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Thursday, October 28, 2021

What are ‘mystery flights’ and will they help the industry take off?


Following a year of travel restrictions, airlines have started exploring ways to tap into our need for adventure.

As our desire to travel anywhere increases, airlines have taken our demands literally by reintroducing mystery flights.

These mystery flights have no known destination. Passengers book a ticket to an unknown place and only find out where they’re travelling to on the day of the journey.

While this may seem like a novel offering that’s made for a new spontaneous audience, the trend was a big hit even in the 1990s. Passengers would turn up at the airport and get randomly allocated a seat to an unknown destination.

The trend briefly made a comeback pre-pandemic but is expected to truly take off once travel restrictions are lifted.

How does a mystery flight work?

Mystery flights let you select a location to fly from, but don’t give you the ability to select a destination to travel to. It’s not completely random though. 

You can pick the type of holiday you want, such as adventurous, calm, or experience. You can also select which continent you’d like to fly to as well as the duration of your trip.

The airline will then send out letters designed as teasers for your trip. They’ll contain information such as the forecast weather and what clothes you should pack. Accommodation and travel plans are also generally included as part of the price, so you don’t need to worry about booking anything else (which would be difficult considering you don’t know which city to book for!).

How can I get one?

You can’t book a mystery flight from Qatar yet, though hopefully, that will change in the future. The trend is most popular in Australia with Qantas Airlines recently announcing that domestic mystery flights have now returned to the country. 

Read also: SpaceX: Could ‘space tourism’ rocket despite $55 million ticket?

The concept of mystery flights hasn’t officially hit many countries through airlines directly, but some third party services do offer the experience. 

Flying during the pandemic

Mystery flights are generally seen as an extremely positive trend. They help restore an industry that was hit hard by the pandemic.

However, there are downsides to such an approach particularly because the trip is a surprise and may therefor not meet the expectations of the traveller. If you’re unhappy with the destination, accommodation, or any other aspect of your trip; it’s unlikely that you’re able to make adjustments to your trip. Another potential issue is that customers are offered packages at a few price points, and it’s hard to distinguish the benefits of the different prices. 

Despite this, it seems like the spontaneous excitement outweighs the potential downsides. In fact, when Qantas announced its mystery flights initiative, tickets sold out within 15 minutes.

“These flights turn that mystery into a positive by creating a unique experience for the many people keen to start travelling again,” said Qantas Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully.

However, this is just one of many initiatives taken by airlines to help sustain their businesses. Last year, Qantas launched a “flight to nowhere” trip which departed and landed in the same airport in Sydney, giving customers the experience of plane travel without actually taking them anywhere.

A more extreme initiative was taken by Singapore Airlines, which successfully charged hundreds of customers $640 to eat a meal on a grounded aeroplane. The plane never took off.

More recently, a Qatar Airways flight took off for a three-hour round trip that saw the aircraft enter Omani skies and return to Doha while hosting vaccinated passengers and crew members. The flight, the first of its kind since the pandemic started, crowned Qatar Airways as the airline with the first “fully-vaccinated” flight.

These measures highlight the lengths that airline companies are willing to take to make moves to restore revenue while also tapping into the desire for people to travel and escape out of what may feel like an escape-less world. 

As vaccines roll out both in Qatar and worldwide, we may see a return back to the old normal. When that happens, would you hop on a flight to an unknown destination?

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