By Sandy Nesoff.

Over the years flying has evolved from a pleasant experience to something akin to being drawn and quartered by a team of maddened horses. Passengers are stuffed into ever decreasing spaces, often with their knees jammed into their throats.


Fees for luggage, once a given as a free service, have grown to where United Airlines now intends to charge a base flight fee for those who can bring a carry-on that’ll be stuffed under the seat in front of you.


Spirit Airlines (which we’ve dubbed “Spiritless Airlines”) charges for any luggage brought onboard, even is it fits under the seat. They may even begin charging for air to breathe. Not surprising, Spirit Airlines ranks at the bottom of the survey along with Frontier.


Both of these airlines were uncooperative with Dr. Platkin’s survey request and he rated both of them with only one star out of five.



Back in the “good old days” an airline meal was something you could look forward to without dread. There was no mystery meat, potatoes weren’t a glob on the tray and chicken was chewable.


With the decline in service and the increase in fees, Hunter College’s Food Policy Center’s Dr. Charles Platkin did a survey of what airlines were plopping on your tray. Some of the results were surprising while others were a revelation.


Virgin America, sister airline to Virgin Atlantic, ranked highest. No surprise there. Delta was near the top with Air Canada coming in close by. Jet Blue, one of the more passenger friendly airlines, proved a match for the best and ranked high on the scale.


There will be more than 38 million passengers traveling during this holiday season. Knowing what are the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ choices is a valuable tool for any traveler, so Dr. Platkin, once again studied the best ‘Calorie Bargains’ and “Calorie Rip-offs” at 35,000 feet.


According to Dr. Platkin:


“This year Virgin America again wins the top spot with the “healthiest” food choices in the sky with Delta and Air Canada tied for second. Below are the surveyed airlines’ “Health Scores” (Health Score: 5 stars = highest rating, 0 stars = lowest). For full survey results including full listings of the snack/on-board food, comments, ratings, cost, calories, exercise equivalents, and tips go to

Virgin America (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: **** 1/4
Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 337
Average Snack Box Calories = 394
Average Meal Calories = 406
Average Individual Snack Calories = 256

Best Bets: Avoid the individual snack 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 (which unfortunately jumped 60 calories from last year). It’s still a better choice.


Delta Air Lines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: ****
Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 527
Average Snack Box Calories =560
Average Meal Calories =628
Average Individual Snack Calories = 153

Best Bets: For a snack, the nuts are the best choice–even over 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). For 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.


Air Canada (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
Health Score: (***1/4)
Average Calories Overall (Meals and Individual Snacks) = 337
Average Meal Calories = 342
Average Individual Snack Calories = 331

Best Bets: For breakfast, the Greek yogurt is still a good option- and will probably fill you up. And while the egg sandwich has bacon, it’s low in calories and has slightly more protein than the yogurt. The Chicken Soup is a low calorie choice for a snack that will fill you up, but be wary of the 950mg of sodium if you have high blood pressure. The Celery & Carrots with Ranch Dip (if you you use no more than half the dip) is still an OK choice. While the hummus and the new guacamole options sound healthy, the pretzels and Tostitos offer little nutritional value, and you’d be better off having a meal if meals are available. If meals are available, the newly added LUVO Orange Mango Chicken is a good low-calorie choice. The California Roll is another a light offering that’s low in fat and calories. It would also make a great snack! The Roasted Vegetable Sandwich is also a healthy, low calorie option.


JetBlue Airways ( )
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful
Health Score: *** 1/2
Average Calories Over All (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) =330
Average Snack Box Calories = 441
Average Meal Calories = 483
Average Individual Snack Calories = 161

Best Bets: Still not too much in the way of healthy individual snacks. So keep in mind, the individual snacks are free. and the JetBlue team is generally friendly and will not say no to requests for extra portions. As for the meal boxes, we still like the Pump Up, which has healthy ingredients (Mary’s Gone Crackers-Original, olives, hummus and bean crisps), but remember that it’s a meal and should not be eaten as a snack ( skip the olives if you are sodium sensitive). Skip the other meal boxes, which are high in calories and fat and offer little in terms of nutrition. If you are on a flight that offers the Eat Up Café, the Yogurt and Granola (you might want to limit the honey), the Kale & Quinoa Salad and the Spicy Soba & Korean-Style Chicken (unless you’re sodium sensitive) are all good choices. Skip the Grilled Chicken and Brie Sandwich, which is very high in calories and low on nutrition.


United Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful
Health Score: *** 1/4
Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 444
Average Meal Calories = 508
Average Snack Box Calories = 502
Average Individual Snack Calories = 376

Best Bets: Among the individual snacks, the humus is the best choice. Or else share the Sweet & Savory Bistro Blend Trail Mix with at least a few others if you can. It’s better than the other choices. Get the Tapas snack box, which is high in calories but has many healthy foods, including almonds, olives, hummus and bruschetta; just toss out the cheese spread. You should also share it unless you’re eating it as a meal. Skip the Classic and Select snack boxes. For breakfast, your best bet is the Chicken Sausage Egg Skillet, but skip the chicken sausage to save calories.. Also, skip the ham baguette. For Lunch/Dinner, the airline removed last year’s best bet, the wrap and salad combo. The new options are not great; however, the Mediterranean Chicken Wrap is your best bet and should keep you full. For kids, the Ben Flyin is better than any of the other airlines’ kids boxes and might be worth getting to keep your kids smiling, but probably will not fill them up.


American Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Good
Health Score: ***
Average Calories Overall (Meals, Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 367
Average Meal Calories = 511.75
Average Snack Box Calories = 497
Average Individual Snack Calories = 246.5

Best Bets: For individual snacks the hummus and chips are still your best choice. Skip the snack box unless you toss the salami and cheese. The Thai Ginger Chicken Wrap is a good choice, but skip the sesame-ginger dressing. For breakfast on flights of more than two but less than three hours (see below) there’s not much to eat; and while the trail mix may seem like a healthy choice, it’s very high in calories, so you would need to split it with at least one other person. On flights of three hours or more, the Breakfast Sandwich is an OK choice as long as you go light on the honey mustard dressing. The fruit and cheese plate has fresh fruit and the cheese can be OK if you share it with your seatmate.



Southwest Airlines
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very Good
Health Score: **
Average Calories = 190.4

Best Bet: The peanuts are the best, even though the pretzels are lower in calories. There haven’t been many healthy changes to the menu, and don’t be fooled by the word “veggie” in the wheat thins.


Allegiant Air
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very Helpful
Health Score: * 3/4
Average Calories Overall (Snack Boxes and Individual Snacks) = 395
Average Individual Snack Calories = 379
Average Snack Box Calories = 435

Best Bets: For the individual snacks, the nuts might work if you share with at least one other person. The hummus snack pack is your best bet if you’re mid-flight, but the snack boxes are not great in terms of health (and not just calorie-wise). Avoid the Deli Snack Pack, and while the Wingz Kids Snack Pack is not healthy, if you’re nagged by a child into purchasing it, at least a $1 of every sale is directly donated to Make-A-Wish.


Spirit Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
Health Score: *
Average Calories Overall (Individual Snacks and Snack Boxes) = 383
Average Individual Snack Calories =366
Average Snack Box Calories = 520

Best Bet: The cup of noodle soup at 290 calories is still the only choice that will feel like a real meal, but it is very high in sodium, so it is not the best bet for someone who is sodium-sensitive or has high blood pressure . All the muffins are at least 400 calories, ­not the best choices unless you split one (if you’re the type of person who can do that). Bringing your own food is actually the best option. The chips and salsa are the lowest calorie choice of all the snacks but probably won’t fill you up. Skip the snack box.


Frontier Airlines (
Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible and Rude
Health Score: *
Average Individual Snack Calories = 380

Best Bets: Perhaps the trail mix — but we had to estimate the calories and don’t know the nutrient values – share it and you’ll be safe. Also, if you’re not sodium sensitive you can grab the jerky. Bring your own food is the bottom line.




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