Flights To Nowhere: Why Airlines Around The World Are Now Hosting 'Scenic Flights'
How much do you miss the rush of travel? Getting to the airport, checking your luggage in. Doubtless, one of the great joys of travelling has got to be getting on board the plane and landing in your destination. Of course, with current travel restrictions, most people haven't had the chance to do that in half a year. But, as with most things, people have gotten creative. One of the newer, less conventional ways of scratching the wanderlust itch? Flights to nowhere. Also known as "scenic flights", airlines around the world have started offering travellers a slightly unorthodox way to see the world amid lockdown.
Flights To Nowhere
Recently, Qantas Airlines made headlines with their new "flights to nowhere". Unlike pre-pandemic trips, these flights begin and end at the same airport or destination. The Australian carrier promised its customers majestic bird's eye views of the Great Barrier Reef, the Uluru monolith, and the Australian Outback on a seven-hour trip around the country. Needless to say, it was a big hit. Seats sold out within ten minutes and a representative for the airline says it might have been their fastest selling flight (despite a hefty price tag that ranged from USD575 to USD2,765).
If you're surprised to hear this, don't be, because Qantas isn't the first airline to come up with such a promotion. Airlines around Taiwan, Brunei, and Japan have been hosting similar experiences for months now. Royal Brunei, EVA Air, and All-Nippon Airways have all experimented with scenic flights. Last June, Taiwan's EVA Air filled 309 seats onboard their Hello Kitty themed jet for Father's Day. Meanwhile, All Nippon Airways held a 90-minute flight for 300 people on a Hawaiian-themed flight.
More airlines are set to jump onboard the trend as Singapore Airlines announced its plan to hold a similar experience at Changi Airport in October 2020.
A Luxury Experience
While some people may rejoice at the opportunity to fly again — albeit to nowhere — some people are a little more skeptical. A few have pointed out that flights to nowhere would make more sense if it included a more luxurious experience (than the usual tight, crowded aisles and cramped seats). Because these scenic flights seem to focus more on the journey and the experience than an actual destination, few consumers have expressed a desire for something more substantial. Fortunately, some airlines (such as Starlux Airlines) have given their clients the choice to book a package that includes the flight and a hotel room for a staycation. Singapore Airlines has also expressed intent to include staycations at Singapore hotels, shopping vouchers, and limousine ferry rides as a package to these flights.
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One of the biggest detractions against scenic flight schemes has been its environmental impact. Many activists have claimed that airlines are acting irresponsibly by creating more carbon emissions; for an industry that had accounted for 918 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2018, this isn't good.
However, a few airlines have defended themselves by explaining their strategies: Qantas has reportedly purchased carbon offsets to alleviate the impact of their flights and Royal Brunei Airlines has reportedly been using an Airbus A320neo (which is known to have lesser emissions than most planes).
Is It Safe?
Because "flights to nowhere" start and end at the same destination, it should naturally follow that it's safer than travelling abroad. But is that logic correct? Perhaps it depends on the rate of community infection in your own locality. Brunei, Singapore, Japan, and Australia have all managed to control the virus relatively well. For example, Brunei's government had responded quickly and efficiently to the crisis, strengthening their information dissemination while remaining transparent. Brunei had also been an early adaptor to mandatory RT-PCR tests for early detection. Singapore's SG Clean initiative (which helped to impose safety protocol around the country) and digital check-in systems had also proven effective, especially for contact tracing and disinfection. Australia's comprehensive response plan and Japan's unique public health model had also served their purpose, allowing them to live with lesser restrictions amid an ongoing global crisis.
Yet, "flights to nowhere" still poses a bit of a risk: one of the greatest being the need to go to an airport and coming into contact with people travelling from an area with high rates of infection. But now, with global travel restrictions, the number of these travellers have been reduced. Yet, it can still be a bit of a gamble, particularly in airports and in enclosed spaces such as planes.
The research, however, varies. Some, such as Arnold Barnett, a professor of management science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claim that the risk of catching the virus on a plane is relatively small, especially on shorter flights and on planes that have imposed new safety protocol. Yet, others argue that longer flights (or time spent in an enclosed space) and recirculated air inside planes (albeit filtered) pose a major risk.
At the end of the day however, flying and other social activities will always pose a risk. While these are subject to multiple variables and uncontrollable circumstances, many would agree that these risks shouldn't be completely ignored, especially if you are at-risk or live with someone at-risk.
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