What Exactly Was—Or Is—A “Flight To Nowhere”?

As we start to see the horizon of the COVID-19-related lifestyle changes, we can start to look back on the things we did and how they made sense at the time. Some things made more sense than others. Sanitizing every surface, up to and including individual pieces of fruit? Made perfect sense a year ago when we weren’t really sure all the ways COVID-19 could be transmitted. Now the CDC says we don’t need to do so much wiping down, calling much of it “hygiene theater“.

Something tells me we’ll still buy as many Clorox wipes as the store will let us for quite a while. Call it instinct. Call it conditioning.

Other things didn’t make much sense then, and make less sense now. Like “flights to nowhere”. Similar to the SEPTA regional rail trips that start and end at 30th Street after a 45-minute delay near the zoo (how are there always line issues?), these flights to nowhere were lengthy trips offered by airlines that started and ended at the same airport. These never really took off in the U.S., likely because 1) we have a lot of places we can actually drive to, 2) travel restrictions were never really enforced here, and 3) can you imagine paying for the privilege of going through security and boarding in Cleveland, sitting in coach as you fly over Ohio and Indiana, and returning to Cleveland?!

But in countries where these options weren’t possible—largely island nations with limited overland sight-seeing, much stronger travel restrictions, and better air travel options than offered in the U.S.—they were and are popular. Curious as to what these actually entailed or currently entail?

Chimu Adventures, a travel experience company, is currently offering flights to nowhere. They have chartered a 787 Dreamliner from Australian airline Qantas and are taking guests into the Southern Lights. The 10-hour(!) flight leaves & lands in Sydney, flies south into the Antarctic Circle, includes two meals and complete beverage service, and can be yours for anywhere from $1,000 to $7,100 a seat. Other flights offered to travel-restricted Australians included trips over the remnants of the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Outback, and even over Antarctica.

Over in Japan, one flight-to-nowhere experience included 90-minute “flights to Hawaii”, which involved staff in floral shirts, tropical cocktails in the air, a passenger gift of a toy plane with a whale on it(?), and not much else. Several planes in Japan were converted to dining rooms for in-flight meal experiences, and they even did some VR flights, where guests boarded a grounded plane, put on virtual reality goggles, and enjoyed a completely simulated flight. Weird for COVID, but weirder still is that these VR flights have been a thing in Japan since 2017.

The whole thing seems expensive, time consuming, and pointless looking back with 2021 vision. But we all did things last year we wouldn’t normally do. Heck, how many of us watched “Tiger King”, had a Zoom “happy hour”, or tried to make sourdough starters?

Personally, if I ever got to missing the flight experience too long, I’d just go to my neighborhood Target. I can go there and stand in ridiculously long lines, pay an inflated price for Starbucks, be met with disinterest by people in uniforms who probably don’t need to have uniforms but nonetheless have uniforms, find myself in a crowd I’d rather not be in for way too long, hear a screaming child but never actually see the screaming child, and wrap the whole thing up by trying to herd all my stuff outside to then hunt for my car. And I wouldn’t have to pay for parking.

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