MICHELLE DOR WRITES — Airline food is notorious for not living up to what you might expect with a costly plane ticket. It’s probably safe to say that many travelers dread but endure eating it, given the limits to catering options 35,000 feet above ground. In addition, our taste buds don’t work properly at high altitudes because low air humidity dries our nasal passages and, at the same time, air pressure numbs our taste buds.

Not so for Air Asia. The largest airline company in Malaysia is so proud of their in-flight meals, that plans to open a restaurant later this year. Tony Fernandes, CEO of the AirAsia Group, confidently announced, “We believe in it so much that we’re going to start a fast-food restaurant out of it.”

So how did AirAsia solve this seemingly universal problem? Well, by having one of the most impressive budgets in the industry, for one. And by developing an encouraging motto for its menu: “We pride ourselves in serving a wide range of meals that celebrate the cuisines and cultures of the Asian region and beyond.”

CEO Fernandes and AirAsia’s culinary team was determined to replicating a gourmet experience onboard. They did not take short cuts. The AirAsia culinary team regularly taste-tests food and wine while on board a flight because of the difference in taste. They also often test it in a sealed room designed to replicate the experience of eating in the sky.

Santan—which will be the restaurant’s name translates, in Malay,  to coconut milk, a popular cooking ingredient in South-East Asia. It is also the name of the airline’s in-flight menu, launched in 2015. Some dishes include Chicken Teriyaki, Nasi Lemak a rice dish), and Mapo Tofu (spiced ground meat over rice).

But it’s not all about the glamorous gourmet fare.  Think about it—all those health concerns. Do airlines practice sanitary preparation? Follow proper refrigeration procedures? And what about passengers adding salt to bring out the flavor? Is this why cabin crews prefer to bring their own food on board? In fact a flight attendant by the name of Shreyas P, who claims to have worked for five major (anonymous) airlines states, “Airline meals are very unhealthy, even if you’ve opted for the raw or vegan option.”

In-Flight meal provided by AirAsia

AirAsia’s Nasi Lemak

AirAsia’s Mapo Tofu

If Santan can uphold its reputation, perhaps other airline companies can improve their in-flight food services as well.

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