Wow: Over 15,000 Passengers Fly On South Korean Flights To Nowhere

Flights to nowhere have taken South Korea by storm, with thousands of passengers taking scores of flights since…

Wow: Over 15,000 Passengers Fly On South Korean Flights To Nowhere

Flights to nowhere have taken South Korea by storm, with thousands of passengers taking scores of flights since travel restrictions and border closures thwarted more conventional travel plans. With flights to nowhere to continue in South Korea throughout 2021, the already impressive statistics will keep rising.

Korean Air is one of seven South Korean airlines offering flights to nowhere. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

Over 150 flights to nowhere have flown in South Korea

According to data recently released by the Korea Customs Service, 15,983 passengers have taken a ride on 152 flights to nowhere. Seven South Korean airlines have offered the flights. Whether passengers were keen for the ride or just needed to spend some money, Simple Flying isn’t sure. But between them, those 15,983 passengers spent US$20 million on duty-free shopping. Nearly half, or 7,266 passengers, spent more than $600 on duty-free booze. 

Of the seven airlines operating flights to nowhere, Asiana Airlines low-cost subsidiary Air Busan operated the most, with 35 flights. Jeju Air has run 34 flights to nowhere, followed by Jin Air with 33 flights. Trailing but still active in the flights to nowhere space are T’way Air, Air Seoul, Asiana, and Korean Air.

Low-cost carrier Jeju Air has offer flights to nowhere. Photo: Getty Images

Retail therapy drives the demand for flights to nowhere

These South Korean flights to nowhere are particularly interesting because of their strong focus on duty-free shopping. The South Korean Government allows the flights to happen to help prop up both local airlines and the local duty-free industry. That’s fair enough – airport retailers are frequently among the forgotten amid the travel downturn.

But what was a tightly controlled sideline for airlines and the other players in the industry has exploded in South Korea. The South Korean Government has allowed  over the last year. Over that time, the rationale for the flights has also shifted.

While flights to nowhere or scenic flights in many other countries are about recapturing the flying experience, that doesn’t seem to be the case in South Korea. A recent  provides an interesting insight into these flights. Bloomberg detailed a two-hour flight to nowhere on Air Busan.

Global duty-free retailer Lotte organized the flight for 130 of its best customers. Those customers paid nothing for the flight. But they were expected to spend up big on Lotte duty-free. This flight was one of six flights to nowhere organized by Lotte in May alone.

The flights briefly enter Japanese airspace, thus legitimizing duty-free purchases. South Korea’s second-biggest duty-free operator, Hotel Shilla, offered two similar flights in May to its customers. Each of those flights could accommodate 114 passengers.

Flights to nowhere are proving popular with keen duty-free shoppers. Photo: Getty Images

Flights to nowhere passengers spend up big on duty-free

The Korean Customs Service says that in addition to alcohol, these passengers were spending up big on cosmetics, perfumes, and pricey bags.

“I saw a lot of people with bags full of duty-free items,” one Air Busan duty-free shopper told Bloomberg. This particular shopper left her flight on the low-cost airline armed with a new Chanel handbag – not the type of arm candy you see on your typical low-cost airline passenger. These flights don’t cover the losses incurred by duty-free operators since the travel downturn began, but they do help.

“The contribution from the flights to nowhere is small, but it’s better than having nothing,” an analyst told Bloomberg.

The full-service airlines aren’t above getting their hands dirty mixing flying with retail. Flag carrier Korean Air is among the seven airlines offering flights to nowhere. But unlike the low-cost carriers, Korean Air provides a more refined duty-free flight. Passengers pay from US$142 to $490 (depending on where you prefer to sit) and pick up their pre-ordered duty-free on the way through the airport before boarding one of the short flights out of Seoul’s Incheon International Airport. Still, it’s all about retail therapy. Says one Korean Air passenger;

“A flight to nowhere is a refreshing concept, but honestly, I don’t think I would have booked if there were no duty-free shopping benefits.”

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Some Air New Zealand Crew Have Spent Up To 100 Days In Self Isolation

Air New Zealand flight crew working flights to and from the United States are doing time in hotel…

Some Air New Zealand Crew Have Spent Up To 100 Days In Self Isolation

Air New Zealand flight crew working flights to and from the United States are doing time in hotel quarantine at taxpayer’s expense. Some crews have also spent more than 100 days self-isolating. Now, New Zealand media reports are questioning the logic and expense of the quarantine rule for flight crews.

Some Air New Zealand flight crews have spent more than 100 days in quarantine. Photo: Boeing

New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association questions quarantine requirement

According to a report by George Block in online news site Stuff, Air New Zealand flight crews coming off flights from the United States are required to quarantine in Auckland. Flight crews are completing this quarantine requirement at an upscale Auckland hotel.

In addition to scaled back passenger flight schedules, including twice-weekly Boeing 787-9 services to Los Angeles, Air New Zealand operates dedicated freighter flights to North America and around the Pacific Rim. With vaccination rates increasing on both sides of the Pacific, questions are now being asked why flight crews fresh off flights from North America have to quarantine in hotels rather than isolate at home.

Andrew Ridling, president of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association and an Air New Zealand 787-9 captain, told Stuff the requirement was ridiculous. He said some flight crews had clocked up more than 100 days in quarantine, albeit not in one block.

Ridling points to the high vaccination levels now seen in the United States. Most of Air New Zealand’s flight crews were vaccinated in March. The Air New Zealand pilot says there is no reason flight crew cannot self-isolate at home, given the low risk they present.

Presently, even after a negative test result, flight crews must remain at the Auckland hotel for some time.

Some question why vaccinated Air New Zealand flight crews have to go into quarantine. Photo: Boeing

New Zealand Government picking up the bill for flight crew quarantine

In March, health officials formally recommended the New Zealand Government dropped the quarantine requirement for flight crews off North American flights. Several months later, the Government is yet to decide on this recommendation.

Also raising eyebrows is the cost of quarantining Air New Zealand flight crews. Since late January, all returning flight crews from high-risk countries have been whisked to the Auckland hotel that’s solely dedicated to quarantining Air New Zealand flight crews. That is costing a reputed US$357,200 per month. The New Zealand Government is picking up the tab. The New Zealand Government owns over half of Air New Zealand.

However, the Government is set to stop paying the hotel bill at the end of June, handing the expense over to Air New Zealand. That may see a fresh focus on the quarantine requirement at Air New Zealand’s HQ and some concerted lobbying to end the requirement.

After June, Air New Zealand will have to pick up the hotel quarantine tab. Photo: Getty Images

Air New Zealand keeps flying amid shifting quarantine regimes

Meanwhile, Air New Zealand has gone to some lengths to work around New Zealand’s tough hotel quarantine requirements in the last 12 months. For a while, North America-bound flights were touching down in Honolulu. There, Air New Zealand had temporarily based flight crews. The Honolulu-based crews would fly the final leg to mainland North America while the Auckland-based crews operated flights back to New Zealand. The Honolulu base has since been discontinued.

Last week, Air New Zealand announced they would start basing crews in Brisbane. Those crews would operate Air New Zealand’s resuming flights between the Australian mainland and Norfolk Island. While flight crews operating flights between New Zealand and Australia are not subject to quarantine requirements, Air New Zealand knows circumstances can change quickly and is proactively working to avoid potential disruptions on this route.

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