'Flights to Nowhere' Are Selling Out in Minutes

Australians get to fly over the Great Barrier Reef while they help kill it.

Quantas 787 taking off
Quantas 787 taking off.

 James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Airlines in Asia are offering "flights to nowhere" to people who just miss the fun of flying. Really. Australian airline Quantas has jumped on the bandwagon, offering a Boeing 787 ride over the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Harbor, and the Uluru monolith. A Quantas spokesperson says it sold out in minutes, one of the fastest sellouts in their history.

As we have noted many times, flying emits more carbon per person than just about any activity you can do. Many people who care about their carbon footprint twist themselves into knots to justify doing it (I certainly have), pointing out that they are doing important work. Climate scientist Michael Mann writes:

"Unfortunately, sometimes doing science means traveling great distances, and we don’t always have the time or luxury to take slower low-carbon options. We have a job to do, after all."

But what is the justification for a flight to nowhere? Mark Carter of Flight Free Australia, an organization trying to get Australians to fly less, tells NBC this is nuts, given what has been happening in Australia.

"Our home is on fire," he said, adding that passengers would be "helping to destroy the Great Barrier Reef they view from their windows."

How Bad Is Flying?

This might be a good time and place to try and quantify once again how bad flying actually is. Before the pandemic, the aviation industry would claim to be responsible for 2% of global emissions and this was the usually accepted number. According to Parke Wilde of FlyingLess, the International Energy Association estimates direct emissions from burning jet fuel to be 2.83%. Then there is "radiative forcing" which takes it up to 4.9%. Another new study claims the forcing effects are even more significant, concluding that "CO2-warming-equivalent emissions based on global warming potentials (GWP* method) indicate that aviation emissions are currently warming the climate at approximately three times the rate of that associated with aviation CO2 emissions alone." That would put aviation at 8.49%.

Then of course, there is what The Economist called the Airline Industrial Complex, which prior to the pandemic was pretty big:

"The airline-industrial complex is vast. Last year 4.5bn passengers buckled up for take-off. Over 100,000 commercial flights a day filled the skies. These journeys supported 10m jobs directly, according to the Air Transport Action Group, a trade body: 6m at airports, including staff of shops and cafés, luggage handlers, cooks of in-flight meals and the like; 2.7m airline workers; and 1.2m people in planemaking."

So a little joyride over the Great Barrier Reef isn't just about the fuel burn, that's just the leading edge of a vast carbon-spewing enterprise. The economist Robert Ayers wrote that “the economic system is essentially a system for extracting, processing and transforming energy as resources into energy embodied in products and services” and no industry on the planet does this as effectively as aviation. The Economist put numbers to it:

"In 2019 they helped generate revenues of $170bn for the world’s airports and $838bn for airlines. Airbus and Boeing, the duopoly atop the aircraft supply chain, had sales of $100bn between them. For the aerospace industry as a whole they were perhaps $600bn. Add travel firms like Booking Holdings, Expedia and Trip.com, and you get annual revenues of some $1.3trn in normal times for listed firms alone, supporting roughly as much in market capitalisation before covid-19—and rising."

Of course, all of that is on hold now, planes are mostly sitting on the ground, and a few flights to nowhere are not going to make a huge difference. But as activist Anna Hughes of Flight Free UK noted in the Guardian:

“I understand why they are doing it – but it really is insanity – a flight to nowhere is simply emissions for the sake of it. If that’s the society we’ve built, where we’re that addicted to flying, then we have a serious problem.”