Can Airlines Snacks Make You 'Too Fat to Fly'?

It’s hard to miss hearing about all those so-called too fat to fly incidents – one of the more recent involved a young woman named Kenlie Tiggeman who has blogged about her efforts to lose weight. Southwest informed her last May that she’d have to purchase two seats on her plane and she sued but late last month the suit was tossed out of court (she reportedly missed a legal response deadline).

Listen as air travel expert Rick Seaney and Editor Anne McDermott dish about food.

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But all these incidents raise a question: Does airline food contribute to our widening waistlines?

Airline Food in First Class

If you’re sitting in first class, you have a lot of food options and it’s all free from drinks to dessert. Plus, on many airlines, you have celebrity chefs catering to your dietary whims (well, not in-person, but as meal consultants). I suppose if you eat and drink non-stop it could catch up to you, but probably most would prefer to get some work done or maybe sleep in those luxurious lie-flat seats.

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Airline Food in Coach

What airline food, you are probably thinking, and it’s true that the last free meal in coach has gone the way of the dinosaurs (or, the way of Continental, which offered it and has since merged with United). Some don’t even serve free snacks – but others do, and here are some examples:

  • Delta: Peanuts, pretzels and its popular Biscoff cookies
  • JetBlue: Popcorn, potato chips, Fritos, animal crackers, Linden’s cookies, nut mix
  • Southwest: Peanuts, pretzels and a variety of Nabisco snacks

Not too bad, unless you suffer from a peanut allergy. So how does it stack up, calorie-wise? Not too bad, and you can probably thank airline portion control, which means what you get isn’t much. Southwest peanut packs, for example, reportedly hold less than half and ounce and are only about 40 calories. Even JetBlue’s potato chips, a no-no for most dieters, are only about 130 calories. Most airlines don’t give you the chance to come back for seconds, either.

You have more varied choices if you’re willing to pay – some airlines now offer healthier options such as JetBlue’s Shape-Up box (with raisins, hummus, nuts, etc.) or Virgin America’s Travel Light selections which includes a roasted pear and arugula salad.

Free and Potentially Fattening Sodas

I wonder what Mayor Mike Bloomberg, author of what’s been called the New York Big Gulp ban, would think about the airline policy on free soda. Back in 2008, US Airways briefly began charging for Cokes and such, but abandoned the new fee when none of the other airlines joined in. Also, since in most cases you only get roughly half a can of soda per drink (about 70 calories of regular Coke), it’s probably not going to have a lot of impact on individual battles of the bulge.

Do-It-Yourself Snack Suggestions

For the best and healthiest options, bring your own food from home – but don’t attempt to bring large amounts of liquids because you won’t get it through security. Also, if watching your weight, you might want to avoid airport gift shops with their king-size candy bars and premium-sized bags of snack mixes.

More from Rick Seaney:

No Free Food on Airlines but Still Calories


Published: November 6, 2012