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Spirit and Frontier Serve the Crappiest Airline Food

A new report gives them the lowest scores for health.

Finding decent food is a top annoyance during air travel, just above jet lag and having a TSA agent probe your crotch with a metal-detector wand. Are you better off gorging on a greasy slice in the airport food court, or taking your chances with the in-flight snacks? Navigating that choice is at the heart of a new report by nutrition researcher and public-health advocate Charles Platkin. By analyzing calories, nutrition content, and overall sustainability, Platkin gave the major airlines a health grade of one to five stars. The losers? Spirit and Frontier. The two budget airlines tied for grossness at just one star each, which qualified them for Platkin's totally embarrassing "Shame on You" category.


Part of the low scores came from the fact that the airlines aren't upfront with their health data. Platkin had to call in a crack team of dietitians to calculate the calorie and nutrition info. That kind of secrecy could put customers with medical conditions at risk, and those looking treat their bodies well during the flight have essentially zero options. Don't even think about Spirit's 440-calorie muffins. Other airlines scoring poorly are Hawaii and Allegiant (with 1.75 stars each), and Southwest (with 2 stars).

The report emphasizes that its health scores aren't based on calories alone, but calories do play an important role. And between 2012 and 2015, the average number per airline meal increased from 360 to 400. This year, calories dropped back down to 392. What airlines seem to be doing well is innovating, with foods like guava cookies, ginger chicken soba noodles, and non-GMO vegan tapas snack boxes. But buzzy names didn't absolve the foods of their nutritional sins.

No airline earned a perfect score, but with 4.25 stars, Virgin America fared the best. The carrier lists nutritional content on its website and offers options like a vegan sandwich wrap with veggies and hummus, which doesn't sound tasty but is apparently quite healthy. The airline lost points for snacks like the Hail Merry Salted Brownie with organic coconut oil—which actually sounds fucking delicious. But the report notes that it would take 48 minutes of walking to burn off. So that's a bummer.

There's good reason to want a variety of palatable healthy options during a flight. For one thing, you're already prone to dislike whatever you eat up there, since high altitudes drastically affect your taste buds' ability to enjoy salty and sweet flavors. You're also spending a long stretch of time stuck in small seat. That can cause blood to pool in the legs and feet, which is especially bad for those with blood pressure problems. (According to the report, Spirit's noodle cup delivers 1,070 mg sodium.)

Finally, everybody gets a hand slap from Platkin when he declares that "all the airlines could do better with their snack choices." Creative menu options are fun, but sometimes people just need a simple piece of fruit.