Last year, amid the hard closure of international borders and as the prospect of global travel ground to an indefinite halt, a number of airlines around the world started offering flights to nowhere: literally, air travel with no destination other than the very same airport from whence the plane departed.
The initiative—an attempt to diversify revenue streams and circumvent the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic—proved an improbable success. In September, a “sightseeing” flight to nowhere advertised by Australian airline Qantas sold out in less than 10 minutes. According to CEO Alan Joyce, that probably made it the “fastest selling flight in Qantas history.”
Now it appears to have been beaten.
This week, a Qantas flight to nowhere that promised passengers the chance to view a rare supermoon from 40,000 feet sold out in the “record time” of two-and-a-half minutes.
The exclusive, one-off “Supermoon Scenic Flight” will depart Sydney on Wednesday, May 26, for what the airline is billing as a “two-and-a-half-hour sojourn through the southern sky.”
“After taking in the Sydney Harbour nightlights on departure, the aircraft will climb above any cloud cover and head east out over the Pacific Ocean,” the Qantas website states. “Onboard our B787 Dreamliner aircraft, featuring the biggest windows on any passenger aircraft, enjoy mother nature's night lights at 40,000 feet, followed by a viewing of the rising of the supermoon which also happens to be a total lunar eclipse, a highly unusual double act.”
Tickets for the flight—which started at AUS $499 for an economy ticket (US $386), or $1,499 for a business class ticket (US $1,160)—went on sale at the strike of 12PM AEST on Wednesday. Less than half an hour later, Qantas revealed on Twitter that “Due to overwhelming support for this special flight, we have sold out in record time!”
The airline created a waitlist for more tickets, but this has since closed too.
The projected lunar event on May 26 will be 2021’s second supermoon, which occurs when a full Moon is near its closest point to Earth in its orbit, thus appearing larger and brighter than usual. This particular supermoon will also coincide with a total lunar eclipse—meaning, according to NASA, that “over several hours, the Moon will pass through Earth's shadow, causing it to darken and usually become reddish in colour.”
Qantas’ previous flight to nowhere promised low level flybys of unique destinations across Australia including the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Sydney Harbour. But while Australia’s national airline is breaking records with the initiative, it’s worth noting that the “flights to nowhere” gimmick hasn’t taken off for everyone.
In September, Singapore Airlines was forced to cancel their roundabout flight following condemnation from environmental experts and activists. In a statement, environmental activism group SG Climate Rally said the service “encourages carbon-intensive travel for no good reason.”
Amid these controversies, Qantas claimed in the lead-up to its first flight to nowhere that it would offset 100 percent of the carbon emissions. But not everyone was satisfied with this solution.
“This flight may go nowhere but planet-wrecking emissions have to go somewhere. That somewhere is straight into the atmosphere where they contribute to climate breakdown,” a spokesperson for Australian environmental organization Friends of the Earth told CNN Travel last year. “With the climate crisis as severe as it is we need to keep flight numbers below what they were before the coronavirus pandemic, not add more on what is essentially the definition of a pointless trip.”
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