Qantas has relaunched its nostalgic mystery flights to try to revive a sense of wanderlust within a travel industry crushed by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, more than 100 eager travellers (including this reporter) arrived at Sydney’s domestic airport to board a flight where the destination remained unknown.
All passengers were told beforehand was to pack for a tropical beach island where the weather would be “balmy”.
Huddled in the business lounge over a pre-flight breakfast, passengers – including members of the Qantas 747 fan club – pointed to destinations such as the Whitsundays, far north Queensland or Lord Howe Island.
Qantas in March announced the return of the one-off flights, which would depart from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to various interstate locations around the country.
The flights to undisclosed destinations are in conjunction with local tour operators that provide passengers a tailored day trip.
Boarding shortly after 8am, passengers were given a mystery flight gift pack that included the airline’s famous pyjama set and on-off apparel for the flight.
However, the aircrew remained tight-lipped until half an hour before landing when it was revealed the final destination was Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.
Qantas Captain Matt Hicks said a fair amount of planning went into the day, including a low scenic flight around the Whitsundays and its iconic Whitehaven Beach.
“The whole pandemic has been really hard for the industry,” he said.
“For us doing things like this and generating a bit of excitement … is fantastic.”
Arriving at 11am, guests were quickly scooted off on buggies for a welcome drink and a panoramic view at One Tree Hill before a smoking ceremony conducted by a local Indigenous group.
After taking in the breathtaking views of the famous islands that straddle the central part of the Great Barrier Reef, the buggies took travellers to Catseye Beach for an afternoon of beachside fun and a long lunch.
Speaking to NCA NewsWire during the lunch of fine wines and a buffet of Queensland’s finest seafood, loyal Qantas customer Fiona Downes said the experience had brought a bit of magic back to travelling.
“I just found that a huge part of what I was used to had gone (when the pandemic started),” Ms Downes said.
“Any opportunity to do these kinds of novelty flights is great.”
Mystery flights were a major trend in the 1990s when customers rocked up to the airport and hopped on a last-minute flight to a location where seats were still available on the plane.
The sales tactic was a way for Qantas to sell any last-minute seats to maximise the cost efficiency of a flight.
However, the new version of the flight scheme sets customers back $737 for an economy ticket.
After a day on the beach and a quick boogie to the cover band playing hits such as Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and Under the Sea from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, it was time to return to Sydney.
The mystery flights are off the back of recent promotions run by Qantas, including its Flight to Somewhere and Flight to Nowhere specials, which were scenic getaway flights with low-level fly-bys over iconic Australian landmarks.
The first mystery flight launched was the Brisbane journey which took passengers to the NSW city of Orange.
The Melbourne version of the Qantas special flight is yet to be revealed.