Airlines from Australia to Japan are filling seats, and running up unseemly carbon footprints, by offering scenic “flights to nowhere” that give frequent flyers the pre-pandemic experience of boarding a plane—then spending several hours being shuttled from Point A to Point A.
The so-called “joy flights” are meant to make up some of the deep financial losses airlines of sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Guardian reports. In one example, “using 787 Dreamliner aircraft usually employed for long-haul international flights, Qantas’ Great Southern Land flight will fly as low as 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) over Queensland, the Northern Territory, and New South Wales, giving passengers the chance to see Australia’s most famous landmarks, including Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, and Sydney harbour.”
Ticket prices for the seven-hour flight ranged from A$787 economy to $3,787 business class. The flight sold out in 10 minutes, The Guardian says.
The story also cites a Hello Kitty-themed aircraft that took off from Taipei Airport last month and landed there three hours later, as well as a series of 90-minute Hawaiian Experiences flights that Japanese airline ANA is planning for October.
“I understand why they are doing it, but it really is insanity—a flight to nowhere is simply emissions for the sake of it,” said Flight Free UK Director Anna Hughes. “If that’s the society we’ve built, where we’re that addicted to flying, then we have a serious problem.”
Qantas claims its flights will be carbon-neutral. But “at a time when all industries need to be urgently reducing their emissions massively, Qantas’s ‘sustainability’ claims of offsetting flight emissions is a scam that allows their emissions to continue on the back of buying the reductions of others,” said Flight Free Australia spokesperson Mark Carter. He said passengers would increase their annual carbon footprints 10% in just seven hours “as they gawk at the Barrier Reef they are helping to destroy”.
The New York Times coverage captures a financial crunch that has airlines scrambling to survive, as well as the frame of mind they’re selling to.
“At a time when most people are stuck at home and unable to travel, and the global airline industry has been decimated by the pandemic, flights that take off and return to the airport a few hours later allow airlines to keep staff working,” the Times writes. “The practice also satisfies that itch to travel—even if it’s just being on a plane again. Although most people may think of flying as a means to an end, existing solely to get them from one place to the next, some say that it is an exciting part of the travel experience. For those people, flights to nowhere are the salve for a year in which just about all travel has been cancelled and people have been fearful of airlines not enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing rules.”
“I didn’t realize 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 Nadzri Harif, a passenger on a recent Royal Brunei flight to nowhere.
“One of my clients said just a few days ago, ‘all I want is to be in a window seat and see clouds go by. I miss that sight. I just want white fluffy clouds!’” said Loveleen Arun, a travel agent in Bangalore who mostly designs trips for wealthy clients from India. “Some people just want to drag their bags through the airport and go check them in.”