Southwest Lightens Up After Snack Pack Attack

Southwest Airlines calls it a "tasty snack served up with a little luv."

A leading nutrition group has another name for the airline's in-flight munchies: "Food porn."

Dallas-based Southwest is adding a healthier option to its snacks on long flights, after the Center for Science in the Public Interest slammed the on-board eats as high in calories and devoid of nutritional value.

Southwest's snacks first caught the eye of Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the center, on a recent flight between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

"We got these snack packs that looked like a trivial amount of food," she said, "the kind of thing you could easily munch it all during the flight."

She was dismayed, however, when she noticed the nutritional content, and she scolded the airline in the most recent edition of the center's newsletter.

The snack pack -- which she dubbed a "junk pack" -- is "540 calories worth of white flour, fat, sugar and salt," she wrote. That's 25 percent of a day's calories for many people, she added, warning, "watch your rear."

She suggested that the airline add healthier snacks. "Maybe then it won't have to order wider seats on its new planes," she wrote in the newsletter.

The group did not review the food of any other airline, she said.

Southwest has traditionally eschewed in-flight food, famously giving away peanuts during flights. In recent years, as the airline began flying longer routes, it developed the snack pack for flights that exceed 1,100 miles.

Liebman said Wednesday that she is sympathetic to the airline's low-cost structure, which restricts it to serving snacks rather than meals during flights.

"We're not expecting them to serve brown rice and steamed vegetables," she said Wednesday, "but surely they can do better than that."

Southwest did take a step to lighten its food load Wednesday, announcing that it will offer a lower-calorie bag of Cheese Nips in its snack pack on long-haul flights. Calorie-counting passengers can munch on the Nips -- with just 100 calories and three grams of fat -- instead of the weightier alternatives, said Edna Ruano, a Southwest spokeswoman.

"We've been hearing from passengers who want something a little lighter," she said.

Ed Stewart, another spokesman for the airline, said the decision was unrelated to the criticism from the nutrition group. "We hadn't really heard about it," he said. "It's pretty much a coincidence."

Liebman, however, wasn't impressed with the changes.

"Honestly, I don't see it as that much of an improvement," she said. "We're still not talking health food here."

She recommended that Southwest add whole-grain crackers like Triscuits and boxes of dried fruit, such as raisins.

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it is halting food sales on domestic flights longer than 30 minutes and that it will start giving away snacks on those flights.

Atlanta-based Delta is also removing pillows from domestic flights, following a move that American Airlines began in November.

Southwest Airlines' in-flight "snack pack" was recently criticized as unhealthy by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Here's what was in a pack the center scrutinized:

Six Golden Oreo cookies, 250 calories

Six Ritz crackers with cheese, 200 calories

Jell-O Fruit Snacks, 90 calories