By Monica Humphries
Like many industries, the novel coronavirus forced the travel industry to adapt in 2020.
As months progressed, borders remained closed and travel restrictions continued, so airlines launched “flights to nowhere.”
Sometimes called scenic flights or sightseeing flights, they’re exactly what you imagine: You get the entire airport and airline experience, but instead of landing in a new destination at the end of the flight, you arrive at the same airport you departed from.
The absurd thing? They’re selling out in a matter of minutes.
A Qantas Airlines’ scenic flight around Australia sold out in just 10 minutes in September — one of the quickest selling flights in the airline’s history.
More than 50,000 people applied for a seat on Japan’s All Nippon Airways Hawaii-themed flight in August. Representatives for All Nippon Airways did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
And the three hundred seats for a Hello Kitty-themed flight with EVA Air in Taiwan were quickly snatched up after the airline announced the flight in August.
But between cramped quarters, risk of exposure, and a waste of natural resources, I don’t understand why people are taking these flights. I consider it the dumbest travel trend of 2020.
The flights feel purpose-less and reckless
Business Insider’s Alesandra Dubin spoke with a variety of aviation and medical experts to look at the risks associated with flying, and the answer was clear: It’s not risk-free.
“Safe is a relative term,” Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, told Dubin. “Particularly for longer flights, even with good mask usage, you’re getting into the more moderate risk zone as opposed to low risk.”
Although airplanes can filter air fast and effectively, passengers are still in close proximity to others for hours at a time.
Airports are also risky, as crowds often form for ticketing, security, and boarding.
Royal Brunei launched its “Dine and Fly” experience, where passengers enjoy a local meal and fly around the country during an 85-minute flight. Just below the flight’s wonders and amenities is an important reminder.
“Gentle reminder to constantly self-monitor and refrain from travel if you feel unwell or show any intermittent symptoms of fever, cough, or breathlessness,” the website states. Representatives for Royal Brunei Airlines did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The reminder doesn’t feel gentle. It’s the glaring message that passengers could still spread the virus and that this pandemic isn’t over.
EVA Air noted in a press statement sent to Insider that Taiwan, where the airline has launched 10 scenic flights, has only 679 cases and seven deaths, and many of the countries where these scenic flights take place have done a better job than the US at handling the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating there is a lower risk.
Going grocery shopping, visiting the doctor’s office, or taking public transportation are also risky. But those tasks serve a purpose. Scenic flights do not.
A bird’s eye view of a climate crisis
Airlines have numerous motivators for launching flights to nowhere.
In a press statement sent to Insider, Eva Air said flights to nowhere would help pilots maintain their licenses, flight attendants “keep their skill sets polished and refreshed,” and aircrafts stay in service.
As for the passengers who take them, some said they missed the experience of traveling. Others craved the in-flight snacks. (To understand their reasoning better, I lurked in the comment sections of Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.)
Some wanted to support the struggling airline industry, while others wanted to see their home countries from a new perspective.
People were thrilled at the opportunity to fly over some of Australia’s pristine landscapes and see a bird’s-eye view of the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Harbor, and Bryon Bay.
But the contradiction couldn’t be more obvious: As passengers look over the water into the Great Barrier Reef, the plane is pumping harmful carbon dioxide into the air, contributing to the coral reef’s approaching death.
“Concerns about emissions and climate change are very real, but we can’t lose sight of the contribution that air travel makes to society and the economy,” a Qantas spokesperson said when the flight was announced. “The solution isn’t to simply ‘not fly’ but rather to make it more sustainable.”
The environmental destruction the airline industry has caused shouldn’t be forgotten for a few hours to nowhere.
In 2019, global air travel emissions accounted for 915 million tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Air Transport Action Group. Those emissions are the equivalent of Germany’s and the Netherlands’ emissions combined.
A Qantas spokesperson said that the scenic flight operated with net-zero emissions, and in a press statement sent to Insider, an Eva Air representative said that the company used a more fuel-efficient aircraft.
But from an environmental stance, it would make more sense to avoid a “flight to nowhere” altogether.
Singapore Airlines planned to hop on the “flights to nowhere” bandwagon, but after facing criticism from environmental groups, it abandoned the idea.
On an individual level, cutting back on flying is one of the largest, and easiest, things I can do to help fight climate change.
Before the pandemic, I battled with “flygskam,” the Swedish term for “flight shame.” It’s the guilt of going on vacation or visiting family while knowingly contributing to the world’s climate crisis.
While I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be flying at all, I’d imagine I’d have more flygskam on a “flight to nowhere.”
Are people really missing the airport?
I remember my first flight and feeling the plane’s wheels lift off the ground. My stomach dropped — just like it does on roller coasters, and 6-year-old me was thrilled.
I decided I loved flying. And I still do.
But I despise the airport.
I hate the worry that my bag will weigh a pound or two too much. I hate feeling herded through security lines and having strangers dig through my bags. And I absolutely hate everyone immediately standing when the flight lands to get ushered off the aircraft.
The list goes on, and truthfully, it’s much longer than the list of reasons why I like flying.
As the travel bug itches inside of me, I can tell you the last thing I’m considering is a flight to nowhere. Instead, I’ll opt for safer and less carbon-intensive travels, like a road trip with my pandemic pod, a scenic train ride, or a virtual exploration of the Great Barrier Reef.
And I can promise you that I won’t be heading to the airport anytime soon without a destination in mind.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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