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Why NZ won’t get ‘flights to nowhere’ like Aussies get with Qantas

Why NZ won’t get ‘flights to nowhere’ like Aussies get with Qantas

Private and public services were held in New Zealand to mark 40 years since the country’s worst peace time disaster. Image: AP

It’s with some mirth that Kiwis observed travel-starved Aussies rushing to board “flights to nowhere” last week.

Despite the circular route, Qantas’ “joy flight” over the outback sold out in 10 minutes. A spokesperson for the airline said the 150 seats of the 787 was “probably the fastest-selling flight in Qantas history”.

Seats on the circular flight scheduled for October 10 cost upwards of $787, and were in huge demand.

The Australian carrier is not the first to float the idea of “flights to nowhere”. Airlines in Brunei, Taiwan and Japan have already been taking plane loads of physically distanced passengers for aerial sightseeing tours.

Passengers seem thrilled with the idea, and the airlines are delighted. While international travel is disrupted, these carriers are able to find a use for the mid-range jets, which would otherwise sit unused, costing money.

Not everyone is thrilled with the arrangement, though.

Climate campaigners have denounced the joy flights as “simply emissions for the sake of it”.

Anna Hughes, director of the UK branch of Flight Free, told the Guardian that Qantas’ flight was a sign of our over-reliance on air travel.

“If that’s the society we’ve built, where we’re that addicted to flying, then we have a serious problem,” she said.

“I understand why they are doing it – but it really is insanity.”

New Zealand flyers are just as curious about these flight “experiences”. Who has $1000 and seven hours to spend on a plane without a holiday on the other end of it?

And why hasn’t the business taken off there?

Just 40 years ago, New Zealand was home to one of the most ambitious joy flight services in the world. The Antarctic scenic flights operated by Air New Zealand might have been the most spectacular “flights to nowhere” ever to exist.

Flying 13 hours from Auckland to McMurdo Sound and back again, the seats cost $NZ329 – or around $1600 today.

Despite the price tag, the flights were hugely popular. In the three years operated – between 1977 and 1980 – Air New Zealand and Qantas carried about 10,000 paying passengers on circular flights over the frozen continent.

Providing in-flight commentary from experienced Antarctic explorers and in-flight meals, it was a bucket-list flight for aviation enthusiasts. The service was “solidly booked”, with many passengers having to book onto later fares. Behind Kiwis, the flight was popular with Japanese and American passengers – some of whom went to New Zealand specifically for the trip.

However, on November 28, 1979, the service went from being the “opportunity of a lifetime” to “unsellable” after ill-fated flight TE901 crashed into Mount Erebus on…

Thomas Bywater, NZ Herald

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