I believed ‘flights to nowhere’ had been foolish. Then I went on one.
Hong Kong (CNN) – I’ve been on a couple of flights with people clapping when the plane landed. But it was the first time I was on a plane that everyone clapped when it took off.
Hong Kong Express, a low-cost airline based in Hong Kong, is – as you might have guessed from the name – the newest airline to offer sightseeing flights nowhere. Airplanes land at the same destination from which they took off without stopping anywhere else.So far, such flights have been popular. Qantas’s seven-hour sightseeing flights across Australia, which promised scenic aerial views of Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, sold out in 10 minutes.
Not only do these flights give airlines a chance to make up for lost profits, they also give aviation freaks a chance to soar back into the sky and enjoy some little extras.
EVA Air’s special Hello Kitty plane might have gone nowhere, but passengers have limited Hello Kitty loot on board.
Although the idea of these flights seemed kind of silly to me at first – do you have to deal with all the airport security hassle and then have nothing to show? – When I found out that an airline in my hometown had one, I just couldn’t resist.
The way to work
My favorite way to get to the airport is on the high-speed express train that leaves from Hong Kong Station.
As everywhere in the city, the train station is full of signs reminding people to keep their masks. However, I felt daring enough to slide mine off for a bit to have a drink of water. Mask removal in Hong Kong is currently illegal and I felt a slight hint of danger even though no one was there to see me. (After all, it’s not hard to distance yourself socially when you’re the only person on the platform.)
Although a few other stragglers boarded the train at the other stops in Kowloon and Tsing Yi, I had a whole car to myself for the half-hour ride. I took advantage of both the free phone chargers and the free wifi.
The express train is generally a pleasant experience, but doing it with no baggage was a game changer. Or at least a shoulder changer.
arrival at the airport
Despite the fact that we did not leave Hong Kong airspace, all passengers still had to go through normal security processes at the airport. That meant taking my passport out of storage and tucking a pair of socks in my purse in case I had to take off my sandals.
Temperature surveys have been present at Hong Kong International Airport since the days of SARS and avian flu. However, elevated logs meant that there were many free bottles of hand sanitizer stationed throughout the terminal and cleaning staff were constantly on hand.
It’s good that there weren’t a lot of security queues – at the last minute I had to pull things out of my pockets and take my Kindle out of my sleeve. It’s official: I’m out of practice. A year ago I would have grumbled roughly to someone else for doing the same thing with the security scanners.
Most of the shops and restaurants at the airport were closed and there were more signs asking people to distance themselves socially than people who distance themselves socially.
The upside: the bathrooms were spotless.
The downside: not being on an international flight meant the duty free shop was banned.
In my work as a travel writer and editor, I flew at least once a month. If traveling is your job, it takes some glamor away from you – every stale $ 12 pastry and loud snorer quickly adds up.
But as the plane slowly moved away from the gate, I found myself strangely emotional. Suddenly we burst into spontaneous applause.
A representative from Hong Kong Express had told us that one of the motivations behind their flights to nowhere was to remind people of the magic of travel. Thirty seconds after the flight began, I felt like I was holding my breath. I thought of my late grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression and didn’t fly on an airplane until she was in her thirties.
It’s easy to forget that aviation is a miracle.
I’m usually a strict gangster. The 75-minute tour around Hong Kong was all about the window.
However, it wasn’t just the lack of a final destination that made this flight different. There was no food or drink service – easier to store masks that way – and no luggage. Boarding was spread out and all middle seats locked. It was more than just a pleasure cruise in the sky, it was a look at what flying is likely to be like when it resumes around the world.
Currently, everyone who comes to Hong Kong is subject to a 14-day quarantine, either at home or in an approved hotel.
To make sure that the passengers on the Hong Kong Express flight were not included in the quarantine group, we were given light purple lanyards on arrival. It was like quarantine was a vampire and our lanyards were garlic, but the system worked.
Although I don’t have jet lag or stamp in my passport, my trip to nowhere ended up feeling a little – just a little – like a vacation.