Fasten Your Seat Belts & Dine In!

This December, Hyderabadis will be fastening their seat belts in an aircraft, but only metaphorically speaking. They will not be taking off to exotic holiday destinations but will be relaxing in the luxe interiors of an erstwhile aircraft, to dine at leisure. Pista House, known to be one of Hyderabad’s haleem biggies, with a humongous NRI market, has acquired a decommissioned Airbus 320 aircraft in an auction from Air India, which it is reconverting to a restaurant on city outskirts in Shamirpet to be operational by December-end.

In fact, the aircraft made headlines across media (print, digital and electronic) while its fuselage (sans wings) was being transported on the national highway from Kochi to Hyderabad, when it got caught in an underpass in Bapatla, Andhra Pradesh, and it took several man hours and local government intervention for it to come unstuck and continue to its destination. Like they say, this can happen only in India.

While this might be Hyderabad’s first aircraft restaurant, it most certainly is not the country’s first or even south India’s first. Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh already has one, a former Alliance Air B737 now aptly renamed Hotel Viman.

In fact, India is taking to repurposed, decommissioned aircraft like no other country, a study observed. In the north, aeroplane restaurants are the in-thing. There is Hawai Adda in Murthal, Haryana, which is fashioned out of two aircrafts, located right on the highway with ample parking space. Jaipur boasts a Boeing 737 aeroplane restaurant, named after the Boeing aircraft with an airframe over 40 years old.

On the outskirts of Ambala, in Mohri village is Runway 1-where an Airbus A320 with dummy engines sits nestled in the farm fields, attracting customers from Ambala, Patiala, and Kurukshetra. There is a market for aeroplane diners in Gujarat too. In the Tarsali bypass of Vadodara, sits the fine-dine Highfly Restro, carved out of an Airbus 320. It offers special amenities like dining on the wings of the aircraft and flight simulators experience in the cockpit of the aircraft. In fact, most such aircraft restaurants offer cockpit entry at a nominal price and some of them come with flight simulators too. Most such aircraft restaurants offer the whole hog when it comes to a dining experience styled like an aircraft-borne journey. Boarding passes are bought and issued, (adjusted most times against the food bills), passengers are made to walk most times through an aerobridge and stewards usher you into the aircraft just like they would do when you are ready to fly.

While most of these aircraft restaurants are moored on city outskirts in the great, wide outdoors with ample parking space and a semblance of a runway added in most cases, there are exceptions. For example, Runway 1 Delhi, which positions itself as a North Indian speciality restaurant, sits parked in Metrowalk Mall, Rohini. Flight of Dreams which promises a ‘luxury aeroplane dining experience’ is relaunching in M3M Cosmopolitan Mall in Gurgaon after a short period of closure due to renovations and moving venues. There is also Aero Restro in Gardens Galleria Mall, albeit parked outdoors adjacent to its parking lot.

Aircraft restaurant owners also seem to have wisened up to the fact that these themed restaurants will find takers for big gatherings, out for a fun outing. So, corporate/kitty/birthday/anniversary parties’ packages are part of the offering. Why, I even spotted Karva Chauth romantic candlelight dinner promotions on the Instagram page of one such restaurant. Talk of cashing in on human sentiments.

A perusal of the menu of some aircraft restaurants reveals an interesting trivia: most of the menus cater to popular family-oriented staples of the hakka noodles, pizza, chole bhature, butter chicken, paneer tikka kind, though the Vadodara one has Italian, Mexican and pan Asian offerings too. But looks like you will end up being disappointed if you are looking for discerning or even gourmet fare.

A point of debate is whether this fad will last or work out, as aircraft restaurants are both high cost and high maintenance. Hawai Adda, India’s first aeroplane restaurant to open in Ludhiana five years ago in 2017 stands closed today, reasons cited being operational issues. The restaurant complex in Ludhiana known for its extravagant lifestyle, reportedly had a bakery, café and a small banquet space.

Google reviews of most such restaurants indicate mediocre food ratings, despite menus designed by former master chef winners but I guess more than the food, the focus for both diners and restaurateurs seems to be pulling in the crowds and keeping food reasonably-priced, so that diners (especially, those who have never flown in a plane) would remember the ambience and experience of sitting and dining in an aircraft, and not necessarily the food.

Pity that, for given a choice, the wings of an aeroplane restaurant, especially one housed outdoors, should be the venue of some gourmet-level dining, where the couple uncorks some Roset or bubbly, dines on some truffle-scented risotto, dimsums or some Australian lamb chops or some exotic desserts.

While this is more like ‘grounded in an aircraft’ kind of dining, another concept which is ‘taking off’ is that of  cloud dining or dining in the clouds. Bengaluru was the first in India to launch Fly Dining, where you would be lifted up to 160 feet in the air, with stunning aerial views of the Nagawara Lake, Manyata Techpark, and Bengaluru’s green cover. Hyderabad also has its own such concept called Cloud Dining, located opposite arts and crafts leisure park Shilparamam at High Tech City, opposite Cyber Towers. Here you are strapped up to a similar height up in the air where your seat rotates a full 360 degrees to enable you to enjoy the views around and where you enjoy a five-course meal designed by Ripu Daman Handa of Masterchef India Season 3 fame. For a pricey tag of ₹4,999 per person on weekdays and ₹5,499 on weekends. Personally speaking, whether it’s earth or the heavens, food should do all the talking, and not for me any unnecessary distractions.