Airlines refusing to ‘spill the beans’ on inflight F&B

Eating healthily in the air may be ‘pie in the sky’ for British travellers, according to research commissioned by Cheapflights.co.uk.

Ahead of EU legislation due to be enforced in exactly three months’ time – on 13 December – that mandates for the publication of the nutritional content of airline meals, all ten of the UK’s biggest airlines stonewalled requests for inflight meal nutritional information, suggesting that the best way to stay on the right side of recommended daily sugar and salt allowances is to avoid onboard grub and ‘buy before you fly’.

The Cheapflights research also highlights an alarming lack of knowledge among British fliers about the food they consume when airborne, indicating that nearly 50% are oblivious to the nutritional content of what they eat and less than a fifth seek an alternative.

Cheapflights conducted research among ten of the UK’s biggest airlines, working with independent nutritionist, Karen Alexander of Nutritious Roots posing as a customer seeking information about the nutritional content of inflight food. All ten declined to respond to the request. Further enquiries to the third party suppliers those airlines use for the provision of their inflight food and beverage offerings met with a similar response.

Commenting, Alexander said: “It’s common knowledge that to compensate for the fact that food tastes blander at 35,000 feet airlines add more flavouring, such as sugar, to enhance the taste for their passengers. However, their refusal to share what those quantities are should be a cause of concern. It’s also worrying to see that passengers themselves happily accept being kept in the dark – when demanding nutritional information on our foodstuffs in other areas of our life, such as the goods we buy at the supermarket, is now commonplace.”

“The main message from this research is be informed and if in doubt, buy before you fly. Picking up pre-packed food in the terminal before boarding at least ensures you can self-regulate your intake of some of the riskier ingredients.”

To address the hidden health costs of mile-high meals, Cheapflights has created a guide to healthier travelling that includes a top ten guide¹ to optimum in-flight eating, plus an alimentary analysis identifying the top five healthier choices available at UK airports – and those to avoid.

The Cheapflights research and guidelines come three months before new EU legislation is due to come in to force that requires airlines to display nutritional data on pre-packed food on all flights departing from the UK. Whilst airline caterers have traditionally adapted recipes to counteract the impact of how food tastes at altitude, from 13 December 2016 pre-packaged in-flight meals will have to be labelled with nutritional information. The new regulations are expected to influence the meal choices served in-flight, with airlines such as British Airways moving to reduce in-flight catering (the carrier recently confirmed that it will no longer offer two meals on flights under eight and a half hours).

Andrew Shelton, Managing Director of Cheapflights, comments: “It can be a challenge for health-conscious holidaymakers to keep up their good habits when flying. However, the bottom line is that families could and should be asking to be better informed so as to avoid putting their health at greater risk simply by eating sugar-laden airline meals. We hope these new regulations help travellers make more informed decisions.”

Speaking of the confusion created by a lack of labeling, Alexander explained:  “Whilst the diabetic or gluten-free option may seem the healthiest choice offered by airlines, planning ahead and taking your own healthy snacks on board – and opting for foods with higher protein to keep blood sugar levels balanced – is the best way to ensure you arrive with energy levels intact.

“Easyjet now has some better menu options, such as The Food Doctor Couscous and Lentil Wholesome Hotpot. But if you’re flying with Ryanair you should definitely eat before you board or take your own food as their offering is extremely unhealthy.”

For those unable to source their own food before boarding, the Cheapflights guide advises passengers to seek out menu options that are as unprocessed as possible. In particular, travellers are advised to choose fruit over crisps, opt for whole cuts of meat rather than sausages and to avoid sauces, which can contain higher amounts of salt and sugar to boost the flavour.

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