Should You Take a Flight to Nowhere?

Last month, Australian airline Qantas introduced a seven-hour flight that’s scheduled to depart from Sydney on October 10. All 134 tickets were sold out in a record time of 10 minutes. And get this: It flies across Queensland, the Northern Territory, and New South Wales, and returns to the same airport in Sydney.

Yep, this seven-hour “Great Southern Land” scenic flight is a flight to nowhere. It offers breathtaking views of the Great Barrier Reef, the Gold Coast, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Byron Bay, and the Sydney Harbor—it circles back to its departure city.

A spokesperson from Qantas confirmed that this was probably the fastest selling flight in their history. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner promises priceless vistas of Australia’s outback from its windows (there will also be some low-flying areas to get closer to attractions), while passengers also get a pre-flight breakfast in the lounge, a special lunch menu, a gift bag, and a surprise celebrity host.

Can you guess the cost of an economy ticket? $787 (as of the writing of this article)! A business class ticket can set someone back by $3,787. But money won’t discourage travelers who haven’t flown in six months due to the closed state and international borders.

Going Nowhere: A New Trend

Qantas isn’t the first or the only airline that’s trying to attract travelers with these flights. On August 8, passengers boarded EVA Air’s ever-popular Hello Kitty-themed A330 aircraft, enjoyed an in-flight meal by three-Michelin-star chef Motokazu Nakamura, spotted beautiful islands, and returned to the airport after three hours. The route was specially crafted for Father’s Day and cost upwards of $180.

With a duration of 90 minutes, Japan’s ANA operated a no-destination, scenic flight to offer a “Hawaiian resort experience” to its 300 guests who flew the Narita-Honolulu route last month. More recently on September 19, Taiwanese airlines Tigerair Taiwan gave a similar experience to 120 passengers by flying low over South Korea’s Jeju Island.

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Joining the bandwagon, Singapore Airlines and Air India have also been considering similar flights that depart from and arrive at the same airport. (Singapore Airlines scrapped their plans in favor of allowing “passengers” to simply dine aboard a parked A380.)

In a survey by Singapore Air Charter, 75% of participants said they were willing to buy a ticket to nowhere. Travelers may also be feeling reassured by the fact that the risks of catching the virus on a flight are low. According to the CDC, “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.” However, it is still recommended to avoid unnecessary travel because long lines, crowded planes, and public transport increase the risk of exposure.

Airlines Need Desperate Help

Airlines have been badly hit by the pandemic. Thousands of planes are grounded and global passenger traffic fell by almost 80% in July. According to the International Air Transport Association, airlines will lose more than $84 billion this year. Bloomberg calculates that 400,000 airline employees have been fired, furloughed, or are otherwise at risk of losing their jobs. Even those who have a job at hand are facing pay cuts.

Bloomberg calculates that 400,000 airline employees have been fired, furloughed, or are otherwise at risk of losing their jobs. Even those who have a job at hand are facing pay cuts.

Airlines around the world pleaded with their governments to rescue them—and many were successful (a total of $85 billion was allocated globally). Back in April, the Treasury Department offered a $25 billion bailout to airlines in the U.S. as part of its $2.2 trillion federal package. It came with conditions attached, including no layoffs or salary cuts until September 30. But all these efforts are not enough and layoffs have begun.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that airlines are finding new and inventive ways to make money and help pilots stay certified—while some are, of course, calling these gimmicks.

The Flip Side Is the Environmental Impact

As much as some travelers are loving this chance to board a plane and circle the skies, airlines are receiving backlash for needlessly burning fuel when the planet is fast reaching a point of no return in its battle with climate change.

The climate crisis has reached every corner of the world, with ice caps melting and sea levels rising. Last year, Australia faced rampant bushfires that directly killed 33 people and approximately 417 people died from the impact of the smoke. It’s estimated that more than a billion animals were “killed or harmed” in the fires. According to economist John Quiggin, the total cost of recovery, taking into account the environment and healthcare, would be as much as $70 billion. A report says that they are likely to happen again and next time, they could be worse.

In the U.S., California and Oregon are still reeling from the raging fires that has razed acres of land. Plus, four hurricanes have hit the U.S. coast this year—Hanna, Isaias, Laura, and Sally. These disasters have caused billions of dollars (just four of them cost $1 billion each in August), not to mention the loss of life and severe long-term health impacts.

In the face of the pandemic and climate crisis, people are reminding airlines to be more environmentally conscious—and with good reason.

In the face of the pandemic and climate crisis, people are reminding airlines to be more environmentally conscious—and with good reason. In 2018, air travel caused 2.4% of global carbon emissions. And while aircraft emissions dipped in the immediate wake of the pandemic, if air travel returns to its pre-pandemic trajectory, the industry could take up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. While airlines are trying to be fuel-efficient and Airbus plans to introduce zero-emission aircraft by 2035, there’s still a lot to be done.

For the same reason, activists have been pressuring governments not to bail out airlines or grant them any favors or concessions. Instead, use that money for green energy alternatives.

Love it or hate it, it’s likely that more airlines will follow suit and market these “scenic” flights in the coming weeks to travelers eager to return to the skies.

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