The Diet Detective: Airline Snack Facts

This is the annual airline survey. Each year I contact the media relations departments of the various airlines requesting nutrition information for the foods they serve economy-class passengers on domestic flights.

Once again, several of the airlines simply find it too much trouble to e-mail their food vendors and get that information.
However, JetBlue was very helpful! And, guess what? They're also a pretty good airline. American, United and Continental were also helpful, while Delta was not at all. It was a struggle to get anything from them, so I assume they are just not that interested in the health of their customers.

As for the least helpful airlines, it was a tossup between Virgin American and US Airways. It took more than 20 phone calls and e-mails to get any information from Virgin, and in the end, all they came back with was info on their high-calorie snacks. Virgin American, Delta and US Airways -- shame on you. Are these airlines aware that both food and your health are very important to you?
Since last year, Continental's health rating has slipped. It seems that their simple, healthy menu didn't work, or perhaps now that they're charging for food (new this year) they figure that people will want more calories for their money. JetBlue is most improved, offering more than just snacks - finally. US Airways is by far the worst. And moving back to the No. 1 spot from the year before last is United.
Interestingly, there is a new law going into effect that will require restaurants around the country with 20 or more units to disclose nutritional information on their menus. I think airlines should be next. Meanwhile, we are still able to give you the "best bets" among many of their meal offerings.
Here are the snack and onboard food-service offerings from several of the more popular airlines, along with Diet Detective's comments, ratings (Health Score: 5 stars = highest rating, 1 star = lowest), calories, exercise equivalents (amount of walking required to burn off the food consumed) and personal choices.

United Airlines

Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful.
Health Score: (****)
Best Bet: On flights longer than two hours go for the Tapas; it has some great foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta -- nice, and guess what? It's their top-selling snack box. The Lite is also very good and balanced at only 430 calories. For flights longer than three hours, United has a plethora of choices, but I really like the Turkey sandwich at 600 calories including the sauce and chips -- skip those if you want to save the calories. (It's also their best-selling freshly prepared snack box.) The Chicken Caesar Salad and the Fruit Tray are also good choices. All the meals are served with dressing on the side, so try to use only half. As far as the individual snacks are concerned, wow, those are some pretty high-calorie items! For breakfast, your best bet is the Smoothie or the Yogurt Parfait -- nice and healthy. Or you can have the Ham and Swiss Croissant -- it's not too high in calories. Skip the Continental Breakfast -- at 783 calories it's a bad start to your day.
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