Cash-strapped airlines across Southeast Asia are coming up with ways to earn money during the pandemic with "flights to nowhere" as the lack of international travel pushes the aviation industry into the red.
But Thailand's struggling national carrier is taking the idea up a notch with routes over sacred Buddhist sites in a bid to bring in more revenue and stimulate the domestic tourism sector.
The three-hour flights start taking off on Nov. 30 and will feature in-flight chanting by Dr. Khata Chinbunchon, a celebrity fortune teller and religious history expert, while flying over 99 sacred sites across 31 provinces in the Buddhist-majority country.
Calling it a "Magical Flying experience,” the company told VICE News that the idea was to offer a "flight to nowhere" with a unique Thai Airways twist.
"[We] expected it to be fully booked as it earns significant public interest," it said.
Tickets cost $195 for economy class and $322 for the business seats. Two dates were sold out in less than an hour.
The deal is one of many that the airline is trying as it faces major financial woes combined with the added economic pressure of the pandemic, which has erased Thailand's lucrative tourism industry. Border closures in Thailand and across the world to curb the spread of the coronavirus pushed the airline further into debt.
People sit on airplane seats as they dine in at a Thai Airways pop-up airplane-themed restaurant at the airline's headquarters in Bangkok on Sept. 10, 2020. PHOTO: Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
Thailand was not as badly affected by the pandemic compared to neighboring countries. It recently allowed a group of Chinese tourists to come in and has started to offer long-term visas though they are not easy to get.
A Thai Airways official said the flight was part of the government's attempt to focus on domestic tourism. As early as September, authorities reopened national parks and attractions within the country to attract local visitors, but it cannot compete with the estimated 40 million people that came to the country in 2019.
In September, the airline launched a themed restaurant at its Bangkok headquarters that features airplane seats and on board dining experience for travel-starved passengers. The restaurant employs flight attendants in uniform and serves around 2,000 meals a day.
The company is even making a foray into the dough fritter business by selling the snacks in a number of stores. And to raise even more revenue, Thai Airways has also been repurposing old safety vests and rafts into fashionable handbags and tote bags. The upcycled collection called “Re-Life has been sold out and is now available by order.