Lonely Planet Writer

Travelling in the US for Christmas? Want to know which airline serves the best food?

With 38 million passengers set to take to the air in the US over the holiday season … that will mean an awful lot of airline food. Intending travellers who want to ensure they get the best meals and snacks on board can now rely on a scientific survey to find out who provides the finest fare.

Airline meals
Airline meals Image by Getty Images

A leading academic – who goes by the name of the Diet Detective – has ranked twelve airlines on the quality of the food they serve at 35,000 feet. And according to his latest findings, Virgin America has taken the top spot again with the “healthiest” food choices, followed in second place by Delta and Air Canada (who could not be separated in the rankings).

Dinner on the airplane.
None of the food goes overboard in terms of calories. Image by Thomas Winz/Getty Images

Dr Charles Platkin, the aforementioned diet detective, ranked the meals on ten separate criteria including calorie levels, healthy offerings, cost, and menu innovation. He ranked Virgin America in first place saying: “In general, almost all the meals – as long as they’re eaten as meals and not snacks – are good choices … the good news is that none of the food goes overboard in terms of calories, so you really can’t go far wrong.”

Survey reveals best airline food
Survey also looked at nutrients in the food.   Image by Getty Images

If you want to see how your favourite airline matches up against the competition, you can read the full report online and see how they ranked in years gone by. His research also showed that the calorie count in airline food had been rising over the years from 360 in 2012 to 400 last year. However, this year it dropped a small amount to 392. Calories were not only the things counted though with the survey also looking at nutrients in the food and other moves by airlines towards healthier, inexpensive, and sustainable foods.

If Virgin, Delta and Air Canada performed well, the airlines with the most room for improvement were the two low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

How they ranked:

1/ Virgin America
2/ Delta
3/ Air Canada
4/ Alaska Air
5/ JetBlue
6/ United Airlines
7/ American
8/ Southwest Airlines
9/ Allegiant Air
10/ Hawaii
11/ Spirit
12/ Frontier