Travellers snap up airlines' 'flights to nowhere'

Asia-Pacific carriers offer sightseeing flights amid global travel curbs to fight pandemic

A Qantas plane flying over Sydney. The airline's scenic flights to nowhere will start and end in Sydney, and involve flying at low levels over Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour.
A Qantas plane flying over Sydney. The airline's scenic flights to nowhere will start and end in Sydney, and involve flying at low levels over Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Qantas Airways yesterday said a seven-hour flight over Australia's Outback and Great Barrier Reef sold out in 10 minutes, as it joined a growing trend in Asia offering "flights to nowhere" that take off and land at the same airport.

Tough border restrictions to keep the coronavirus under control have led to a 97.5 per cent plunge in international travel in the region, according to the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines.

Many frequent fliers miss getting on planes, and airlines, including Taiwan's EVA Airways and Japan's ANA Holdings, desperate for revenue and to keep their pilots' licences current, have offered special sightseeing flights.

The Qantas scenic flight, in a Boeing 787 typically used for long-haul international journeys, will fly at low levels over Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour before landing back in Sydney.

Tickets cost between A$787 and A$3,787, (S$782 and S$3,762) depending on the seating class.

The 134 available seats were quickly snapped up, a Qantas spokesman said, adding: "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."

Taiwan's EVA used one of its iconic Hello Kitty livery planes for a special Father's Day flight last month, while ANA deployed an Airbus A-380 that usually flies to Honolulu for a 90-minute flight with a Hawaiian experience on board.

Tickets costing NT$6,888 (S$320) for a Tigerair Taiwan flight from Taipei that will circle South Korea's Jeju Island reportedly sold out in four minutes.

The price includes a one-year voucher for round-trip tickets from Taiwan to South Korea, which can be used after Covid-19 travel bans are lifted.

Ms Chen Shu Tze, 44, an engineer from Taipei, told Reuters she signed up for the flight because the voucher made it a good deal and she missed being able to travel - especially to South Korea, a favourite destination. "The pandemic has a devastating impact on the tourism and airline industry, so I want to help boost the economy, and I miss flying," she said.

All of the economies where the flights are on offer have relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases by global standards.

PEOPLE MISS FLYING

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.

A QANTAS SPOKESMAN, on the airline's scenic flights to nowhere.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines is reportedly also eyeing scenic flights from next month, an idea that received widespread criticism from environmentalists and online commentators.

"First, it encourages 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," said awareness group SG Climate Rally.

The Singapore carrier said it is considering several initiatives but no final decision has been made on whether to offer sightseeing flights.

Qantas has said it would pay to offset the carbon emissions on its scenic flight from Sydney, though online critics noted that would not actually reduce emissions.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2020, with the headline 'Travellers snap up airlines' 'flights to nowhere''. Print Edition | Subscribe