Air travelers are confronted by long lines, unforeseen delays, and other challenges. On top of all these hassles, there's the unpleasant airplane food. A new survey found that airlines still have to work on serving nutritious meals and snacks on board.
Most airlines fail to provide nutritional information about their food offerings, hindering passengers from making healthy choices.
Charles Platkin, nutrition professor from Hunter College and City University of New York published the survey on his site DietDetective.com. Platkin surveyed 12 major air carriers in the U.S. and ranked them according to 10 criteria, including average calories and willingness to share nutritional details on their menu items.
"I don't think airlines are keeping up with the trends across the United States, the 'better for you' food trend, the organic trend," said Platkin. His survey focused on meals and snacks served to domestic-flight economy-class passengers.
The nutrition expert started his annual survey in 2000, a time when airlines have moved from providing free meals and selling supersized snacks to selling meals and smaller snack servings.
Topping Platkin's list this year is Virgin America, launched in 2007, and said to be the first to offer calorie and nutritional information. None of VA's meals are noted to be high in calories, with the average count at 408 calories or over 70 calories lower than last year.
Platkin noted, however, that VA could perform better in health value on its individual snacks. "In fact, all the airlines could do better with their snack choices - there is no clear leader," he added.
Platkin recommended the following in the VA in-flight menu:
Breakfast: Udi's Granola with Yogurt and Fruit, "a bit high in sugar but overall lower in calories at 330."
Meals: Ginger Chicken Soba Noodles at 328 calories, the high-protein, low-fat-mayo Provencal Tuna Sandwich, and Vegan Wrap with vegetables and hummus
Snack box: Protein Meal with hummus, nuts, and tuna
Kids meal: Half peanut butter and jam sandwich, which Platkin noted climbed to 60 calories more than last year
Trailing Virgin America are JetBlue and Delta, which are tied on the second spot.
JetBlue Airways scored points for its meal calorie and nutrition information as well as its snack boxes, with lower-calorie options including the Grilled Chicken and Brie Sandwich and Chobani Yogurt and Granola at 680 and 210 calories.
Delta, believed to have some of the worst airplane food offerings, emerged second this year partly due to its partnership with health-centered frozen food firm Luvo.
While its Luvo lineup offers caloric data, others do not. For-purchase snacks and snack boxes were discovered to pack in the calories, including a cran-blueberry nut mix with 860 calories.
'Shame On You' Awardees
Platkin said the Top Three are not sharing nutritional information for some of their food lineup. And while Hawaiian Air didn't fare so well either, they at least returned information via email.
If there were clear frontrunners, there were also hall of shamers in Platkin's list, including Alaska, Spirit, and Frontier airlines.
Frontier Airlines particularly declined to provide Platkin with nutritional information about its offerings. The professor suggested that if one is hard pressed for something to eat while on board the carrier, she can settle for the 120-calorie beef jerky, although it is noted to be high in sodium.
This year, the average calorie count per food item is 400, a 3-calorie rise from last year. Airlines also appeared to have decreasing food choices, Platkin said.
How To Eat Healthy While In Transit
With limited options and lack of needed information, passengers are choosing to pack their own food to eat during flights.
Author and blogger Jessica Sepel said she would typically bring raw bars and nuts, flaxseed crackers, green apples, and homemade protein balls with her during flights. "[S]ometimes I will take a salad or some brown rice and chicken in a disposable container," she wrote on her blog.
The Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine, on the other hand, recommended bringing healthy snacks such as bananas and oranges while traveling, as well as skipping processed treats and salted nuts.
Photo: Stefan Krasowski | Flickr