Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Airlines can't decide whether to offer free food -- in Economy Class, that is -- or whether to charge for it.

You might wonder, though, whether airline food can ever be good.

Or even good for you.

Charles Platkin, director of the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center and a professor at City University of New York School of Public Health, enjoys examining just what's in airline meals.

As editor of DietDetective.com, he presents a list of the exalted and the over-salted.

He asks the airlines for their own nutritional information, too. 

Then he names, exclaims, blames and shames. 

Let's start with the healthier scores. 

Delta and Virgin America were tied at the top. The average calorie count for a Delta meal was 480. This blessedly includes snacks. Virgin America came in at a mere 340.

In Platkin's system, however, airlines also receive credits for being responsive with their own dietary information.

Air Canada and JetBlue scored highly. Many well-known airlines occupied a middle ground.

But now for the pain. 

At the very bottom was Hawaiian Airlines.

This happy airline, says Platkin, offers meals with an average caloric hit of 971. 

"Hawaiian Airlines' food is high in calories and the menu doesn't offer much choice either in terms of health, or in the way of food system consciousness (caring about sustainablity, organic growing, no GMOs, etc...)," Platkin observed.

He even frowns at the airline's gluten-free option.

"Don't be fooled by the Gluten Free Box; while many of the individual items are OK healthwise (such as the hummus and roasted chickpea snacks), it's still high in calories and out-of-touch with current food trends," he said.

I contacted Hawaiian to ask what it felt about this stomach-churning criticism.

An airline spokeswoman told me: "Hawaiian is the only U.S. carrier offering complimentary meals to guests in all cabins. We also proudly offer Hawaii-made snacks and a complimentary Koloa Rum cocktail on every domestic flight. We're confident travelers choose us because of our authentic Hawaiian hospitality and award-winning customer service. If any of our guests have strict dietary restrictions, they are welcome to bring their own food on board.

Platkin claims that the airline was entirely unresponsive when he approached it for its nutritional information.

He does, though, also extend a "Shame On You" award to United Airlines. 

No, nothing to do with dragging the food along the floor. He seems more upset with the delayed response he claims to get from United to his questions.

I contacted the airline to ask whether it felt shame or, indeed, anything and will also update, should I be served with a response.

Platkin wants all airlines to "put the ingredients into a free online food calculator (such as supertracker.usda.gov), and in a few minutes they could have complete nutritional information."

He added that explanatory menu labeling was coming in May 2018.

Many people have become more sensitive about what and how much they ingest. 

Sadly, we all seem to be getting bigger, but no wiser.

A study published last week suggested that more than half U.S. children will be obese by the time they're 35.

Of course, when you're stuck up in the air, with barely room to breathe, it's tempting to trough away at whatever food you have in front of you.

Humans are weak. We need help. Perhaps, soon, the airlines will come to our aid


Published on: Dec 8, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.