- AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes announced on Larry King Now that his company is launching a fast food restaurant called Santan that will serve food inspired by its airplane menu, according to Fox News.
- The airline's menu was created after culling years of data — input from over 400 million customers, according to AirAsia.
- Santan, currently AirAsia's menu title, offers traditional foods like nasi lemak — celebrated as Malaysia’s national meal — and mapo tofu, pumpkin kootu & vegetable jalfrezi and more.
While this concept in progress is seemingly a strategy out of left field, Fernandes appears confident in the prospect. The CEO boasted Santan will have a "wide selection of Asean, international and vegetarian options for everyone." However, Malaysia's famous Chef Wan had anything but supportive words for AirAsia's food — specifically the sambal, which natives feel to be a crucial component of nasi lemak, the nation's beloved coconut rice dish.
No matter how unconventional Fernandes and AirAsia's plans might be, this marks a trend of restaurant food converging with the world of air travel. Last year, for example, American Airlines collaborated with Mediterranean restaurant Zoe’s Kitchen to add healthier, more substantial eating experiences to the airline's menu.
Airports are also trying to up their culinary game with more recognizable and trendy restaurant brand partnerships. Dallas/Fort Worth International, Chili's parent company Brinker International, Java Star and HMSHost recently teamed up to open the first Maggiano's airport location in Texas.
More than 120 airports and 100 travel plazas have hosted the likes of California Pizza Kitchen, Tim Hortons, Tortas Frontera and others for quite some time. With the support of celebrity chefs like Rick Bayless, Hugo Ortega, Todd English and David Burke, air-travel hubs are becoming eating destinations. These collaborations actually build and strengthen restaurant brands, as travelers become familiar with an array of food entities amid their flight plans.
Still, the industry has yet to see this trend flipped on its head as AirAsia is proposing. If it's a success, it's other airlines could follow suit, though it seems much more likely that airlines would instead continue racking up restaurant brand partnerships to elevate their in-flight menus. It's also unclear how an airport food-inspired eatery could compete with established brands. The novelty factor is certainly there, but it's possible that the lingering cliche of airport food being terrible could turn away prospective customers.
There's no official opening date for the venture yet, as an AirAsia spokesperson said the airline would be "making an announcement soon." Until then, it seems the air travel dining industry is leaving it to the company to be the testers of this airline food experiment.