Business fliers looking for a healthy meal are in luck if they book a flight on Virgin America. But they might need to tote their own nutritious snacks on some other airlines, according to a new survey.
In an annual analysis of the snacks and meals offered by 13 major carriers, Virgin America came out on top for nutrition, says the survey’s author, Charles Platkin, editor of DietDetective.com
The San Francisco-based carrier earned 4.25 out of five stars. While the onboard snacks got low marks because they were either lacking in nutritional value or high in calories, Platkin says Virgin America’s meals menu had several healthy options, including an autumn veggie wrap and a salmon soy ginger salad that was a mere 390 calories.
Delta and JetBlue each earned 3.75 stars. Delta’s score improved over last year in large part because of its partnership with the nutritious food provider Luvo.
The airline has sought to “bring healthful, seasonal options to flight,” says Brian Berry, Delta’s director of onboard services. “Our Luvo partnership is an important part of making that happen.”
Platkin, who is also a distinguished lecturer at Hunter College and City University of New York School of Public Health, says the survey rankings are based on a variety of criteria including an analysis of nutrients, menu creativity and whether the airline’s offerings have improved from the previous year.
He sees a budding trend in the airline industry. “There are several airlines … that realize serving clean, tasty, healthy food is what consumers want,” Platkin says. “It’s understandable when a relatively new airline such as Virgin America (offers) healthy fare, but when an airline like Delta moves in that direction, this is the start of real movement.”
JetBlue had healthy offerings like a kale and quinoa salad and a veggie platter on cross-country flights. And the carrier was praised for making the nutritional details of its in-flight dining options available online.
Frontier, Spirit and Hawaiian Airlines were at the bottom of the survey, with Hawaiian getting the lowest ranking, just half a star. The airline stands out from many other carriers that now charge for food in the coach cabin by offering complimentary meals. But Platkin says such service can lead to passengers consuming too many calories.
Alison Croyle, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian, said, “We are proud to be the only U.S. carrier to serve complimentary meals in the main cabin on domestic flights, and we find that our guests appreciate this option.”
Platkin says that while there are generally more nutritious choices being offered in flight, healthy fare is still not universally available.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Platkin says. “Business travelers would appreciate being offered healthier choices. … For the airlines, improving the health quality of the food could potentially increase customer experience and brand loyalty.”
Airlines with the most nutritious meals and snacks
DietDetective.com says these carriers offer passengers the healthiest food options for in-flight dining:
Virgin America: 4.25 stars (out of five)
Delta Air Lines: 3.75
JetBlue Airways: 3.75
Air Canada: 3.5
Alaska Airlines: 3.5
United Airlines: 3.25
American Airlines: 2.75
US Airways: 2.75
Southwest Airlines: 2
Allegiant Air: 1.75
Frontier Airlines: 1.5
Spirit Airlines: 1
Hawaiian Airlines: .5