In particular, the inspector who was faced with a BA lunch on a flight to New York seems to have concurred with Virgin's current slogan, "No Way BA". The in-flight meal concerned, described as an "unmitigated disaster", consisted of "a salad of chopped-up dull bits with soggy croutons one couldn't eat". The main course of risotto and ratatouille was dismissed as "an idiotic combination". A sultana scone served for afternoon tea proved "difficult to penetrate".
Virgin Atlantic, in contrast, has won top ranking with 66 points, while Richard Branson's arch-rival British Airways - badly let down by its cuisine - comes in at number eight with 51 points. Northwest Airlines was last, scoring a meagre 47.
The publishing company, renowned for its restaurant guides, sent out a team of undercover inspectors to sample the fare offered by the 10 largest transatlantic carriers. Travelling economy class, the team was asked to assess the quality of the entire flying experience and not just the catering.
The study, released today, severely criticises most of the carriers for their "lamentable attitude" to the convenience and comfort of their passengers. The study found check-in queues to resemble lines of cattle awaiting transportation, while seats were "corset-like and knee-crunching".
The companies were each judged on nine criteria - queuing time at check- in, efficiency, comfort, friendliness, in-flight service, food, entertainment, the pilot's in-flight comments and the state of the lavatories.
Mr Ronay summed up the findings: "We were surprised at the poor conditions and discomfort in economy class ... redeemed only by the friendliness of the majority of in-flight staff and the sometimes good in-flight entertainment."
When it came to food, which Mr Ronay characterised as "terrible", he called for a more "intelligent concept of catering". The airlines, he believes, are "bogged down by combinations of food absurdly unsuitable for in-flight conditions".
A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic, an airline whose chargrilled chicken was found to be "tender and moist", praised the company's cabin crew and celebrated beating BA. "For the self-styled world's favourite airline, the fact they have come eighth says it all," he said.
A BA spokesman said he could not comment on the report until the company had seen its findings.
"We work with many of the world's top chefs and always endeavour to produce meals of the highest quality," he added.
How Ronay's inspectors ranked the carriers:
Virgin Atlantic 66
Air France 58
British Airways 51
Northwest 47Reuse content