Check in but never take off: Taiwan offers fake flights to travel-starved tourists

Around 7,000 people applied to take part, the winners chosen at random.
Around 7,000 people applied to take part, the winners chosen at random.PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Starved of the travel experience during the coronavirus lockdown? One Taiwanese airport has the solution - a fake itinerary where you check in, go through passport control and security and even board the aircraft. You just never leave the ground.

Taipei's downtown Songshan airport on Thursday (July 2) began offering travellers the chance to do just that, with some 60 people eager to get going, albeit to nowhere.

Around 7,000 people applied to take part, the winners chosen at random. More fake flight experiences will take place in coming weeks.

"I really want to leave the country, but because of the epidemic lots of flights can't fly," said Ms Hsiao Chun-wei, 38, who brought her young son.

The passengers got boarding passes, and proceeded through security and immigration before boarding an Airbus A330 of Taiwan's largest carrier, China Airlines, where flight attendants chatted to them.

"I hope the epidemic ends soon so we can really fly away," said a 48-year-old woman who gave her family name as Tsai.

The airport is using the event to show off renovations completed while passengers have stayed away, and show people what coronavirus-prevention steps they are taking.

Songshan usually has flights to Tokyo, Seoul and several Chinese cities, and is also an important domestic hub.

Taiwan has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic thanks to early and effective prevention steps, but has largely closed its borders since mid-March. It has advised citizens against overseas travel unless absolutely necessary.

 
 
 

With fewer flights operating, passenger numbers have plummeted 64 per cent in the first five months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, according to the government.

Still, in one bright spot, internal travel is booming.

Taiwan's two main domestic carriers - China Airlines unit Mandarin Airlines and Eva Air's Uni Air - have added extra capacity over the summer to Taiwan's sun-soaked offshore islands and rugged east coast.