Do you know which airlines offer the healthiest inflight meals and snacks? Charles Platkin, writing for DietDetective.com, does. And he wants flyers to know, too.
Every year—around Thanksgiving, when travel and dieting both tend to trend—Platkin, a public health advocate and professor at Hunter College and the City University of New York’s School of Public Health, surveys the major U.S. airlines’ coach-class meal offerings on domestic flights. And based on the nutritional data the carriers provide, he lauds those providing the healthiest inflight fare, and shames the junk-food purveyors.
The average number of calories per menu item was 405 this year, up 13 percent over 2016. The average calorie count in 2012, when the first study was conducted, was 360. But calories aren’t the only consideration.
For each airline, Platkin assesses a health score, combining calories, nutritional value, and so on. On a scale from 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being healthiest, the airlines ranked as follows:
- Delta – 4 stars
- Virgin America – 4 stars
- Air Canada – 3.75 stars
- JetBlue – 3.75 stars
- Alaska Airlines – 3.5 stars
- United – 2.75 stars
- American – 2.5 stars
- Frontier – 2.25 stars
- Southwest – 2 stars
- Allegiant – 1.75 stars
- Spirit – 1.75 stars
- Hawaiian – 1 star
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Low-cost carriers with shorter average flights are at an obvious disadvantage, since they are more likely to serve only snack food, which tends to be high in calories and low in nutritional value. Which leads to the key takeaway from the study: Whichever airline you fly, avoid the snacks if healthy eating is a priority.
For perspective, an occasional less-than-healthy meal isn’t a difference-maker when it comes to weight management or overall health. But for those who fly frequently, the calories and fat and salt can add up. And even infrequent flyers should at least be aware of the nutritional implications of their inflight intake.
Reader Reality Check
How conscientious are you about healthy eating when flying?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.