the nuts and skip the pretzels and other items.

Allegiant Air (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful
Health Score: * 1/2
Average Calories Overall (Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 386.22
Average Individual Snack Calories = 421.16
Average Snack Box Calories = 316
Comments: The media representative was better than last year. However, the airline has eliminated many of its healthier selections, including chips and salsa and the fruit and cheese plate as well as its very high calorie Italian sandwich and other not-so-healthy snacks. There are few choices on this airline – there should be more.
Best Bets: Other than the humus, the snack boxes are not great in terms of health (and not just calorie-wise). Avoid the Deli Snack Pack and don’t let your kids near the Wingz Kids Snack Pack. Among the individual snacks, nuts are the healthiest choice.

Spirit Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
Health Score: * 1/4
Average Calories Overall (Individual Snacks and Snack Boxes) = 422.5
Average Individual Snack Calories =409.5
Average Snack Box Calories = 540
Comments: Paraphrasing spokesperson Paul Berry, the airline believes it’s doing passengers a favor. Their media department is arrogant and snarky – they just don’t care, maybe just like the airline? This year, because they didn’t like their previous rating, they decided to not participate. I guess if you drop the price low enough anyone will fly on anything. Again paraphrasing Mr. Berry from last year: passengers should bring their own food and drinks. But in my opinion, the airline has a responsibility to serve foods that are healthier. As a passenger you don’t have too many options if you don’t bring your own food. Why not offer 3 or 4 healthy foods?
Best Bets: The cup of noodle soup at 290 calories is the only choice that will feel like a real meal. Watch out for the Nuggets & Nuts at 600 calories, and all the muffins are at least 400 calories­not the best choices unless you split one (if you're the type of person who can do that). Bringing your own food is actually the best option.

Hawaiian Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Not Helpful
Health Score: * 1/4
Average Calories Oversll (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 588
Average Meal Calories = 954
Average Individual Snack Calories = 452
Average Snack Box Calories = 417
Comments: Wow, they have lots of snacks! And this year I was surprised that the airline actually sent over some nutritional information for its snacks – much better than last year. They claim that getting the info for the other foods would cost $17,000 –which is ridiculous. The airline food provider has exact recipes for these foods; otherwise they would taste different each time, and they don’t. The airline could easily get a nutritionist to do the menu analysis. But, since they didn’t, the calories for all the meals were estimated by Diet Detective nutritionists. Hawaiian is one of the few airlines to serve free food on domestic flights. But watch out­their food is high in calories.
Best Bets: There are no healthy snacks (or meals either), but if I had to pick one – gosh – the popcorn -- nah. Bring your own. For the complimentary meals try to go light on the breads, treats and dressings. In the end, it would be best to eat before you go, or else you might wind up feeling lethargic and cranky after one of these calorie-heavy meals.

Frontier Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
Health Score: *
Average Individual Snack Calories = 356.14
Comments: Last year the PR / Media team behaved shamefully. They did not provide nutritional information either last year or this year; they were radio silent. So, Frontier, how about getting a few healthy food choices? A meal? A snack box?
Best Bets: Bring your own food. There is nothing healthy here; however, if you’re not sodium sensitive you can grab the jerky.

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