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The Thanksgiving holiday season is traditionally the busiest travel time of the year, and 2017 is expected to be the busiest since about 2005. Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, predicts that 28.5 million passengers will travel on U.S. airlines during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period. This number is up 3 percent from 2016 and represents an increase of 69,000 daily passengers compared to the 2016 Thanksgiving travel period.

Once again we contacted the airlines to request nutrition information for the foods they serve and make available for purchase to economy-class passengers on domestic flights and gathered data stored on websites and other online resources to bring you the 2017-2018 Airline Food Survey.

Here are the major airline food headlines:

  • Delta is the clear leader among the major carries and is tied with Virgin America this year as the healthiest airline.
  • The average number of calories per menu choice was 360 in 2012; in 2013 it was 388; in 2014 it was 397; in 2015 it was 400; in 2016 it was 392, and this year 405 calories, a 13 calorie increase over last year. Keep in mind, calories are not everything; we are looking at the nutrients in these foods when they are provided, as well as innovations moving towards healthy, tasty, inexpensive, sustainable foods.
  • Alaska Air purchased Virgin America, and the goal is to maintain the status-quo when it comes to food in all categories until next year.
  • American and Delta have once again started offering complimentary meals in economy class on domestic flights, something we haven’t seen in more than 15 years.
  • Airlines are eliminating those oversized packages of snack foods and offering individual smaller packages or eliminating individual snacks altogether.
  • Some airlines are going back to serving individual complimentary snacks, but they’re not very healthy. How about an apple or an orange, or maybe a Clementine or a Halo (mandarin orange).
  • The “Shame on You” award goes to Hawaiian and United Airlines. Hawaiian just does not respond while United’s food and beverage department seems put-out by the process, and it shows in their responses to queries. American Airlines is not too far behind with a media rep who also seems put-out by the process.
  • Note to all airlines: It is not difficult to get nutritional information for all foods. Every airline uses detailed recipes; all they have to do is put the ingredients into a free online food calculator (such as supertracker.usda.gov), and in a few minutes they could have complete nutritional information.
  • Also, did you read the press release from the FDA commissioner? “One important step is ensuring consumers have access to reliable and actionable information about the foods they eat so that they can make more informed choices about their diets and health for themselves and their families.” Menu labeling is coming in May 2018.

Here are the food-service offerings from several of the more popular airlines, 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, Virgin America 4 stars, Air Canada 3.75 stars, JetBlue 3.75 stars, Alaska Air 3.5 stars, United Airlines 2.75 stars, American 2.5 stars, Frontier Air 2.25 stars, Southwest Airlines 2 stars, Allegiant Air 1.75 stars, Spirit Airlines 1.75 stars, Hawaiian Airlines 1 star

Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com)
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: 4
Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 480
Average Snack Box Calories = 560
Average Meal Calories = 559
Average Individual Snack Calories = 164

Comments: Delta is doing an incredible job focusing on improving its food, transparency and communication. It is the clear leader among the big carriers by a long shot. While calories are surely not everything, it’s always nice to see a decrease; the overall calories are down from 527 to 480. Meals are down from 628 to 559. Delta has also eliminated many of its individual paid snacks, however the free offerings are relatively low in calories yet are still not the great choices, other than the almonds. Delta continues its commitment to improving its food in terms of health and consciousness. Its menu continues to focus on “transparency into ingredient and allergen information for customers,” and its focus on transparency includes providing a key on the menu for snack items that are Non-GMO, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Kosher, and Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian. Also, the Tapas box is the U.S. airline industry’s only non-GMO snack box. Delta continues to work with Luvo which has a very strong commitment to healthy eating. All the calorie information for the items are listed on Delta’s menu (and online); I’m just not sure why the airline doesn’t put all nutritional information for all its food on the website and pocket cards–why not? List ingredients, as well as fats, proteins, carbohydrates and sugar.

Best Bets: For a snack, the almonds are the best choice–even over the Kind bar, or 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). 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 345 calories, but save the Kind bar for a snack later in the day. For Lunch/Dinner, choose the Sesame Noodle Salad or the Greek Meze Plate. You can skip the caramel-filled chocolate to save calories.

Complimentary Snacks (Available on flights of more than 250 miles)
Flights 250-599 miles get a choice of Biscoff cookies or pretzels
Flights of more than 600 miles get a choice of almonds, pretzels, Biscoff cookies or a Kind honey and oat bar

Snyder’s pretzels (50 calories/11 minutes of walking)
Biscoff cookies (120 calories/26 minutes of walking)
Kind Honey and Oat Healthy Grain Bar (150 calories/32 minutes of walking)
Squirrel Brand Classic Almonds (124 calories/27 minutes of walking)

Individual Snacks (Served all day on flights of more than 2 hours or 900+ miles)

Pringles $3.49 (375 calories/81 minutes of walking)

All Day Snack Boxes (Available all day on select flights of more than 2 hours or 900+ miles)

Delta Flight Fuel Tapas Snack Box $8.99 (100% Vegan and Non-GMO)
Calbee Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps (90 calories), Mary’s Gone Crackers Super Seed Crackers (100 calories), Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate (50 calories), Madi K’s Whole Natural Almonds (100 calories), Nature’s Bakery Lemon Fig Bar (110 calories), La Panzanella Multigrain Crackers (70 calories), Pick Pocket Dips Traditional Hummus (95 calories), Quinoa Queen Quinoa with Pepper Dip (50 calories)
Total = 665 calories/144 minutes of walking.

Delta Flight Fuel Crave Snack Box $7.99
Nabisco Original Wheat Thins (220 calories), Cheez-It Crackers (100 calories), Hormel Hard Salami (110 calories), White Cheddar Gourmet Cheese Spread (53 calories), Pepperidge Farm Dark Chocolate Milano cookie (110 calories), Original Skittles (70 calories), Tic Tac FreshMint (8 calories)
Total = 671 calories/145 minutes of walking.

Delta Flight Fuel Crunch $6.99
Late July Sea Salt Multigrain Tortilla Chips (130 calories), Naturally Fresh Medium Salsa (15 calories), Old Wisconsin Beef Snack Stick (50 calories), Madi K’s Hickory Smoked Almonds (107 calories), Toblerone Swiss Milk Chocolate (41 calories)
Total = 343 calories/74 minutes of walking.

Breakfast (Available 5 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. on select flights of more than 3 hours or 1400+ miles and in select Caribbean/Latin American markets)

Continental Breakfast Plate – $6.99
Chilled fruit served with strawberry Greek yogurt and a Kind almond butter protein bar.
Total: 345 calories/75 minutes of walking.

Smoked Turkey Breakfast Sandwich – $8.99
Mesquite smoked sliced turkey breast, apple butter, Boston lettuce and sharp cheddar cheese on cinnamon swirl bread
Total: 454 calories/98 minutes of walking.

Tillamook Cheese and Fruit Box $8.99 (Also available from 9am to 8pm) Smoked medium cheddar, pepper jack and sharp white cheddar, olive oil and grey salt crackers, natural almonds, red grapes, Godiva Masterpiece Dark Chocolate Ganache heart
Total: 475 calories/103 minutes of walking.

Lunch / Dinner (Fresh Flight Fuel PM) (Available 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on select flights of more than 3 hours or 1400+ miles and in select Caribbean/Latin American markets.)

Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Combo $10.99 (also available on Flight Fuel Premium)
Mesquite-smoked turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese, leaf lettuce and honey mustard served on a pretzel roll twist, kettle potato chips, Dancing Deer Brownie and mayo.
Sandwich only: 606 calories/131 minutes of walking
Total: 971 calories/ 210 minutes of walking

Luvo Southwest Chicken Caesar Wrap Snack Box $10.49 (Available westbound on Flight Fuel, Flight Fuel premium and flights to Hawaii)
Chicken in a yogurt Caesar dressing with romaine, tomatoes, corn, black beans, barley, millet, bulgur wheat, and kale, with parmesan spread in a whole wheat spinach tortilla. Served with a Luvo oatmeal crunch cookie
Total: 510 calories/110 minutes of walking
Sandwich only: 400 calories/86 minutes of walking

Luvo Barbecue Chicken Wrap Snack Box $10.49 (Available eastbound on Flight Fuel, Flight Fuel premium and flights to Hawaii)
Chicken in a BBQ sauce with romaine, broccoli slaw, tomatoes, corn, black beans, millet, bulgur wheat, and kale, with pinto bean hummus in a whole wheat tomato tortilla. Luvo oatmeal crunch cookie.
Total: 480 calories/104 minutes of walking
Sandwich only: 370 calories/80 minutes of walking

Main Cabin Complimentary Meals
Three choices available on complimentary meal flights. Breakfast includes a “Protein Pack.” Lunch and Dinner choices includes a Luvo Veggie wrap option.

Available eastbound on select flights departing from PDX, SAN, SEA, SFO to JFK; SEA to BOS, FLL, MCO and RDU; SFO to BOS; LAX to BOS, DCA, JFK. Available westbound on select flights departing from JFK to PDX, SAN and SEA; From BOS, FLL, MCO and RDU to SEA; From BOS to LAX; From JFK/BOS to SFO; From JFK/DCA to LAX (Murray’s only out of JFK/BOS/DCA)

Breakfast (Available on flights departing between 5 a.m. and 8:59 a.m.)
Smoked Turkey & Swiss Sandwich (westbound)
Smoked turkey breast and Swiss cheese on a potato bistro bun, fruit cup and apple cinnamon chia bar
Sandwich only = 230 calories/50 minutes of walking
Total = 410 calories / 89 minutes of walking

Mesquite-smoked Turkey & Swiss Bagel (eastbound)
Mesquite-smoked turkey with Swiss cheese and sliced Granny Smith apples with honey mustard served on cinnamon raisin bagel, Chobani Greek yogurt and apple cinnamon chia bar
Sandwich only = 335 calories/72 minutes of walking
Total = 525 calories/113 minutes of walking

Murray’s Cheese Plate (westbound JFK/BOS to SFO; JFK/DCA to LAX only; also available for lunch and dinner)
Murray’s French brie, Irish cheddar and Pecorino Calabrese, olive oil, flatbread crackers, dried apricots, natural almonds, Gala and Granny Smith apple wedges, grapes, Harry & David dark mint chocolate
Total = 557 calories / 120 minutes of walking

Tillamook Cheese and Fruit (eastbound and westbound, not from JFK/BOS/DCA; also available for lunch and dinner)
Smoked medium cheddar, pepper jack and sharp white cheddar, olive oil and grey salt flatbread crackers, natural almonds, red grapes, Braeburn and Granny Smith apple wedges and a Godiva Masterpieces dark chocolate ganache heart
Total = 475 calories/103 minutes of walking

Protein Pack (westbound)
Mesquite-smoked turkey breast, brie, Vermont Cheddar, sunflower seed butter, whole grain muesli snack rounds, sliced Granny Smith apple, red grapes, and a strawberry.
Total = 617 calories / 133 minutes of walking

Protein Pack (eastbound)
Hard-boiled egg, apple butter, Gruyere, Cheddar, whole grain muesli snack rounds, sliced Granny Smith apple, red grapes, strawberry
Total = 642 calories/139 minutes of walking

Lunch (Available on flights departing between 9am and 3:59pm; options also include Murray’s cheese plate and Tilamook cheese and fruit.)

Turkey Brioche Sandwich (westbound)
Mesquite-smoked turkey breast, Cheddar and Parmesan cheese, Roma tomatoes, baby arugula, and lemon garlic aioli on a brioche roll with carrot & celery sticks and red pepper hummus. Served with a Godiva caramel-filled milk chocolate.
Sandwich only = 520 calories/112 minutes of walking
Total = 700 calories/151 minutes of walking

Beef Pastrami Sandwich
Beef pastrami and Swiss cheese on multigrain bread with a garlic & Creole mustard aioli, topped with romaine and sliced pickles. Served with a ranch fingerling potato salad and a Godiva caramel-filled milk chocolate.
Sandwich only = 800 calories/173 minutes of walking
Total = 973 calories / 210 minutes of walking

Luvo Harissa Roasted Veggie Wrap combo (westbound)
Roasted red peppers, zucchini, eggplant, red onions and carrots, roasted in a mild harissa dressing, mixed with wheat berries, brown rice, chickpeas and golden raisins in a citrus vinaigrette, with spinach and edamame hummus wrapped in a whole wheat green onion & sesame tortilla. Served with grapes, strawberry, and an oatmeal crunch cookie.
Wrap only = 430 calories/93 minutes of walking
Total = 585 calories/126 minutes of walking

Luvo Casablanca Veggie Wrap combo (eastbound)
Tangy Moroccan spiced roasted carrots mixed with tomatoes, chopped romaine, wheat berries, brown rice, garbanzo beans, and raisins in a citrus vinaigrette and green chickpea hummus wrapped in a whole wheat green onion & sesame tortilla. Served with a strawberry, grapes, and an oatmeal crunch cookie.
Wrap only = 430 calories/93 minutes of walking
Total = 585 calories/126 minutes of walking

Dinner (Available on flights departing between 4pm and 10pm; options also include Murray’s cheese plate, Tilamook cheese and fruit, Luvo Harissa Roasted Veggie Wrap combo and Luvo Casablanca Veggie Wrap combo.)

Sesame Noodle Salad (westbound)
Sliced grilled chicken over noodles, tossed with carrots, red peppers and cucumber in a sesame soy dressing. Served with a Godiva caramel-filled milk chocolate.
Total = 345 calories / 75 minutes of walking

Greek Meze Plate (eastbound)
Grilled chicken breast, tomato, cucumber, tabbouleh, feta, green & Kalamata olives, carrot & celery sticks, roasted pepper strips, tzatziki sauce, mini pitas, and a Godiva caramel-filled milk chocolate.
Total = 330 calories / 71 minutes of walking

Virgin America (www.virginamerica.com)
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: 4
Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 340
Average Snack Box Calories = 358
Average Meal Calories = 4060
Average Individual Snack Calories = 276

Comments: The airline has been purchased Alaska Air, and eventually the Virgin name will be disappear. The good news is that Alaska Air is committed to adopting the healthy food options (and transparency) of Virgin America. Additionally, Alaska will more than likely reduce the sizes of the individual snaaks. Virgin is still the only airline that provides nutritional information (not just calories) for every all items. We applaud that transparency and hope Alaska continues to do so. There are not many menu changes (obviously because of the transition). The individual snacks are still unhealthy. They have 9 snacks, and should offer healthier options. Believe me, no one will complain.

Best Bets: Avoid the individual snacks if you can. Even the nuts, which are the best choice, are high in calories if you consume the entire package. Always choose a real meal if you can, even if it’s slightly more calories, it will keep you full longer.

For breakfast try the Udi’s Granola with Yogurt and Fruit, which is a bit high in sugar but overall low in calories at 330. The best snack box is the Protein Meal with hummus, nuts and tuna; the others are a bit high in calories and are not really worth it. For kids, skip the Jet Set Kid Pack if you can, and go for the half peanut butter and jam sandwich. In general, almost all the meals (as long as they’re eaten as meals and not snacks) are good choices. The Quinoa Wrap at 420 calories is high in protein for a vegetarian meal, which will help keep you full longer. The Protein Plate is also a good choice, as is the Farro Salad with roasted chicken – powerful from a health perspective. Again, these are meals that will fill you up and help you avoid the junk. The good news is that none of the food goes overboard in terms of calories, so you really can’t go too far wrong.

Individual Snacks

The Daily Crave Veggie Chips $3.75 (130 calories, 6g fat, 18g carbohydrates, 1g protein, 1g sugar/28 minutes of walking)
Buddha Bowl Himalayan Gold Popcorn $3.75 (100 calories, 4.5 g fat, 13g carbohydrates, 2g protein, 0g sugar/22 minutes of walking)
Holly Baking Co. Chocolate Chip Cookies $3.50 (360 calories, 16g fat, 52g carbohydrates, 4g protein, 28g sugar / 78 minutes of walking)
M&M’s Milk Chocolate $4.00 (480 calories, 18g fat, 72g carbohydrates, 6g protein, 63g sugar / 104 minutes of walking)
Hail Merry Salted Brownie $3.50 (220 calories, 16g fat, 22g carbohydrates, 4g protein, 14g sugar / 48 minutes of walking)
Duke’s Jerky Sausage $3.75 (90 calories, 6g fat, 1g carbohydrates, 9g protein, 0g sugar / 19 minutes of walking)
Creative Snack Brain Smart Nut Mix $4.50 (510 calories, 42g fat, 24g carbohydrates, 18g protein, 12g sugar/ 110 minutes of walking)
Miss Vickie’s Simply Sea Salt Kettle Chips $3.25 (375 calories, 22.5g fat, 37.5g carbohydrates, 2.5g protein, 1g sugar/ 81 minutes of walking)
Hail Merry Seasoned Nut Blend, 220 calories, 22g carbs, 16g fat, 4g protein, 14g sugars/ 48 minutes of walking

Snack Boxes

Protein Box $8.00
Bumble Bee lemon pepper tuna,Milton’s gluten-free crispy sea salt baked cracker, Sriracha hummus, The Daily Crave veggie chips, all natural almonds,Travers Bay Fruit Co. Premium dried fruit medley. Total = 425 calories, 20g fat, 39g carbs, 26g protein, 10g sugar/ 92 minutes of walking

The Works Box $8.00
Old Wisconsin beef salami, Hometown Bagel, Chicago-style bagel chips, Dairyfood Glacier Ridge white cheddar cheese spread, the Good Bean sea salt chickpeas, and Yum Earth organic fruit snacks
Total = 420 calories, 18g fat, 47g carbs, 15g protein, 15g sugar / 91 minutes of walking

Jet Set Kid Pack $7.50
Buddy Fruits original applesauce, White Cheddar Pirate Booty, Old Wisconsin Turkey Stick, Lucy’s chocolate chip cookies and a pack of twistable, stickable Wikki Sticks
Total = 229 calories, 7.5g fat, 36g carbs, 5g protein, 16g sugar / 49 minutes of walking

Meals

Turkey and Gouda Sandwich $8.50
Roasted turkey breast and sliced gouda cheese on whole wheat bread with Dijon mustard, fresh dill, mesclun lettuce and ripe tomatoes.
Total = 440 calories, 13g fat, 60g carbs, 29g protein, 9g sugars/95 minutes of walking

PB&J Half Sandwich $4.50
Sliced wheat bread topped with creamy peanut butter and strawberry jam served with Tasty Brand Fruit Snacks.
Total = 430 calories, 7g fat, 51g carbohydrate, 6g protein, 21g sugar/ 93 minutes of walking

Artisan Cheese Plate (Travel Light) $8.25
Fontina, brie and Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar served with red seedless grapes, dried persimmon, dates and gluten free olive oil and sea salt crackers.
Total = 390 calories, 25g fat, 24g carbohydrate, 20g protein, 5g sugar /84 minutes of walking

Protein Plate $8.50
Cage free hard-boiled egg, sharp cheddar cheese, fontina cheese, grilled chicken breast slices, red grape tomatoes, green grape cluster, carrot, celery, cucumber batons and wheat mini pita rounds served with edamame hummus.
Total = 440 calories, 21g fat, 28g carbohydrate, 30g protein, 8g sugar /95 minutes of walking

Udi’s Granola with Yogurt and Fruit $7.00
Fruit flavored yogurt served with Udi’s Gluten Free Granola and a side salad of pineapple, mango, grapes, orange, strawberry.
Total = 240 calories, 3.3g fat, 49g carbohydrate, 7g protein, 28g sugar /52 minutes of walking

Quinoa Wrap $7.50
Roasted red pepper tortilla wrap filled with Greek yogurt hummus, tricolor quinoa, green harissa dressing, roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes. Served with a side of spiced garbanzo bean salad.
Total = 420 calories, 22g fat, 50g carbs, 11g protein, 4g sugar/ 91 minutes of walking

Farro Salad $9.00
Farro and bulgur wheat salad with roasted butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, teardrop tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and roasted chicken breast tossed with a turmeric-tahini dressing.
Total – 390 calories, 25g fat, 30g carbs, 16g protein, 2g sugar/ 84 minutes of walking

Roast Beef Sandwich $9.00
Sliced roast beef with sriracha mayo and fontina cheese served on a telera roll [Mexican bread ] with baby spinach, fresh basil, tomatoes, cornichons and red onions.
Total = 500 calories, 21g fat, 50g carbs, 27g protein, 7g sugar/108 minutes of walking