How healthy are airline meals?

Airline meals in the US are getting more fattening

Some adore them. Others turn their nose up.

Meals, or should I say, meals served in economy on board a flight often receive bad press. Some of those served in first, rival some of the best restaurants I’ve visited.

Personally I like the fairly new trend of buying meals in the terminal and taking them on-board. Many airlines are starting to charge passengers for food on long-haul routes anyway.

My reason being is that I get more choice, and can often select something slightly healthier if I want to.

Which got me thinking? How nutritious are meals on-board a flight?

Methodology

In 2018 Diet Detective wrote to various US airlines offering transcontinental routes to provide nutritional information on inflight meals and snacks.

I used a mean average of these numbers to come up with the analysis used in this post.

Results

Meal options

Average Meal kCal Airline

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The average meal onboard these airlines has 492 calories. For 2 meals on a long-haul flight, that’s just under 1000 calories. Well below the 2000 calories recommended for an “average” person.

Air Canada meals offer the lowest calorie content at 377 per meal, compared to Delta where onboard meals average 559 calories.

Snack options

Average Snack kCal airline

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Snacks have a much larger variance. JetBlue snacks average 142 calories. On Hawiian, snacks average 460 calories — more than the average meal on Air Canada flights.

Yearly change

Average kCal per airline menu choice

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Looking at an average across all menu choices, the average number of calories was 360 in 2012; in 2013 it was 388; in 2014 it was 397; in 2015 it was 400; in 2016 it was 392, in 2017 it was 405 calories, a 13 calorie increase over 2016.

In all but one year, 2016, calorie content for airline food has slowly increased.

Improvements

The Diet Detective report did not cover all US airlines, nor did it cover any international airlines. It would be interesting to compare US versus international airlines for meal offerings given some international airlines offer a wide variety of meal choices to travellers (namely those in the Middle East).

tl;dr

The average airline menu item has increased in calorie content from 360 in 2012 to 405 in 2018 — an increase of 45 calories.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.

 

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