In October 2020 Qantas airlines offered the first of its scenic joy-flights across Australia, the tickets for which sold out in ten minutes. A journey with no destination. A flight to nowhere. For a duration of seven hours. Is there a purpose to such travel?
A flight to nowhere – is it worth it?
To a business traveller this wouldn’t make sense. There is the assumption that transport should be quick, efficient and most importantly, on time. Environmental issues aside, there is an excitement when a new faster railway is implemented, or the prospect of the reintroduction of supersonic air travel. The journey is perceived as an inconvenience, the all-important destination should be reached as soon and as comfortably as possible.
But what about when it comes to leisure travel? Journeys inevitably feel more fun, the mindset is not on work, and timing is less crucial, but still the destination is the thing that travellers look forward to the most. So why travel for the sake of it? Isn’t a non-stop round-trip flight with no destination achieving nothing? To observe a quote by T.S. Eliot in a literal sense, ‘The end of all exploring will be to arrive where we started.’
Perhaps the only achievement here is releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.
Of course, this is good for the airline. This will mean not all their planes remain grounded, and Qantas say they are offsetting the carbon emissions. But big planes themselves are not designed for joy-flights. They are designed to get as many passengers as possible from one place to another. Travellers are kept busy with in-seat entertainment systems, a food and drink service, and those in first class even get the chance to sleep in beds for the duration, barely noticing that the journey ever happened.
A joy-flight would require passengers to be conscious of their surroundings in order to find the joy in it. There would be no point sleeping or watching movies when the main aim is to view Australia’s beautiful landscape. But the plane’s design is such that the windows are small. Although the 787 Dreamliner, which they are using, has slightly bigger panes than other aircraft, they still don’t offer a panoramic view. And regardless of this, the scenery could still be obscured by cloud or dust storms on the day.
The benefits of a flight to nowhere
But we have to remember the situation that we are living through. Travel is one of the industries that has suffered most during the pandemic, and the freedom to travel has been significantly curbed. Like many nations, Australians are unable to leave their country. Here is a chance for them to go on a domestic trip, to feel like travel is still possible. And there is a degree of pride associated with being able to support your country when ‘going overseas’, the phrase Antipodeans use for foreign visits, is not possible.
There is also the fact that people actually enjoy the act of flying itself, be it the excitement of take-off, the camaraderie with fellow travellers, or making good use of the drinks cart. This joy-flight provides a rare opportunity for them to experience this once more.
But even those frequent flyers who are not aficionados and who instead normally see flying as a necessary means-to-an-end, there is every possibility in this instance that the inconveniences of travel become something to be celebrated. The plane might be late taking off, the airline might run out of the required meal choice, the person in front might keep their seat reclined unnecessarily. These things that were once annoyances can be perceived as joy simply because they are occurring. It acts as a symbolic reminder of what we once had, and what we took for granted, and a taste of what we will have again. It is a flicker of normality. Moreover, it is a chance to realise that these common travel stresses we suffered pre-covid are insignificant, and that we should focus on more important elements of life.
There is the oft-quoted adage that life itself is about the journey not the destination. It is a sensible reminder; death is rarely a sought-after goal, it’s what goes on before it that qualifies as living. The freedom of movement – and all the things that involves, positive or negative – is one of the things in life that should be cherished. These joy-flights are a rediscovery of that freedom. And with no focus on a destination the journey in a sense represents the pleasure of living.
The joy of the joy-flight
The end of all exploring will be to arrive where we started, to remind us of T.S. Eliot’s words. The passengers will arrive in Sydney where they started, possibly slightly transformed. In a mentally different place as opposed to a physically different one. The experience of the joy-flight is not just an exploration of Australia from above, but could prove to be an exploration of their inner selves and may leave them feeling all the richer for having done it. Rather than being an end to exploring, it could signify a new beginning. A fresh appreciation of travel.