AirAsia is to open an eatery serving its dishes. It seems crackers – who would choose to eat plane fare on terra firma?
People harrumph more at 38,000ft. It’s a sort of iron rule of air travel. Fifteen minutes in and you get triple-exclamation-mark observations and everyone’s inner magistrate. Perhaps it is the memory of those kinder days, when flights weren’t pay-per-mile torture and the cabin crew smiled as they thrust the free glass of merlot your way. Who knows? What I do know is that aeroplane food seems to be the thing that gets people going the most. I lack the moral resources to get incensed by a Ryanair cheese and ham toastie, but I fear I am not representative of the populace as a whole on this.
This is why the idea AirAsia has been touting this week seems so utterly crackers. Its chief executive, Tony Fernandes, who is also the majority shareholder in QPR, announced on Wednesday that he has such confidence in the budget airline’s menu of “regional Malaysian comfort food” that he intends to open a restaurant serving the dishes. It is to be called Santan, which is Indonesian for coconut milk. I fear Tony is on a hiding to nothing.
I long for the food trolley to get to me on a flight, I watch it like a cat might a squirrel. The general revulsion at plane food puzzles me. To be revolted by your tin-foiled tray of tikka masala is to miss the point. Airline food isn’t supposed to be nice, it sort of can’t be. The air pressure and endlessly recycled oxygen buggers about with your sense of smell and renders your taste buds so etiolated that it takes a salt bomb to make stuff taste of anything.
No, it is just supposed to stop you collapsing and distract you from the horror of being in a plane. I wouldn’t necessarily choose to eat a bread roll that seems to be made of sponge in day-to-day life, but on a flight it keeps my mind off the fact that my legs are wedged up against the seat in front and will be so until we touch down at Palma International. Eating is a visceral pleasure and it’s the best you are going to get unless you chance a shag mid-air. Do I need that sort of distraction when I am on the ground? No, because I own a telly and a smartphone. But the air is not the ground. Up there, if you are sensible you just suck it up.
I remember in April 2017, flying back from Miami after a work trip and watching a bald man with a squashed face peel back his tin foil, eye the food a second and then press the call button. I had been watching him since the gate as he had eyebrows like an owl which, frankly, I enjoyed.
I suppose I could guess what he was about to do but, still, I thought, surely not. He can’t! The stewardess came over smilingly with her best bedside manner, and he honest-to-god sent his food back. As if it was an underdone bit of turbot, not powdered egg and a sausage that looked like your middle finger after too long in the pool. I think now, as I thought then, that that man was brave and stupid.
He asked for a coffee. The cabin attendant took her time. Did she smile a little too much as she handed him the cup? He hadn’t played the game and for that he had been damned.
• Samuel Muston is a former food editor of the Independent magazine