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Sept. 16, 2020, 1:00 p.m. EDT

Check in, but don’t fly? Airlines launch ‘flights to nowhere’

‘Plane-themed’ cafes are springing up in Thailand

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By Lina Saigol

MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images, iStockphoto

All the fuss of air travel without actually going anywhere?

Airlines are hoping that the peculiar concept has some appeal for passengers desperate to satisfy their wanderlust while grappling with coronavirus limitations.

They’re called “no-destination” flights, an idea that comes as airlines entertain ways to boost cash flow amid a severe slump in passenger demand caused by the pandemic.

Singapore Airlines /zigman2/quotes/208369943/delayed SG:C6L +2.71%  , for example, is considering launching a “flight to nowhere” from Changi Airport, starting in October. Basically, the passengers will board the plane, fly around for a few hours, and come back — a quirky round-trip that could also include staycations at the city’s hotels and limousine ferry rides, according to a report in the Straits Times .

This after Singapore Airlines said on Sept. 10 it would cut around 4,300 positions across its airlines. “As previously indicated, the Group expects to operate under 50% of its capacity at the end of financial year 2020/21 versus pre-COVID levels. Industry groups have also forecast that passenger traffic will not return to previous levels until around 2024,” the company said in a statement .

Then there’s Taiwan’s Songshan airport, which is already offering its own version of a “flight to nowhere.” The concept here is to allow people to check in, clear airport security and board a plane only to disembark shortly afterwards without ever having left the ground.

Separately, on Aug. 8, EVA Air offered what amounted to a sightseeing tour, with a special flight to satisfy passengers’ desire to go abroad on a “Hello Kitty” designed plane . The trip, which took around 2 hours and 45 minutes, passed through the northeastern corner of Taiwan, and flew over the western end of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan.

“Due to the global epidemic, the international tourism market has been temporarily closed for more than half a year, and the public’s “I really want to go abroad” are becoming more and more intense. To satisfy passengers’ desire to go abroad, EVA Air specially selected the special flight EVA Air ‘New Experience of Going Abroad,’” the company said in a statement at the time.

The deal included free Wi-Fi text messaging service on board as well as a meal of seafood chirashi-sushi rice designed by Michelin three-star chef Motokazu Nakamura, as well as beef sambal noodles. The cost was 5,288 yuan ($780), with the option of upgrading to business class for another 1,000 yuan.

In August, Japan’s All Nippon Airways carried out a 90-minute sightseeing flight of its own on one of its Flying Honu A380 aircraft from Tokyo’s Narita Airport, allowing passengers to enjoy a Hawaiian resort experience at the airport and on board, including drinks like pineapple juice, and turtle-themed souvenirs.

Japan’s First Airlines has also joined the trend. It is offering passengers the chance to “fly” to a number of destinations, including New York, Rome, Paris and Hawaii in a flight that only takes around 120 minutes.

The novel initiatives from airlines come as the industry struggles to recover from the pandemic and individuals remain hesitant to fly amid travel restrictions and rapidly-changing quarantine measures. The International Air Transport Association is predicting that air travel won’t return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024 , a year later than previously projected.

Read: Airlines want people to believe that air travel is safe during the pandemic, but travelers are skeptical

Meanwhile, “plane-themed” cafes are springing up in Thailand, allowing consumers to drink coffee on old airplanes without actually going anywhere.

Coffee War 331 Station in Sattahip, Chonburi province, for example, serves customers on board a retired Airbus A330 commercial plane previously operated by Thai Airways.

According to Newsflare , customer Sara Chen, 25, said the cafe felt like she was inside a real plane—taking pictures to post on Instagram /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -2.47%  where people believed she was in midair. “I closed my eyes and imagined I was really in the sky,’’ she said.

SG : Singapore: SGX
$ 4.93
+0.13 +2.71%
Volume: 4.35M
Sept. 21, 2021 10:51a
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$14.32 billion
Rev. per Employee
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 355.70
-9.02 -2.47%
Volume: 19.82M
Sept. 20, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
Dividend Yield
Market Cap
$1028.31 billion
Rev. per Employee

Lina Saigol is the London-based head of corporate news in the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions for MarketWatch and Barron’s Group.

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