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Flights to Nowhere Now Taking Off, but Should They?

Madhu Unnikrishnan

September 17th, 2020

Airlines desperate for revenue have found a way to satisfy passengers desperate to travel: Flights to nowhere that take off and land from the same airport. Some of these flights are just joyrides around the airspace, complete with catering and inflight service. While some are being billed as sightseeing flights. But should airlines be engaging in these stunts?

Qantas flight to nowhere, ostensibly a sightseeing flight around Australia, sold out in less than 10 minutes, prompting the airline to consider doing more. Japan’s ANA made news last year by announcing it would fly Airbus A380 superjumbos between Japan and Hawaii. With travelers now grounded by restrictions, ANA flew one of its A380s on a “Hawaiian themed” flight to nowhere. Taiwan’s EVA Air flew one of its Hello Kitty Boeing 777s on a joyride for passengers sick of being trapped at home. Even Singapore Airlines, which recently announced it was eliminating 4,300 jobs, is considering jumping on this bandwagon.

Even more absurdly, Thai Airways opened a pop-up restaurant to cater to passengers who miss airline food. Other airlines, mainly in Asia, have made their inflight menus available for take out. And it gets even more absurd. An airport in Taiwan recently had a static flight. In other words, “passengers” checked in at the airport, queued onto a jetbridge, and sat on an aircraft on the tarmac.

International travel, in particular, is suffering during this pandemic, thanks to a patchwork of travel restrictions around the world. It’s understandable that some of this pent-up desire to travel needs an outlet, and fair play to the airlines and airports (and in-flight caterers) who see a revenue opportunity. These stunts also keep the airline’s brand alive for would-be travelers who are trapped at home. And of course, aircraft in service need to fly and can’t just sit on the ground without being stored.

But when you consider that a Boeing 787, such as the one Qantas is using for its flight to nowhere, or an Airbus A380 burn several thousand kilograms of fuel per hour, is this responsible, especially as many parts of the world are on fire, facing horrific storms, or melting due to climate change? Airlines provide transportation. Should they get into the business of burning fuel for joyrides? Are the revenue and branding opportunities really worth it?

Madhu Unnikrishnan

September 17th, 2020

Photo credit:  Qantas

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