Flights to nowhere: Airlines launch sightseeing trips to avoid travel restrictions

Hugh Morris
·4 min read
Sightseeing flights could become another facet of air travel - istock
Sightseeing flights could become another facet of air travel - istock

Airlines desperate for revenue but hampered by the entangled web of international travel restrictions have turned to “flights to nowhere” for cash. 

Two carriers in Taiwan are the latest to offer ‘flightseeing’ trips to passengers keen to break the monotony of lockdown, while Australian flag carrier Qantas is set to operate tours over Antarctica later this year.

The flights depart and land at the same airport, negating any possible quarantine concerns for travellers. Taiwan is currently closed to international tourists. 

Eva Air, a major Taiwanese airline, flew a special Hello Kitty-themed flight at the weekend, departing Taoyuan International Airport before passing over the island’s northeast cape, circling Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and returning home via the picturesque south-east coast. The flight lasted just under three hours. 

Passengers were treated to food from three-Michelin-starred chef Motokazu Nakamura, with a choice of chirashi don or braised beef with noodles. Tickets started from around £140, with the option to upgrade to business class for an additional £25.

An Airbus A330 aircraft, which can seat more than 300 passengers, was used for the flight.

The route taken by the Hello Kitty service - Flightradar24
The route taken by the Hello Kitty service - Flightradar24

“The international travel market has been suspended for more than half a year,”  read a statement from EVA Air, which usually operates a direct service from Taiwan to London Heathrow. 

“Cries for going abroad are getting stronger. To satisfy traveller wishes, EVA Air has decided to introduce an alternative travel experience.” 

EVA Air’s key competitor, China Airlines, has also launched a “flight to nowhere” experience, this time aimed at children playing as cabin crew on a two-hour flight that takes off and lands at Taoyuan. 

Cheng Yu-wei, who works in the fashion business and enjoys traveling abroad, came with his wife and six-year old daughter to “revive that old feeling of traveling” .

“Maybe it is because we have been bored for too long,” Cheng told AFP.

In recent weeks both Songshan and Taoyuan airports have even started offering yet more extreme “flights to nowhere” where people go through the process of checking in and boarding a flight that never takes off.

Qantas, the Australian airline, has long offered sightseeing trips over Antarctica, and has announced that they will resume later this year while the carrier is otherwise hamstrung by travel restrictions. 

Antarctica from the air - getty
Antarctica from the air - getty

Operated in partner with Antarctica Flights, the service on a 787 Dreamliner aircraft takes up to 13 hours and rewards passengers with rugged views of the White Continent. 

“There is no passport or luggage needed for an Antarctica Flight, you can even go in board shorts if you wish,” Antarctica Flights CEO Bas Bosschieter told 7NEWS.

“Whilst it is very difficult for Australians to travel overseas at this time, our Antarctica Flights guests will be able to visit another continent in a day.”

The services are slightly bizarre in that some passengers are able to reserve window seats for the entire flight, while some rotate and others are stuck in the middle.

Antarctica Flights assures those wedged in the middle that “ample viewing can still be achieved by walking to any available window space or exit zone”.

“There is a fantastic atmosphere of cooperation among passengers as they share the experience,” it says. “This is unlike any flight you have been on before.”

The plane flies at around 10,000 feet over the ice in looping figures of eight, with around 19 different flight plans meaning the flight crew can attempt to find clear sky even during inclement weather. Aircraft do not fly lower so as not to disturb nature.

No European airlines have yet launched similar ventures, but British Airways has previously said it is open to the idea of “air cruises” in the future.

A report commissioned by the UK airline found that a new trend for “slow, experiential flights” might emerge.

“These flights could take the form of ‘air cruises’, which will see travellers fly slowly over areas of special interest, such as the Pyramids, while interactive VR guides give passengers an immersive running commentary,” said BA. 

The cruise industry has also had to consider the appeal of “cruises to nowhere” with countries restricting the ships that can dock at their ports. One such voyage was a planned trip around the British Isles.