(CNN) – After months of almost non-stop work during the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Fiona Downes said it was “like being back home” to go to nowhere on board the seven-hour round trip from Qantas.
Downes, a Qantas frequent flyer, spent unused points on a business class ticket on board the Australian airline’s scenic Great Southern Land flight.
“It was like a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she tells CNN Travel.
Qantas flight QF787 took off from Sydney on Saturday, October 10, and flew over the Australian metropolis before taking up locations from Byron Bay and the Gold Coast to the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. It ended the trip by arriving exactly where it started.
The flight was organized by the Australian airline to generate revenue and accommodate passengers after much of the fleet was suspended due to the pandemic due to the cancellation of international flights.
Only 150 seats were offered on the plane – from Business Class to Premium Economy to Economy and costs between 787 and 3,787 AUD (566 and 2,734 US dollars). They were only available to Australian residents as the Australian borders have been closed since March.
However, the flight has sparked controversy, with critics pointed out that there was little justification for the environmental damage without the excuse of getting from A to B.
Aboard a Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner, passengers saw the Australian landmarks from a spectacular vantage point as the aircraft temporarily descended to approximately 4,000 feet.
It was the promise of these unbeatable prospects that led finance professional and travel and aviation enthusiast Ke Huang to purchase an economy ticket for flight QF787.
“Flying low over these places was really unique,” Huang told CNN.
Passenger Ke Huang took this picture of Sydney from the Qantas flight.
Courtesy Ke Huang
Passengers boarding the flight were offered goodie bags to commemorate the occasion. Cushions on the seats were embroidered with the name of the flight. Travelers enjoyed airplane editions of classic Australian meals.
There was no traditional onboard entertainment on the seat back screen. Instead, the outside landscape took center stage, along with the occasional in-aisle cast.
As soon as the flight took off and Sydney was lit in the late morning sunshine, passengers took photos out of the city window. It was just a taste of what was to come.
The 787 is also known for its large windows, making it ideal for aerial tours.
Flying at low altitude allowed travelers to enjoy the view.
Courtesy Ke Huang
“I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef several times, I’ve been to Uluru several times – but to actually fly an airplane this size, something that is really big and very comfortable, and you’re in business class and you look out of it Window and that landmark is right next to you – I don’t think the experience could repeat itself, “says Downes.
In the economy cabin, the middle seats have been left open to allow social distancing. Other health and safety measures have also been put in place to protect passengers from Covid-19.
The flight flew over the Great Barrier Reef.
James D. Morgan / Getty Images
According to Ke Huang, Qantas did a good job ensuring everyone had the opportunity to admire the view, no matter where they sat.
The atmosphere on board was “positive, joyful and exciting,” he adds.
“When we flew over the highlights, people were certainly glued to the windows and were amazed,” says Huang.
According to Fiona Downes, the fun started in the airport lounge, where there was a “real party atmosphere” that extended into the flight.
“Anyone who was there could say that they really wanted to be there,” says Downes. She says the crew is just as enthusiastic as they are efficient and organized.
And it didn’t feel strange, say the passengers, to be back where they started seven hours later.
Impact on the environment
Passengers on board the flight take a look at the view from the window.
James D. Morgan / Getty Images
Amid the controversy about flying to nowhere at a time of climate crisis, Qantas said it would offset 100% of the flight’s CO2 emissions.
The move wasn’t enough to quell some critics.
“This flight has nowhere to go, but the emissions that are destroying the planet have to go somewhere. This place goes straight into the atmosphere, where they help protect the climate,” a Friends of the Earth spokesman told CNN Travel.
“Given the severe climate crisis, we need to keep flight numbers below the pre-coronavirus pandemic and no longer add to the definition of a pointless trip.”
Passenger Huang says he understands why some consider flying to nowhere “excessive”, but he was reassured that the ticket price included a contribution to Qantas’ carbon offsetting program.
“I think we made a conscious choice to fly, but we also made a conscious choice to agree to the carbon offset program, so we agreed to those terms,” he says.
Downes says she debated whether or not to buy a ticket before settling on it because there were fundraisers that support good causes too.
“I think, I think that overall we have stopped all flights. So when a flight like this takes off, people have fun seeing things they wouldn’t have experienced before and there is an element of charity too, overall I think that’s a good thing, “she says.
As international travel continues to be restricted, flights to nowhere become more common.
In August, EVA Air operated a flight to Taiwan into nowhere aboard its Hello Kitty-themed A330 Dream jet.
Meanwhile, All Nipon Airways (ANA) also conducted a short scenic flight in Japan in August, which the airline said was intended to replicate “the Hawaiian resort experience,” with 300 travelers boarding the 1.5-hour flight.
And Qantas is currently planning charter flights through Antarctica starting in November, which will allow passengers on board a 787 Dreamliner to enjoy icy views between takeoff and landing from Sydney.
This story has been updated with comments from friends of the earth.