Low-Cost Airline Opens Restaurant to Prove Its Plane Food Doesn't Suck

Weird flex, but OK.
December 5, 2019, 12:00pm
airplane food
Photo: Getty Images

Much like Donald Trump's hair, Boris Johnson's hair, and people who still use the phrase "Cash me outside, how bow dah," everyone seems to have accepted that airplane food is both awful and completely beyond parody. The plastic-covered atrocity that is placed on the tray table is only slightly more edible than the life jacket that's supposedly tucked under the seat—but we'll eat it anyway, if only because that gives us the chance to complain about how bad it is.

But that's not the case when it comes to AirAsia. The Malaysian low-cost carrier serves inflight offerings that are so good, people will apparently seek them out and eat them even when they aren't belted into an undersized airplane seat. On Monday, AirAsia opened its first Santan restaurant and T&CO Cafe inside a mall in Kuala Lumpur, and the entire menu is based on what is served during its flights.

According to AirAsia, this restaurant is the beginning of what it hopes will become a much (much) larger operation. The airline's ownership group wants to open five Santan restaurants by the end of next year, and within the next three-to-five years, it hopes that franchisees will operate as many as 100 new locations.

"The opening of this flagship restaurant is the beginning of something great for the Santan and T&CO brands. We have seen a significant appetite for our in-flight menu offerings beyond our flights across the region and this is our answer to that demand," Catherine Goh, the General Manager of the restaurant and cafe, said in a statement. "We are very proud to extend what started out as an in-flight menu into new markets and reiterate our support for local and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) producers [and] suppliers."

Some of the restaurant's offerings include Pak Nasser's nasi lemak, a combination of coconut rice, chili sambal, and chicken rendang; Cambodian-style pineapple fish noodles; and chicken inasal from the Philippines. Each entree costs 12 Malaysian ringgit, or about $2.85.

"I paid a visit to see the products and met all the staff [at the restaurant]. Friendly bunch. Just like the airline. Low cost doesn’t mean low quality. Food is high quality but very affordable," AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes wrote in a LinkedIn post, according to Skift. "I want people to see us as different. Not like the fast food joints out there."

Fernandes also joked, er, sort of joked, that he sees Santan as an ASEAN competitor to U.S. fast food chains like McDonald's, Burger King or KFC, which all have locations throughout Malaysia. "Hey people laughed at us when we only had two planes," he said. (At the end of 2018, AirAsia and its subsidiaries operated in 25 countries, and it had 226 aircraft in its fleet.)

Airplane food that's actually worth eating? How bow dah.