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Airline food is getting more healthful, expert says

November 25, 2012|By Hugo Martin
  • The food on Virgin America won the top ranking from nutrition professor Charles Platkin.
The food on Virgin America won the top ranking from nutrition professor… (Virgin America )

On the nation’s airlines, the days of free lunch are long over. That also goes for breakfast, dinner and snacks. Once complimentary, most airline food now comes with a price tag.

But there is some good news about what you get to eat on commercial airlines: It apparently is getting more healthful.

That’s the assessment of Charles Platkin, a professor of nutrition at the City University of New York, who has tested and ranked airline foods off and on since 2000. He said most airlines now offer at least one healthy meal alternative in their on-board menu.

“It’s actually moving in a good direction,” he said. “It’s been an ebb and flow, but the overall trend is positive.”

Platkin gave the top ranking this year to California-based Virgin America, noting that the airline offers lower-calorie options like roasted pear and arugula salad, a “protein plate” with hummus and whole wheat pita bread, plus oatmeal for breakfast. He gave the airline 4 1/4 stars out of five.

At the bottom of the list was Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, with a rating of 1 1/2 stars. Platkin said the airline “made it clear that their foods were not healthy. It shows.” The airline’s snacks include M&Ms, Oreo Brownies and Pringles chips. 

Air Canada and Alaska Airlines came in second and third in Platkin’s ranking. Other big airlines -- including United, American, Delta and US Airways -- ranked in the middle of the list.

Platkin does not eat the food on every airline he rates. “I don’t have that kind of time,” he said. “I have classes to teach.” Instead, he collects and reviews lists of food items, including the ingredients and calorie counts, from the airlines.

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Follow Hugo Martin on Twitter at @hugomartin

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