This time last year, a Flight to Nowhere might have seemed like an untenable idea. Who would willingly go through the hassle of air travel just to come right back where they started? Today, though? Several airlines across the globe are looking into the feasibility of this unique business idea.
Qantas Airways Limited recently announced a sightseeing “flight to nowhere,” and the flight sold out in less than 10 minutes. CEO Alan Joyce called it, “Probably the fastest-selling flight in Qantas history …”
There’s a lot of context that led to this successful idea for Qantas. Air travel in and out of Australia has been very restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many international flights are grounded, and travelers clearly miss the rush of takeoff and the unparalleled views of the earth from the Jetstream. This is a dynamic that Joyce says his company was counting on when they announced the flight: “People clearly miss travel and the experience of flying. If the demand is there, we’ll look at doing more of these scenic flights while we all wait for borders to open …”
This particular flight was billed as a seven-hour “loop” that took passengers over Queensland, the Gold Coast, New South Wales and several Outback locations. Peering out windows, passengers enjoyed birds-eye views of the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbor, as well as low-flying glimpses of Uluru and Bondi Beach.
But Qantas wasn’t done with features and benefits for this tour. The company booked a “surprise” celebrity host along with in-flight entertainment, all aboard a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has, among other signature amenities, oversized windows, which make it ideal for sightseeing from above the clouds.
The idea appears to be catching on in some places, especially in Asia, where travel remains severely restricted. Air Taiwan hosted a Hello-Kitty themed “flight to nowhere” in August, and All Nippon Airways offered a shorter scenic flight later that month. Now, other countries are considering offering similar “scenic” flights.
Flights to nowhere present a tremendous opportunity for airlines to accomplish multiple marketplace goals. First, airlines restricted by COVID-based travel bans or regulations can get more paying customers back on their planes. It may not be nearly the volume they had before, but full planes in the air are better than empty planes on the runway.
Second, these “flights to nowhere” remind customers what they offer, and these flights can do so in unique ways. Instead of the customer thinking primarily about their destination, they are focused almost entirely on the flight experience. This gives the airline a chance to win customers and develop customer loyalty by showcasing what they offer. This is huge from a PR perspective because it works as a wide-open opportunity for the brand to define itself and build a deeper connection with the customer.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR firm.