For many people, going through an airport and spending hours onboard a plane are activities they would rather avoid right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. But other restless would-be travelers, frustrated with border closings and other entry restrictions, are enthusiastically choosing to delude themselves into thinking that they’re on their way to a far off destination. The Australian airline Qantas is the latest airline to jump on the trend, putting tickets on sale today for a seven hour “Dreamliner Experience Around Australia” since the country’s borders are closed to international tourism. The 149 tickets, ranging from $575 for economy to $2764 for business class, sold out in ten minutes.
The flight, scheduled for October 10th, will take off from Sydney following breakfast in the Qantas lounge, and glide over some of the country’s most iconic locations such as the mystical rock formation Uluru in the center and The Whitsunday Islands in the Great Barrier Reef. This follows Qantas’s scheduling of another sightseeing only flight to Antarctica starting in November; given the flights’ popularity with Australians unable to leave the country and the airline’s need to generate income, airline executives say there will likely be more.
Elsewhere on that side of the world, several Asian airlines have already been offering these flights. In Taiwan, China Airlines offered two flights in August from Taipei Taoyuan Airport ; EVA Air operated a three hour flight from the same airport on August 8th, Taiwan’s Father’s Day, on its specially painted “Hello, Kitty” A330 with lunch created by three-Michelin-star chef Motokazu Nakamura. ANA put its grounded A380 normally used for Hawaii flights in the air in August for a 90 minute flight circling the region around Tokyo with 334 instead of the usual 540 passengers on board chosen by lottery. To give a hint of a Hawaiian experience on board, mojitos and pineapple juice were served and videos of Hawaiian scenery were shown. The response to the first flight was so substantial that a second one is scheduled for September 20th. Royal Brunei Airlines conducted an 85 minute “Dine & Fly” flight on August 16th for 99 passengers over Borneo and the Brunei coast with a brunch including local dishes such as Nasi Lemak with Ayam Goreng and sightseeing commentary by the pilot. 300 people are on a waiting list for future flights.
Even Singapore Airlines, an airline not known for gimmicks, seems to be edging into the trend as the airline contends with severe losses due to restrictions in its usually hyperactive business hub in both incoming and outgoing travel. According to a report in the local newspaper The Straits Times, executives at the airline are considering using an A350 for a three hour flight by late October around the region from the country’s Singapore Changi Airport. At the very least, it would give prospective residents of the country who haven’t flown the airline a sense of SIA’s highly rated service for the future when the government relaxes restrictions and allows them to take off for other destinations again.