Air Asia Plans Fast-Food Restaurant Serving Airline Meals

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

The idea of airline food being so delicious that it could inspire a fast-food restaurant on terra firma is great fodder for jokes, but Air Asia Group’s CEO Tony Fernandes is dead serious about opening a fast-food restaurant that will serve the carrier’s inflight dishes.

“Our food is fantastic. We believe in it so much that we’re going to start a fast-food restaurant out of it. It’s called Santan,” he said in a media appearance.

Santan means coconut milk in Malay and is a popular ingredient in Malaysian and other Southeast Asian food. It is also the name of AirAsia’s inflight menu, launched in 2015.

Skift reports that the low-cost carrier does serve one of, if not the most, extensive on-board menus featuring comfort food that is to regional passengers what pasta is to Italians. 

Passengers can pre-book meals to enjoy greater savings. Local delights include its Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak, a coconut rice dish served with sambal (chili paste) and beef stew, and Bukhara Chicken Biryani, chicken tenders cooked in hot and spicy sauce. The airline said it leveraged data from more than 400 million guests carried over the years to create the menu.

“Food is a great unifying factor across the region,” said Fernandes during a Santan Food Festival in 2017, an inflight food tasting event attended by more than 200 media members and influencers throughout Asia.

“What we are doing is bringing the wonderful flavors 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 inflight 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,” he said.

Now the “first restaurant brand in the sky” wants to go down to earth, with its first location likely to be in Air Asia’s Malaysia home. Competition will no doubt be fierce -- just think of the local hawkers throughout the region, be they in air-conditioned food halls or along the streets, who have built lifetime followers because of authentic tastes and cheap prices.

And though Fernandes praised his food as fantastic, last month, Malaysia’s most famous chef, Chef Wan, went on Instagram to lambast what he said was poor quality of the sambal served with the Nasi Lemak at AirAsia’s premium lounge. Locals take their spicy ‘sambal’ very seriously, as it can make or break that coconut rice dish.

Of course, entering the fast food market doesn’t necessarily come with a high bar. Remember the McRib? Or KFC’s Double Down?

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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