Passengers of Thai Airways will have an opportunity on 30 November to view a multitude of Thailand’s Buddhist landmarks from above. A single flight will take off from Bangkok and fly over 99 Buddhist sites, including Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew (commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) in Bangkok, Phra Samut Chedi in Samut Prakarn, Wat Phra Boromma That Chaiya in Surat Thani to the south and UNESCO-listed heritage sites in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya in the kingdom’s central plains.
The move is an attempt to boost domestic tourism in Thailand, which has seen international tourism plummet since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The “flight to nowhere,” expected to last three hours, will cover 31 provinces before returning to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Such excursions have been offered elsewhere—predominantly in Asia—as carriers struggle to maintain revenue amid passenger losses from canceled international and domestic flights. In Taiwan, EVA airlines has offered similar trips from Taipei and Japan’s ANA airlines has had flights with a special Hawaiian theme after its regular flights to Honolulu had to be suspended.
Qantas in Australia has also offered “flights to nowhere,” while a similar proposal by Singapore Airlines was met with criticism from the environmental group SG Climate Rally.
The organization said in a statement: “We do not agree with the proposed ‘flights to nowhere’ initiative for two reasons: First, it encourages carbon-intensive travel for no good reason, and second, it is merely a stop-gap measure that distracts from the policy and value shifts necessary to mitigate the climate crisis.” They continued: “This initiative is symptomatic of a culture that makes consumers responsible for deep-rooted, structural problems.” (Business Insider)
Along with a special in-flight meal, passengers on the Thai flight will receive Buddhist prayer books with the understanding that for many, this will be not only a tourist flight but also a spiritual pilgrimage from above. Thai Airways vice president Wiwat Piyawiroj said: “There will be no landing during the flight and passengers will receive positive energy from chanting while onboard.” (Independent)
Among the passengers will be Dr. Khata Chinbunchon, a “celebrity fortune teller and religion history expert,” who will lead Buddhist chanting. (Samchui)
The flight has been dubbed the “THAI Magical Flying Experience Campaign.” Tickets will cost around 10,000 baht (US$322) for business class seats and around 6,000 baht (US$193.30) for economy seats.
Tourism in Thailand accounts for as much as 20 per cent of GDP, and travel bans put in place in response to the pandemic have left millions of Thais who have worked in tourism and associated industries out of work. Along with this effort, Thai Airways airline has made its Boeing flight simulators available to the public and opened a “plane cafe” in September, where customers can sit in first class seats and eat inflight meals at the airline’s headquarters in Bangkok. Other attempts to stay solvent have included selling bags made from life vests and emergency rafts, and opening a food stall selling dough fritters. Thai Airways is reportedly in the process of financial restructuring to the tune of some 245 billion baht (US$7.89 billion).
Thailand was the first country outside of China to report a confirmed case of coronavirus when a 61-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan tested positive after a screening at Suvarnabhumi Airport in January. Since then, the country has done a remarkable job of containing the spread of the virus and as of today has reported only 3,804 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 59 confirmed deaths. Only one death has been recorded since mid-June.
Thai Airways Launches Holy ‘Flight To Nowhere’ That Will Fly over Sacred Sites (Independent)
Thai Airways Offers Buddhist Pilgrimage Flight (Samchui)
Wings and a prayer: Thai Airways launches ‘sacred’ flight over Buddhist sites (The Guardian)
Singapore Airlines has cancelled its proposed ‘flights to nowhere’ after criticism from environmental campaigners (Business Insider)