The Diet Detective does an annual study on the healthfulness of airline catering. And, in its 2019 in-flight food nutrition ratings, Alaska Airline scored among the best, while Hawaiian came in near the bottom.
Like prior years, Diet Detective contacts airlines based in North America to obtain their nutritional information for food served or made available for purchase to economy class passengers on domestic flights. Airlines included in the study are Air Canada, Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United.
In the study, airlines are ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best (healthiest). And this year, this is how the above airlines fared:
- Air Canada (4)
- Alaska Airlines (4)
- JetBlue (2.9)
- Delta (2.9)
- United (2.7)
- American (2.7)
- Frontier (2.0)
- Allegiant (1.9)
- Spirit (1.9)
- Hawaiian (1.9)
- Southwest (1.7)
It’s interesting to note that all of the legacy airlines are in the upper half of the list, while low-cost carriers (and ULCC) made up the bottom half. That is, of course, with the one legacy exception, Hawaiian. In fact, Hawaiian got the “shame on you award” for not providing all of its nutritional information.
My Personal Experience With In-Flight Meals
Of the above airlines, I’ve flown four of them in the past year or two. And of the four, I’ve eaten a meal with three of them. So, let’s take a look at how the meals compare with those three airlines. Keep in mind, though, that meal offerings change often. As a result, what I ate isn’t representative of what’s on offer now and the corresponding nutritional information.
The clear winner out of the U.S.-based airlines is Alaska. And that should come as no surprise since the airline has been focusing on healthier meals. Plus, the airline scored well in water quality and is making major strides to reduce its environmental impact.
But, anyway, since its merger with Virgin, all Alaska economy class meals are cold sandwiches, salads, and platters. At first, I lamented this decision, but I’ve come to like many of the new items. And, not only do their meals taste great, but they’re also generally not bad for you too. In fact, the average caloric count of Alaska’s meals is 388. The worst offender is, of course, the lunch/dinner sandwich at over 600 calories, while the salad comes in at around the mid-300’s.
Mrs. Island Miler and I normally split a salad and sandwich when flying together on an Alaska lunch/dinner flight.
At breakfast, though, we’ll usually get our own sandwich, which usually scores around the mid-400 calorie range.
When I went to Utah late last year, I flew Delta. And for my return flight, I decided to buy their Flight Fuel PM Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Combo.
That thing isn’t cheap, but it’s a tasty sandwich and pretty filling too. It packs more calories than Alaska’s sandwich at over 700 calories, but it is a bigger sandwich that also comes with a bag of chips and cookies! Plus, the meal packs more protein (45 grams versus 30 grams) for the same amount of fat (24 grams).
Oh, Hawaiian. A few years ago, you offered mediocre hot meals that left me wanting. Which is bad since your PNW flights all arrive late at night.
But, then, you guys switched to generally terrible sandwiches that taste worse and are less satisfying. And, even then, you guys manage to place dead last amongst legacy carriers.
To their credit, Hawaiian’s sandwiches pack significantly fewer calories (400-490) than Delta’s and Alaska’s. But, that’s also because the damn thing is so tiny. Yet, that crappy turkey pastrami sandwich I had flying from Seattle to Honolulu manages to have more calories (28 grams) than Delta or Alaska’s sandwiches with less protein (26 grams).
That said, Hawaiian’s sandwich is free, and I do love their Pau Hana Snack Mix. Not that any of this really matters to me, though, as I most often fly red-eye to the West Coast. And when you do so, you get no meal because they give you a blanket instead.
2019 In-Flight Food Health Ratings, Final Thoughts
While I generally try (at least a little) to take better care of myself nowadays, I don’t really look at nutritional information while traveling. My goal while eating in the air is to eat something that’ll keep me satiated and not upset my annoyingly delicate stomach. And, as you all know, when I’m traveling, I’m trying to shove as much great eats down my throat as possible too. Thankfully, I walk far more when I’m away from home too, so it kind of balances out, right?
If airline food nutrition interests you, I recommend you check out the Diet Detective’s full article here. It’s a pretty interesting read, though I doubt I’d ever follow any of the recommendations.