One passenger told the study by consumer group Which? that business class on British Airways was like “Ryanair but with free food”.
BA came in for particular criticism in the survey of 1,855 travellers and was named bottom of the list of airlines, with many saying its premium cabins were poor value for money.
Passengers pay thousands of pounds to have access to business and first class cabins on flights, but researchers said that in some cases they were better off “sticking with economy”.
Which? said poor quality food, substandard entertainment and cramped seats were all factors in passengers’ complaints.
One passenger said BA’s premium economy seats provided a “no-frills experience with a premium price”.
Thomas Cook was also given a low rating for its premium economy cabins.
In response, BA said it is investing £6.5 billion to upgrade its planes.
Naomi Leach, deputy editor of Which? Travel magazine, told The Times: “Given the hefty price tags involved, it is worth shopping around before you commit.
“While customers were impressed with Emirates’ chauffeur service, BA was slated for a business and first-class service that seemed outdated compared with its rivals.”
BA said: “Since this survey in 2018, we’ve been investing £6.5 billion in aircraft, cabins, dining experiences and luxury lounges, and by 2020 we will have had 100 new aircraft in less than a decade.”
Thomas Cook said the survey contained a “highly unrepresentative sample”, with responses directed at its service coming from only 37 passengers.
Which? members said Cathay Pacific had the the best business or first-class experience, with an overall satisfaction rating of 90%.
Emirates was in second place with 88%, drawing plaudits for its minibar, shower for first-class passengers and 86 inches of leg room.
BA finished bottom for its first and business class cabin, with a satisfaction rating of just 67%.