News Transport

The flights to nowhere: how airlines are combatting COVID

As many international borders remain closed, some airlines have taken to offering ‘flightseeing’ services.

Although Taiwan has been widely praised for its response to the pandemic, the island’s international borders remain closed for the foreseeable, leaving many concerned for the future of its airlines.

But that hasn’t stopped major carrier Eva Air from taking to the skies. Last weekend, they took a big step towards changing the way people travel in the wake of COVID-19 by offering passengers the chance to take a flight to… well, nowhere.

To celebrate Taiwanese Father’s Day, the airline – who were recently voted as one of the Top 10 Airlines in the World by TripAdvisor – ran a special Hello Kitty-themed service on 8 August. Departing from Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, the three-hour flight circled over Japan’s Ryukyu Islands before heading south along the island’s east coast and back to the capital.

The plane used for the journey was an A330 with a special Sanrio-themed livery, featuring many Sanrio characters such as Hello Kitty and her best pal, My Melody. Passengers onboard the service enjoyed a three-course meal prepared by Michelin-starred chef, Motokazu Nakamura, and were able to enjoy free Wi-Fi and an in-flight entertainment system normally reserved for long-haul trips. Tickets started from TWD5,288 (around £140) for the experience.

Speaking to Nikkei Review, a spokesperson for Eva Air explained that the sales for the Father’s Day flight had been so great that they have already signed off another special service for next weekend.

Last month, Eva Air allowed a handful of travellers to board a plane grounded at the recently revamped Songshan Airport in Taipei. Travellers were chosen via a Facebook competition, with 180 being chosen from the 7,000 who entered.

The randomly selected passengers were among the first to experience the new facilities at the airport, with the half-day tour taking them through check-in, passport control and boarding. In-flight meals were not provided, however, but passengers were allowed to dine at one of the airport restaurants.

The advent of flightseeing

The ‘flightseeing’ initiative is taking off with other airlines, too. China Airlines, the country’s largest carrier and Eva Air’s main competitor, are offering a similar package on departing from Taoyuan on 15 August. The two-hour flight is catered to children who want to try their hand being cabin crew for the day.

Also beginning later this year, Australian carrier Qantas will be running a host of sightseeing services over Antarctica, in partnership with Antarctica Flights. Departing from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, the 12-hour flight onboard a 787-Dreamliner will offer ‘unparalleled views’ over the continent’s dramatic landscape.

Passengers can expect at least four hours’ viewing time over the ice, and the airline will offer 19 different routes – meaning that no two flights will be the same. Travellers will not be required to present a passport for the trip, and luggage is not required.

Prices start at AUS$1,119 (£612) for an Economy Seat (which strangely have no access to a window) and peak at AUS$7,999 (£4,300) for one of the four seats in Business Class Deluxe, where passengers will be expected to swap halfway through the service to make use of the window.