Flights to Nowhere? Yes, it is possible!
The pandemic has resulted in travel restrictions around the world, forcing airlines to ground thousands of aircraft. While we all wait for countries’ borders to reopen, some carriers are only operating domestically, others are looking for alternatives to try and get their aircraft in the air, hence making some income out of it.
Qantas, Royal Brunei Airlines, EVA Air and All Nippon Airways are all part of a small but growing number of airlines that have started offering “scenic flights” or more directly “flights to nowhere”. Passengers are not bound for an international or even regional destination; instead, the flight would end exactly where it began.
A new phenomenon and an experiment
Back in August, EVA Air, the Taiwanese international airline, offered more than 300 passengers a journey that took off, flew over a number of attractions and landed three hours later in Taipei. The flight even made a thumbs up sign.
Since then, Royal Brunei Airlines has operated five of these flights, and since the country has had very few cases of Covid, the carrier doesn’t require passengers to wear masks. “I didn’t realise how much I’d missed traveling, missed flying, until the moment the captain’s voice came on the speaker with the welcome and safety announcement,” said one of the passengers on Royal Brunei Airline. The experience, he said, was exhilarating. Sure, moving through the airport was different, with masks, glass dividers and social-distancing protocols in place, but nothing could beat the anticipation of getting on a plane again. (see picture 2).
Later on, Qantas took travelers around Australia, flying over the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. Although the ticket for that flight ranged in price from $575 to $2,765, which is relatively high for a scenic flight, it sold out in merely 10 minutes. Indeed, these kind of boomerang flights are a desperate attempt by airlines to earn some money while many of their aircraft are parked, making losses every day. However, this experience satisfies travellers’, especially the frequent flyers’, desire for normalcy and escape.
There has been loads of criticism regarding these flights, with environmental groups and activists taking to social media to express their frustrations. They argue that the aviation industry that had already negatively impacted the environment before the pandemic is keeping to do so with these unnecessary flights.
Singapore Airlines once considered this idea but has eventually withdrawn plans for a three-hour scenic flight after receiving criticism from environmental groups. However, the airline has turned to another idea in order to generate extra revenue by converting its Airbus A380 aircraft into a temporary restaurant, with meals in economy class costing $39 and those in first-class going for $470. Tickets for this limited-time experience sold out almost immediately. In addition, the carrier will invite customers to its training centre where they can experience on how to be flight attendants and operate flight simulators.
Meanwhile, Qantas claims that it purchased carbon offsets to compensate the impact of the 7-hour scenic flight, and Royal Brunei Airlines says it is using an A320neo, which is more fuel-efficient than other aircraft.
Blowing the travel bubble
Despite the success, flights to nowhere are unlikely to make up for airlines’ sales as they are only offering the flights on a limited basis and their airfare are likely to make little to next to zero on balance sheets. Earlier on this month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expected airlines globally to burn through nearly $80 billion in cash in the second half of 2020, with millions of jobs being at risk.
However, there have been signs that the concept of travel bubbles in several countries in Asia is making good progress. Hong Kong and Singapore are moving closer to create a 2-way travel corridor. Japan and South Korea will soon introduce cross-border with quarantine-free business travel.
For some travellers, flights to nowhere might become popular. For airlines, there is replacement for flights to somewhere.