For the majority of travellers airline food is a necessary evil that must be endured given the limits to catering options at 35,000 feet.
But one carrier is gambling that some passengers will want to sample its in-flight meals at a real-life restaurant on the ground.
AirAsia, the largest airline in Malaysia, is so confident in the dishes it serves on-board that it is poised to offer its full menu at a bricks and mortar establishment.
“Our food is fantastic,” Tony Fernandes, AirAsia Group CEO, told Larry King on Larry King Now. “We believe in it so much that we’re going to start a fast-food restaurant out of it. It’s called Santan.”
Santan, which is Malay for coconut milk, a popular cooking ingredient in south-east Asia, is also the name of the low-cost airline’s in-flight menu, launched in 2015. It is regarded as one of the most impressive budget offerings in the business. Dishes include chicken teriyaki, Pak Nasser’s nasi lemak and a mapo tofu.
The airline says of its menu: “We pride ourselves in serving a wide range of meals that celebrate the cuisines and cultures of the Asian region and beyond.”
“Food is a great unifying factor across the region,” said Fernandes, also a majority shareholder of London football club, Queens Park Rangers.
Skift reported that while speaking at Santan food festival, Fernandes said: “What we are doing is bringing the wonderful flavours of ASEAN into Santan to create a unique food experience, with the vision of replicating the on-ground gourmet experience onboard.
“The flavour, profile and pricing of in-flight food has always been a challenge but we believe that with Santan, we can create the first restaurant brand in the sky that is both tasty and affordable.”
There is not yet any confirmation on when or where the AirAsia restaurant might open.
Airline food is something of a fascination among regular travellers, with many keeping an eye out for hilariously bad plane meals. Soggy, sparse sandwiches and measly cooked breakfasts are one thing, but there are also health concerns over food in the air, with additional salt needed to bring out flavours in a cabin atmosphere.
At high altitudes our taste buds simply don’t work properly. The low humidity dries out our nasal passages, and the air pressure desensitises our taste buds, which is why airlines often opt for salty stews or spicy curries.
Airlines planning a new menu will often taste food and wine on board a flight before clearing it for public consumption, because of the variation in taste. Some airlines install sealed rooms in their kitchens room to replicate the experience of eating in the sky.
The other major problem is logistics and costs. A concise commentary was offered by Gordon Ramsay. “There’s no f****** way I eat on planes,” he told Refinery29, in typically forthright manner. “I worked for airlines for 10 years, so I know where this food’s been and where it goes, and how long it took before it got on board.”
AirAsia isn’t the first carrier to offer airline food on the ground. Last month United Airlines released a cookbook for its on-board meals, allowing passengers to make their own airline meals at home.