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Litany of disgust over airline meals

IT'S OFFICIAL: your in-flight meal is revolting. Or, to be more specific, the food served on the transatlantic slog is a leathery, congealed, fibrous form of "gastronomic murder".

Egon Ronay, the doyen of food critics and scourge of gastronomic mediocrity for more than four decades, has finally come to the conclusion most of us reached the first time we tasted a flaccid chicken fillet at 32,000 feet.

"The food," he said yesterday, after he and his team had travelled back and forth across the Atlantic several times, "was mostly unacceptable."

Mr Ronay went on to expound on his litany of disgust, with airlines from British Airways to Northwest via KLM and United being accused of serving everything from coagulated beef to synthetic desserts and overcooked pasta.

The BA lunch was "an unmitigated disaster", and even Air France's in- flight meal was "pitiful", he said.

Britain has had plenty of reasons to be grateful to Mr Ronay, a Hungarian immigrant whose cajoling helped to transform the national cuisine in the postwar years.

In this particular case, though, unless they are one of the chosen few up front, any diner is likely to conclude that the only reason airlines serve food at all is to keep the passengers from getting too drunk.

But why is it so bad? Partly, as Mr Ronay acknowledges, it's because it is cooked on the ground, chilled, then reheated.But the key may lie in his conclusion that the problem is about a lack of originality.

"I don't know why airlines are so set on serving hot food," says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a restaurant critic at The Independent on Sunday.

The sandwich cabinet at Marks and Spencer, he says, is more appealing than any economy class menu.

But airlines, through their own research, are determined to serve hot food, though there is no legal requirement to serve passengers even so much as an amuse-gueule on any flight, however long.

A senior airline industry source, who wishes to remain anonymous, commented yesterday: "Airlines are in the business of keeping their passengers calm.

"Whatever the food actually tastes like, the one-hour trolley ritual, with the tea and coffee afterwards, has that effect, and makes passengers feel like they're being treated."