Tips & News

These Trips to Nowhere Are More Than Flights of Fancy

From mile-high dating games to temple flybys, airlines are pooh-poohing Covid border closures with plane tickets that go roundtrip in a single flight.

By Vincent Vichit-Vadakan

Dec 1, 2020

COVID GOT YOU GROUNDED? Not so fast, say these airlines, who’ve introduced flights to nowhere for all those folks so deeply missing cramming themselves into metal tubes in the sky.

Taiwan

What if your entire airplane were made of mistletoe? Fly! Love Is in the Air events, hosted by the You and Me speed dating service from event organizer Mobius, are scheduled on EVA Air flights to nowhere between this Christmas and New Year’s. Open only to 20- or 30-something singles who all must have college degrees, the flights provide breakfast, lunch or on-the-ground candle-lit dinner menus from Chef Motoki Nakamura of three-star Isshi Soden Nakamura in Kyoto and itineraries along the east or west coast of the island. We’re thinking mile-high-club membership might skyrocket this holiday season.

Australia

Qantas flew a seven-hour flight in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from and back to Sydney, including low-altitude passes over some of Australia’s most iconic panoramas, up to Byron Bay and as far north as the Great Barrier Reef, then west to Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory, getting back to Bondi Beach and Sydney Harbour in time for the late afternoon sun. Satellite calls with locals on the ground brought the destinations to life. The onboard menu, eaten while passengers lounged in pjs, was designed by celebrity chef and TV presenter Neil Perry. The inaugural flight sold out in a record 10 minutes; no wonder Qantas has scheduled a series of 12-hour flights to Antarctica and back. No down coats required.

Japan

Another bucket-list spot for many travelers, though admittedly so popular in Japan as to be practically a standard hop, is Hawaii. The last ANA flight to nowhere of 2020 from Tokyo Narita will be in an A380 decked out in aloha scheme: all passengers receive souvenirs from the airline, vouchers from the Hawaii Tourism Board, and are entered in drawings for stays at hotels in Hawaii when international flights there resume. ANA’s themed fake trips like this are so popular that they’ve become a monthly event—and even then you have to literally win a lottery to snag a seat.

Hong Kong

Both the Hong Kong Airlines Embrace “Home” Kong and Flycation from HK Express, the low-cost carrier of Cathay Pacific, took off without leaving the SAR’s airspace. That means deplaning passengers wear tags that dispense them from the usual 14-day quarantine to which all other arriving travelers have to submit. Prizes and onboard shopping deals keep everybody busy on the 90-minute flights.

Brunei

Speaking of small spaces, those border-bound in a tiny sultanate could best explain why there’s now such a long waiting list for Royal Bruneis Dine and Fly flights, which take off and land at Brunei International Airport. The 85-minute flight flies over Labuan, Kota Kinabalu, Gaya Island and the jungles of northern Borneo. It also offers a chance to admire Brunei’s brand new Temburong Bridge, which at 30 kilometers is the longest in Southeast Asia, while munching on national favorites including nasi lemak (garnished rice) with ayam goreng (fried chicken).

Thailand

Thai Airways has taken a uniquely Thai approach with its “merit making” flight. Theravada Buddhists, who make up the vast majority of Thailand’s population, believe that visiting temples and sacred sites is one way to make merit, or acquire blessings that improve one’s karmic standing in the universe for this life and the next, so the airline has devised a Magical Flying Experience—a flyover of 99 holy sites in 31 provinces around the country. During the inaugural three-hour flight, celebrity fortune teller and religious historian Khata Chinbunchon led the chanting of mantras. Each passenger received prayer books and a specially designed amulet for good fortune. Even the traditional Thai desserts served on-board reflect popular symbolism, like the fish-shaped butterfly pea tinted dumpling cho muang raya sai pla that signifies fertility and prosperity.

Meanwhile, in the Covid work lull, TG has also transformed its staff cafeteria in its headquarters into one of Bangkok’s most surprisingly popular restaurants with economy (self-service), business (three-course) and first (five-course) meals on offer. The airline’s patongko (Chinese doughnut) pop-ups around Bangkok have attracted crowds of frustrated travelers who will wait hours for the fried dough and purple yam dip. Thai has begun offering its specific in-flight safety training or cooking classes with its chefs who will unveil the secrets of some of their best-loved dishes. And, both Thai and Singapore Airlines have opened their flight simulators and crew-training programs to the public.

Singapore

Which brings us to Singapore Airlines, who decided that flying their A380s to nowhere would leave too much of a carbon footprint. [For the record, other airlines are conscious of the problem: Qantas and HK Express said they would offset carbon emissions for their flights and Thai says that its A350 is 25 percent below carbon emission standards.] Instead, you can book seats in all classes—economy, premium economy, business, right up to the airline’s oh-so-exclusive first class suites—on a plane that never leaves the gate (but still requires airport security formalities). Among the rewards is a tour of the world’s largest passenger aircraft including the cockpit, practically unheard of post-9/11. The Peranakan menu was designed by celebrity chef Shermay Lee, and passengers who don traditional kebaya, cheongsam, sari or batik shirts get an added souvenir. 

Finally, the Lion City may not be able to fly to nowhere, but there is another option: Singaporeans suffering from cabin fever can now sail off into the sunset on Dream’s cruises to nowhere.

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