Taipei-based StarLux Airlines Co. on Friday launched a "pretend tour abroad" to the Taiwan-controlled Dongsha Islands (東沙群島, Pratas Islands) in the northern part of the South China Sea.
The JX-8888 flight, flown by StarLux Airlines Chairman Chang Kuo-wei (張國煒), took off from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at 11 a.m., and headed south along the coast of eastern Taiwan. It flew at a lower-than-usual altitude to allow passengers to enjoy Taiwan's landscape from above on a journey that lasted three hours and 20 minutes.
Chang first flew the plane over Taipei City from the area near the mouth of the Tamsui River, which allowed passengers to see the city's landmark Taipei 101 and Songshan Airport. Then the plane flew out of Taiwan proper toward the sea from the eastern town of Nan'ao before flying along the eastern coast toward the south, offering passengers views of Qingshui Cliff, Orchid Island, and the Hengchun Peninsula in eastern and southern Taiwan.
The plane returned to Taoyuan airport through the Philippines after flying over the waters east of the Dongsha Islands, and passengers were able to see the islands composed of three atolls. According to StarLux spokesman Nieh Kuo-wei (聶國維), the airline is planning a second air travel tour package of the kind for mid-August, which will be totally different from this one.
StarLux hoped to offer passengers an alternative to international travel, at a time when most countries across the world have yet to ease their border controls amid the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out late last year, Nieh explained. A total of 188 tickets for Friday's JX-8888 charter flight were snatched up in 30 seconds and a tour combined with hotel accommodation was sold out in five minutes.
Sam Lin (林耀民), head of marketing at Klook Taiwan, an online travel company, said most passengers participating in this "pretending to go abroad" tour were aged between 20 and 40 and were keen to break out of their daily routine amid the dull of the new coronavirus disease. Lin predicted that this kind of travel will become trendier in the second half of the year due to high demand from consumers if the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of abating.
In July, China Airlines and EVA Air launched similar air travel tours to provide relief to people seeking to experience a sense of freshness in the current no-travel doldrums.