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In a normal world, boarding an airplane that circles in the air for a few hours before returning to the same airport would have been considered laughable. However, in the COVID-19 pandemic era, where international travel has ground to a halt, "flights to nowhere," or "scenic flights," are becoming increasingly popular with homebound consumers eager to get on an airplane.
Taiwan's Taipei Sonshahn Airport was one of the first places to offer this unique excursion. In June 2020, faced with an over 60 percent drop in passengers, officials of the newly-renovated airport teamed up with Eva Air and China Airlines to offer consumers a virtual flight. Residents interested in the "pretend to go abroad" experience could sign up for a chance to win one of 90 daily tickets that were allocated by raffle. Winners of the three half-day tours, which took place on July 2, 4, and 7, 2020, were treated to a full airport experience, including clearing immigration, checking in, and boarding the airplanes. Though the planes never took off the ground, the idea was incredibly popular, with more than 7,000 people vying for a chance to be one of the first to experience the new airport facilities.
The endeavor's success inspired Eva Air to organize a special flight to celebrate Father's Day on August 8, 2020. The 2-hour, 45-minute flight aboard a"Hello Kitty" themed airplane took passengers on a sightseeing tour of the northeastern corner of Taiwan and the western end of the Japan's Ryukyu Islands. It included free Wi-Fi text messaging onboard and a gourmet meal designed by three-star Michelin chef Motokazu Nakamura. As you may have guessed, this luxury did not come cheap, costing each passenger 5,288 yuan ($780), with the option of upgrading to business class for another 1,000 yuan ($146).
"Due to the global epidemic, the international tourism market has been temporarily closed for more than half a year, and the public's "I really want to go abroad" are becoming more and more intense. To satisfy passengers' desire to go abroad, EVA Air specially selected the special flight EVA Air 'New Experience of Going Abroad,'" the company said in a statement at the time.
Meanwhile, Japan's First Airlines offered travel-hungry individuals an affordable way to visit New York, Rome, and Paris — without leaving the ground. For a mere $60, passengers strapped into their airline seats could enjoy a life-like virtual reality tour of one of the world-class cities, all while feasting on a destination-themed meal. The best part? They didn't have to deal with jet lag!
Qantas Airlines' "flight to nowhere," which was announced on September 22, 2020, and sold out within 10 minutes, will take air travelers on a scenic tour of Australia, flying over the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Wales. The seven-hour flight, which will depart and return to Sydney on October 10, 2020, costs between $787 to $3,787 Australian dollars (about $575 to $2,765 USD). The airline also reintroduced its immensely popular sightseeing flights to Antarctica, which allow passengers to enjoy the frozen continent from the skies.
"So many of our frequent fliers are used to being on a plane every other week and have been telling us they miss the experience of flying as much as the destinations themselves," Alan Joyce, chief executive of Qantas Airlines, said in a statement announcing the special flight.
Singapore Airlines (SIA), which had earlier contemplated introducing its own version of a "flight to nowhere," dropped the idea on September 29, 2020. Instead, the company announced several fun initiatives that would allow passengers to experience the airline's world-famous hospitality without leaving the ground.
Customers missing the airplane experience will be able to purchase a ticket to dine inside an A-380 plane parked at Changi Airport on October 24 and 25, 2020. Residents that do not want to board a flight can recreate SIA's gourmet in-flight dining experience at home by ordering a special meal, complete with champagne, created by the airline's international chefs. Those interested in obtaining a "behind-the-scenes" peek at the airline's operations will get the rare opportunity to buy tickets to tour the SIA Training Centre on Nov 21, 22, 28, and 29, 2020. Visitors will be allowed to participate in craft activities, buy in-flight meals, and, for a slightly extra cost, even test the flight simulator that pilots use for training.
Strange as the offerings may seem, they are proving to be a win-win for both customers who are yearning to travel and airlines struggling to keep afloat during these difficult times.
Resources: Marketwatch.com, simpleflying.com, CNN.com, Straitstimes.com