When S.N.S. Rao ran away from his home in a tiny village not far from Mangalore in search of a better life, he never expected to make waves. Starting off as a waiter at a small tiffin centre in Mysore, he went on to become a pioneer, setting up the first drive-in restaurant in Karnataka, and one of the first in south India. With his first joint in Mysore a hit, he eventually took over the almost non-functional Hotel Airlines on Madras Bank Road in 1968 from the previous owner (who chose its name for no particular reason). Today, Airlines remains popular, having originally served only south Indian food to customers who would drive in and eat in the comfort of their cars.
Diwakar Rao, who took over the place from his father, introduced fresh fruit juice as well as Chinese and north Indian dishes here, which attracted the college-going crowd in the mid-90s.
What draws the crowds here besides the laid back, open air ambience are the unusually tall glasses of coffee, the crispy dosas with amazingly tangy sambar and the staple idli-vada combo.
Besides the other popular items, the akki rotti is a worth a try: made with rice flour, assorted herbs and sautéed onions, it is served with a dab of butter and pickles that compliment it perfectly.
Running from 6.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. on all days of the week, the hotel sees families coming in for an early breakfast; students, businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians flocking here for lunch, and celebrities coming in the early evenings for a quick bite in the privacy of their cars, keeping the team of 30 waiters on their toes for most of the day.
The place also has a Corner House Ice Cream and a small Pizza Stop on its premises.