Some airlines are circumventing strict travel policies to market offbeat experiences to bring back aviation for travel-starved jet setters — sort of.
Whether it’s dining on a grounded plane or taking a two-hour flight to nowhere, these novel experiences are also aimed to help struggling airlines stay afloat while the coronavirus pandemic suppresses air travel worldwide.
"With international travel significantly curtailed, many airlines—especially in smaller countries like Singapore—are scrounging for new sources of revenue,” said Scott Keyes, founder, and chief flight expert at Scott’s Cheap Flights.
But these unorthodox offerings likely won’t outlast the pandemic, Keyes said, once air travel returns to normal.
‘Hunt for nostalgia’
Singapore Airlines recently ran a new promotion for an onboard dining experience on a stationary aircraft. The event was met with so much fanfare that it sold out within 30 minutes. Since then, four additional days have been added and tickets range from $39 to $236.
In Thailand, Thai Airways launched a flight-themed cafe with plane seats and in-flight meals to help boost revenue while it goes through a business restructuring. The set-up even features an airstair at its entrance to make you feel like you’re boarding the plane.
Other airlines are selling their frozen in-flight meals to people at home.
“Though in normal times airplane food is about as popular as a skin rash, people are yearning for a sense of normalcy in 2020,” Keyes said, “and that hunt for nostalgia is resulting in some unexpected desires like airplane food."
‘Watching the Earth from 30,000 feet
For those who actually miss flying, flights to nowhere are popping up. On these flights, passengers aren’t simply take joy rides at 30,000 feet. Passengers board planes, leave their luggage at home, and take a boomerang flight path. The aircraft departs from and arrives at the same airport without ever landing.
Last month, Australian carrier Qantas advertised such a flight optimized for sightseeing and the seven-hour excursion departing from and returning to Sydney on October 10 sold out in 10 minutes — the fastest-selling flight in the airline’s history. A ticket on-board for the unique set customers back anywhere from $566 to $2,734.
The Qantas flight’s popularity isn’t an indication of rising popularity, but are meant for a group the industry affectionately refers to as “aviation geeks,” who like “watching the Earth from 30,000 feet and taking in what it all looks like,” he said.
“I find it very, very hard to believe that this dynamic would exist in an alternate reality where the pandemic hadn’t existed,” Keyes said. “Go back to 2019, these flights to nowhere weren’t being flown, and the reason why was that there wasn't really demand. You could fly most places normally and easily, and not have to be excited about the prospect of flying for flying sake.”
‘They have to basically fly these flights anyway’
While flights to nowhere offer some upside for airlines, they are not moneymakers, either, Keyes said, as the industry is experiencing bookings down 80% since 2019.
Planes have to fly for mechanical reasons and commercial crews require flight time to keep their licensing in good standing — with or without passengers.
“They have to basically fly these flights anyway,” Keyes said.
Once the pandemic is comfortably behind us and passenger numbers rebound, these flights likely won’t continue — at least using the same large planes — because the demand will evaporate.
“I think people, in general, would rather travel somewhere than travel nowhere,” Keyes said. “People are so starved for being able to travel and see things other than the inside of their apartment that something like a flight to nowhere actually has an appeal right now in a way that wouldn't normally.”