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

A glimpse outside the window of a high-flying plane

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.

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