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The Answer to the COVID-19 Blues: Flights to Nowhere

For many people, the last airline flight they took was during the first couple of months of 2020. COVID-19 hit unexpectedly, and within weeks, international travel was banned in many countries. Since that time, travelers have yearned to resume their international flights abroad, especially those accustomed to traveling often. But with many countries still banning flights between countries, it may still be months before such travel can resume. That’s where scenic travel and flights to nowhere come into play.

A number of airlines are now offering what has been labelled as “flights to nowhere.” Travelers purchase airline tickets, board the plane, takeoff, and then return to the same location. Sounds rather odd, huh? But for hundreds of travelers, these types of scenic flights are just what they need. These passengers are more than willing to pay for the flight experience despite its lack of destination appeal. From their perspective, the journey is the experience that cures their flight withdrawal state of mind. And amazingly, these “trips” are selling out in record time.

“It’s probably the fastest selling flight in Qantas history. People clearly miss travel and the experience of flying. If the demand is there, we’ll definitely look at doing more of these scenic flights while we all wait for borders to open.” – Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas Airways Ltd.

Several Airlines Offering Flights to Nowhere

Scenic travel is not something that is necessarily new. Thousands of travelers have always enjoyed touring international locations from a bird’s eye view, and experiences are one of the Pillars of a Bold Life (for more on the Seven Pillars, check out Ed Kopko’s PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success. But normally, this is part of a broader travel experience that includes ground experiences as well. The unique aspect of flights to nowhere is its solitary focus on the flying experience alone. Notably, international flight restrictions are more stringent in Asia as the travel industries tries to manage COVID-19. And it’s these areas where airline companies are being the most innovative. The following are those that have developed their own versions of flights to nowhere to appease their traditional flying customers.

  • EVA Air – In August of this year, on Father’s Day, EVA Air hosted a flight to nowhere on its A330 Dream Jet. The scenic travel left from Taiwan and returned to the same location just under 3 hours later. The appeal was a “Hello Kitty” themed experience that attracted over a hundred passengers. Likewise, passengers also got to see Taiwan and Japan’s Ryukyu Islands from a unique perspective.
  • All Nipon Airways – This Japan-based airline company took a similar approach to its flights to nowhere offering. The 90-minute flight provided travelers with a Hawaiian-themed experience on its Airbus SE A380. Interestingly, this same flight usually flies between Taiwan and Honolulu. Tickets cost roughly $300 USD with the scenic travel well attended.
  • Qantas Airways Ltd. – Based in Australia, Qantas offered passengers scenic travel lasting 7 hours all over the country. Sights included Queensland, New South Wales, Uluru, Bondi Beach, Sydney Harbor, and the Great Barrier Reef. Only 134 tickets were made available, which sold out within 10 minutes. And these flights to nowhere weren’t inexpensive with prices ranging from $566 to $2,734 USD.
  • Tigerair – In partnership with South Korea’s tourism organization, this Taiwan-based airline also offered guests unique scenic travel. The flight left Taipei Airport, carrying 120 passengers on an air tour of South Korea’s infamous Jeju Island. At a price of $236 USD, tickets sold out in 4 minutes. Of course, the Taiwan-to-Korea flight voucher valid for one year that came with the purchase didn’t hurt.
  • Royal Brunei Airlines – Based in Borneo, this Southeast Asian airline recently began offering a “Dine and Fly” scenic travel option. The flight lasts about 85 minutes and tours part of Borneo and Malaysia. In addition to a meal, pilot commentary is provided throughout the flight. And with its initials flights to nowhere selling out within 48 hours, several other flights are being planned.

“No doubt the risk [for COVID19] is not zero, but I would say it is still pretty low. After being grounded for so long … I am itching to fly again.” – Lee Kai Lun, Family Physician, Singapore

But Are Flights to Nowhere Safe?

Naturally, the big question is whether flights to nowhere are safe during this time of COVID. Interestingly, many reports now suggest that current precautions have significantly reduce risks of COVID-19 spread during travel. For one, airplanes have hospital-grade air filtration systems in place that eliminate 99.9 percent of microbes. Likewise, sanitization methods and face masks further enhance these protections. Though the risk is certainly not zero, it’s probably less than going into a local supermarket. As a result, many feel comfortable with this form of scenic travel.

A Qantas flight full of koala bears
Sometimes you just need a flight to nowhere to get your travel fix.

One of the larger complaints about flights to nowhere do not relate to COVID-19. Instead, they pertain to criticism about potential environmental effects of these flights. The carbon footprint associated with airline travel is not insignificant. Many environmentalist groups have therefore opposed this type of scenic travel because it’s unnecessary. Likewise, they also believe it sends the wrong message to the public. Some airlines have committed to offsetting carbon emissions generated by these flights. But some remain skeptical about their sincerity. This is certainly an issue worth monitoring should flights to nowhere the norm.

“First, [flights to nowhere] encourage carbon-intensive travel for no good reason and second, it is merely a stop-gap measure that distracts from the policy and value shifts necessary to mitigate the climate crisis.” – SG Climate Rally

An Innovative Way to Meet Consumer Needs

According to some reports, four out of 5 travelers yearn for overseas travel. In Asia and Australia specifically, international travel has dropped 97.5 percent. Without question, the coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to rethink our options. From this point of view, flights to nowhere make a great deal of sense. Airlines are struggling to meet customer needs, and pilots need flight miles to maintain their licenses. Scenic travel to and from the same place helps appease both problems. And thus far, travelers are happy to oblige. Whether or not they receive frequent flyer miles for these trips is another issue altogether, however.

Space Exploration: Forget Mars, Venus Is Hot Right Now!

In the last few years, the world has witnessed an invigorated pursuit of space exploration. Not only are several nations advancing their space programs, but private companies are getting in on the mix as well. Companies like SpaceX, Rocket Lab, and others are having progressive success as well. This, along with government policies and funding, have created a new vision of the future. But nothing incites passion for space exploration like the possibility of life beyond Earth. This is why recent discoveries are shifting perspectives about the best direction future space launches should pursue.

Recently, ground-based telescopes discovered a gas known as phosphine in the clouds of Venus. This may not seem too impressive, but in terms of science, it’s significant. Phosphine is not a gas expected from a plant with 90 times the amount of carbon dioxide as Earth. Instead, its presence strong suggests that some kind of life form produced the gas and exist in Venus’ atmosphere. If life on Venus indeed exists, then a major change in space missions will likely occur. Of course, investigating whether or not life on Venus exists is much harder than you might imagine.

“After a mad foray, a flourish of attempts to understand Venus in the ’70s and early ’80s, there was a hiatus and it’s actually been 35 years since any mission by any country on this planet has visited the atmosphere of Venus.” – James Garvin, Planetary Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland

Past Space Exploration Efforts of Venus

Believe it or not, space exploration of Venus dates back to the 1960s. The U.S. launched Mariner 2 in 1962 to explore gradient temperatures in the planet’s atmosphere. But by far, most of the information we have learned about Venus came from the Soviet space program. Several Soviet space missions occurred that better defined what we now known about Venus as a planet. While other explorations occurred in the 1980s into the early 1990s, none have taken place recently. Of course, that is now likely to change with the potential of life on Venus. After all, mankind likes to embrace challenges when it comes to space exploration–and getting to Venus would certainly be a challenge!

(For more on taking on challenges, check out Ed Kopko’s PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.)

A picture of the planet Venus
Everyone talks about going to Mars, but when it comes to space exploration, Venus might be where it’s at.

Multiple versions of the Soviet Venera spacecrafts revealed that Venus poses serious environmental challenges. For one, its surface temperature exceeds 850 degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise, it also has excessive pressure on its surface that is nearly 100 atm. As a result of this pressure, the Soviets saw its early versions of Venera squashed like an aluminum can. In addition to these discoveries, Venus is believed to have over 85 percent of its surface covered in old lava flows. This accounts for its smooth but cracked terrain that is enveloped in a greenish, neon-colored gas. None of these features make space exploration of the planet easy.

“If this planet is active and is producing phosphine, and there is something that’s making it in the Venus atmosphere, then by God almighty, forget this Mars nonsense.” – Paul Byrne, Planetary Scientist, North Carolina State University

Does Life on Venus Exist or Not?

The recent discovery of phosphine certainly is an interesting finding in relationship to the life on Venus question. Prior to this discovery, Venus’s temperature, pressure, and atmosphere was not believed to be conducive to life. The research basically used a method called spectral analysis that sampled images from Venus using a telescope. Essentially, the sampling showed a chemical fingerprint that is consistent with the gas phosphine. Its presence implies that something living produced the gas, but that’s about as much as we know. In order to determine whether this is actually the case, direct space exploration is needed.

Other alternatives exist. For instance, the phosphine could have appeared from some type of chemical reaction yet to be defined. Though scientists believe this to be less likely, it remains a possibility. Likewise, the spectral readings found the phosphine more than 30 miles above the planet’s surface. This raises additional questions about how life might survive within the planet’s poisonous-appearing clouds. The question about life on Venus is therefore far from being answered. Regardless, the phosphine discovery has energized new ideas about future space exploration missions.

“This is something more that we can’t explain about Venus. Venus has got more questions [about it] than Mars, which is why we are suggesting that Venus should be considered an astrobiology target.” – Sanjay Limaye, Atmospheric Scientist, University of Wisconsin, Madison

A Change in Space Exploration Plans

For some time now, space exploration efforts have focused on the Earth’s moon and on  Mars. The U.S. space program wishes to establish a moon-based presence first from which other space missions launch. Elon Musk and SpaceX has identified Mars as a potential destination long-term. But few have considered Venus until now. The only current orbiter around the planet is Japan’s Akatsuki. India has plans to launch a similar mission called Shukrayaan-1 in 2023. And Rocket Lab, a private company in New Zealand, has also suggested such a pursuit. The potential for life on Venus will further encourage these planned space projects.

As far as the U.S., two space exploration missions are currently being considered that involve Venus. DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus) is one of these. It would travel through Venus’ atmosphere, sampling as it goes, and would also collect information about its terrain and atmosphere. VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy) represents the second proposal. It would be interested in creating a detailed topographical map of Venus’ entire surface and its geology. Of these, DAVINCI+ would be the one to confirm the presence or absence of phosphine.

A New Space Exploration Race

The possibility of life on Venus will undoubtedly persuade many space programs to change directions. Japan, India, and even the European Space Agency (ESA) already have space exploration projects in the works. ESA’s EnVision is set to launch in 2032 as a Venus orbiter. But other national space programs will soon be jumping on board. And with the recent success of companies like SpaceX, private industry will also likely play a role in these pursuits. With so many questions to be answered, intrigue will certainly fuel an entirely new race for space. For now, Venus is likely to be focus as the hottest planet to explore… literally and figuratively.