As we do annually, we contacted the airlines to request nutrition information for the foods they serve economy-class passengers on domestic flights and gathered data stored on websites and other online resources to bring you the 2016-17 Airline Food Survey.
This has been a slow year in general for innovation in terms of healthy foods, transparency, and food consciousness (no gmos, organic, lighter and sustainable foods). Airlines other than Delta and Virgin America seem very slow to catch on to the food awareness that is going on around the country and around the world. I’d think it would be good business for them to provide better, healthier and more conscientious food.
The average number of calories per menu choice was 360 in 2012; in 2013 it was 388; in 2014 it was 397, 2015 it was 400 and this year it’s 392, an 8 calorie decrease over last year. Finally, I want to say that 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 food-service offerings from the four airlines that serve Fort Wayne, along with Diet Detective's 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, United Airlines 3.25 stars, American 3 stars, Allegiant Air 1.75 stars.
Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com)
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: ****
Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 527
Average Snack Box Calories = 560
Average Meal Calories = 628
Average Individual Snack Calories = 153
Best Bets: For a snack, the nuts are the best choice — even over the lower-calorie pretzels. The vegan, gmo-free Tapas Snack Box is a good healthy choice if you share or make it a meal (it’s too high in calories as a snack). For within the box, the best bests are the Super Seed Crackers, Snapea Crisps, dark chocolate, almonds, hummus, and quinoa with pepper dip; you can pass on the rest.
For morning travel choose the continental breakfast (fruit and yogurt). It’s 331 calories, but save the Kind bar for a snack later in the day. If you’re on a transcontinental flight, your best bet is the LUVO Fresh Breakfast Medley. For Lunch/Dinner on regular westbound flights, choose the LUVO Southwest Grilled Chicken Wrap (without the cookie), and on eastbound flights the LUVO Sesame Grilled Chicken Wrap is a good choice. Again, you can skip the cookie to save calories. For Lunch/Dinner on transcontinental flights, the LUVO Mediterranean Whole Grain Veggie Wrap is a good choice and will fill you up (without the cookie). Pass on the Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Combo and the Black Angus Burger.
United Airlines (www.united.com)
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful
Health Score: *** 1/4
Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 444
Average Meal Calories = 508
Average Snack Box Calories = 502
Average Individual Snack Calories = 376
Best Bets: Among the individual snacks, the humus is the best choice. Or else share the Sweet & Savory Bistro Blend Trail Mix with at least a few others if you can. It’s better than the other choices. Get the Tapas snack box, which is high in calories but has many healthy foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta; just toss out the cheese spread. You should also share it unless you’re eating it as a meal. Skip the Classic and Select snack boxes. For breakfast, your best bet is the Chicken Sausage Egg Skillet, but skip the chicken sausage to save calories.. Also, skip the ham baguette. For Lunch/Dinner, the airline removed last year's best bet, the wrap and salad combo. The new options are not great; however, the Mediterranean Chicken Wrap is your best bet and should keep you full. For kids, the Ben Flyin is better than any of the other airlines’ kids boxes and might be worth getting to keep your kids smiling, but probably will not fill them up.
American Airlines (www.aa.com)
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Good
Health Score: ***
Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 367
Average Meal Calories = 511.75
Average Snack Box Calories = 497
Average Individual Snack Calories = 246.5
Best Bets: For individual snacks the hummus and chips are still your best choice. Skip the snack box unless you toss the salami and cheese. The Thai Ginger Chicken Wrap is a good choice, but skip the sesame-ginger dressing. For breakfast on flights of more than two but less than three hours (see below) there's not much to eat; and while the trail mix may seem like a healthy choice, it’s very high in calories, so you would need to split it with at least one other person. On flights of three hours or more, the Breakfast Sandwich is an OK choice as long as you go light on the honey mustard dressing. The fruit and cheese plate has fresh fruit and the cheese can be OK if you share it with your seatmate.
Allegiant Air ( www.allegiantair.com)
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very Helpful
Health Score: * 3/4
Average Calories Overall (Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 395
Average Individual Snack Calories = 379
Average Snack Box Calories = 435
Best Bets: For the individual snacks, the nuts might work if you share with at least one other person. The hummus snack pack is your best bet if you’re mid-flight, but the snack boxes are not great in terms of health (and not just calorie-wise). Avoid the Deli Snack Pack, and while the Wingz Kids Snack Pack is not healthy, if you’re nagged by a child into purchasing it, at least $1 of every sale is directly donated to Make-A-Wish.
Charles Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com.
Bring Your Own Snacks
Keep in mind that you can take most foods through security, but you need to check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the latest rules about carrying on food and beverages ( www.tsa.gov/311/index.shtm).
Here are some ideas for snacks you can bring or buy at the airport:
* Water: Buy it after the security checkpoint to take onboard.
* Cereal: Shredded Wheat or other low-calorie cereals.
* Fruit and salads: Stick with fruits such as apples and oranges that can withstand some rough treatment. You can even bring a banana if you put it in a container such as a banana saver ( www.bananasaver.com). Grapes or almost any other fruit can be carried in a plastic container.
* Energy bars: Although they tend to be high in calories and fat, they are generally better than a slice of pizza or a candy bar at the airport.
* Sandwiches: Chicken, turkey, cold cuts and cheese (on 100 percent whole-wheat bread) are all great options.
* Nuts: They're a good source of protein, and they help fend off hunger.
* Dried or freeze-dried fruit and vegetable snacks.
* All Natural Fruit Roll-Ups.
* Whole-Wheat Crackers.
* Beef jerky.