These airlines have the healthiest in-flight meal options

Nov 27 2019, 12:31 pm

The in-flight meal notoriously gets a bad rap for being bland, unappetizing, and high in calories.

However, a recent study conducted by Diet Detective indicates that many airlines are jumping on the trendy health food wagon by offering nutritious, environmentally friendly in-flight meal options.

Diet Detective contacted airlines to obtain their nutrition information regarding the foods that they serve as well as the options they provide for purchase to passengers flying in economy class on domestic flights.


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They also collected data stored on airline websites as well as other online resources to present the 2019-2020 Airline Food Survey.

Airlines for America (A4A) — the industry trade organization for leading US airlines — anticipates that 31.6 million passengers will fly on US airlines during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period.

That is a lot of potential mouths to feed.

This year, Alaska Airlines and Air Canada share the top spot as the airlines with the “healthiest” in-flight meal options, with JetBlue and Delta coming in tied for second.


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Diet Detective included additional criteria this year into their Overall Health Score, including whether or not the airline offers meals for flights with durations of two hours or more.

They also considered the total level of sodium in the meals, Airline Water Safety score, and environmental activations such as replacing plastic stirrers, straws, and cups with sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives.

The average number of calories per menu item on Alaska and Air Canada was 373 in 2018. This year, the count remained relatively the same at 375 calories.

However, it is crucial to note that calories aren’t everything.


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The study also investigates the nutrient content of the food as well as innovations that cater to healthier, less expensive, more sustainable, albeit tastier, food options.

Alaska Airlines is a definite leader when it comes to decreasing its environmental impact.

It was the first airline to replace plastic straws with paper alternatives and continues to seek out more eco-friendly substitutions.

The airline has also launched a #FillBeforeYouFly campaign to motivate travelers to bring their own reusable water bottles and fill them at water-filling stations in the airport to minimize the use of plastic water bottles and cups on board.


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Diet Detective’s “Shame On You Award” was bestowed upon Hawaiian Airlines for not providing all of their nutritional information for the study.

According to Dr. Charles Spence from the University of Oxford, our taste perception actually changes when we are up in the air. As such, more flavor is required for us to taste and enjoy food.

Spence found that three primary factors impact taste at high altitudes: lack of humidity, cabin air pressure, and loud background noise.


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According to the study, “More salt, sugar and flavor enhancers (i.e., spices and herbs) are necessary to make meals in-flight to taste the way they do on the ground.”

The good news is that Air Canada received a Health Score of 4.0/5 and was commended for adding several new items to showcase their health innovations, including a Wild Rice Superfood Salad and a Grilled Chicken Summer Salad.

However, according to Diet Detective, “The bad news is that Air Canada needs to include all nutrient information and ingredients on its menu and online – there is no reason not to.”


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Alaska Airlines also received 4/5 while also being commended by Diet Detective for its “transparency compared to other airlines” regarding its full menu and complete nutritional information, which is accessible online as well as on the airline’s app.

However, the full ingredient list for each item is still missing from the website.

Most notably, the average number of Alaska’s overall calories is 45 fewer than in 2018.