Flogging fruit juice, furniture, and flights to nowhere - airlines forage for revenue in the time of COVID

With demand for air travel having tanked to about 30% of pre Covid levels (as at January 2021) and triggering revenue falls over the COVID period so far of $400bn and thousands of aircraft being parked at deserted airports and in deserts, some airlines are trying out bizarre schemes in their scramble for revenue.

Wish you were here: in Budapest after flying nowhere? Photo Smartwings

Amidst such calamity it's hard to see how hawking 'Signature Salted Peanuts' as one airline is doing, or selling off fully loaded drinks trolleys as another has tried, is anything more that cry for help from PR departments. There's even a national carrier serving meals on the ground in it's HQ, while an Asian budget airline has bought 500 scooters and to enter the takeaway food home delivery market - and Japanese travellers can board the world's largest passenger plane for flights to nowhere.

Takes off, turns turtle, flies back. Photo Airbus

It's because of COVID-19 of course, and here's a glance at some of the creative ways the world's airlines are using to try and survive the slowdown.

Aircraft surplus furniture

Selling bits of old aircraft isn't an entirely new idea, but such niche upcycling has been taken to new levels of absurdity during this pandemic. Qantas pushed the envelope in September 2020 for example when it sold surplus serving trolleys from its recently retired Boeing 747s. 

A thousand of them were snapped up in just two hours at AUD 947.70 (£527) a pop, including delivery. They arrived pre-loaded with 80 mini bottles of wine, one of champaign, two First Class sleeper suits and throws. No doubt the booze helped distract from the ugly and impractical carts - all the better for blurring buyer's remorse perhaps?

Trolley lolly: Qantas sold booze-stocked drinks carts. Photo Qantas

When it comes to charging a small fortune for flaps fashioned into furniture, Lufthansa has form. It's World Shop online emporium launched its second collection of upmarket upcycling in August 2020. After the success of chopping up and repurposing a decommission Airbus A340, the company moved on to scavenge the fuselage of a retired A320. An example product is the 'A320-211D-AIPC Slat Table Lamp' for €999 (£860).

A lamp that gives a leading edge over the neighbours. Photo Lufthansa

Aside from coffee tables made from speed brakes and landing flaps, the star turn was a freestanding bar crafted from a whole cabin door retailing at around £7,000, of which only four were made.

Maxing out the merch

Many airlines have broadened the range of merchandise they offer via their websites, effectively selling off what were once in-flight freebies.

The Malaysia Airlines 'Temptations' range for example features unlikely treats such as 'Signature Salted Peanuts' for £0.18, or Business Class duvets for £19 a piece. Qantas has been flogging off its popular Business Class and First Class pajamas and amenity packs too.

Purveying fine peanuts & pajamas. Photo Malaysia Airlines & Qantas

Pop-up plane restaurants

Singapore Airlines is actually using one of its A380s as a 'suite of experiences' - basically a familly-orientated opportunity to clamber aboard, tour the plane, eat airline food and meet some underemployed pilots.

Table for two on a grounded A380. Photo SIA

And it took Thai Airways to open a pop-up 'Royal Orchid Dining Experience' inside its own headquarters in Bangkok. Reached by climbing a set of portable aircraft steps, the restaurant uses Thai's trademark colour-splash orange, purple and red seats, with uniformed crew members working as waiting staff. Hard to believe I know, but around 800 airline food lovers a day have climbed those incongruous steps in search of a good curry and memories of flying.

Faux in-flight dining at the TG HQ. Photo Thai Airways

In flight food, home delivery?

Or if you prefer (or are ordered to) stay at home for Covid-19 reasons, then Singapore Airlines has launched a home dining service called SIA@Home, selling home-delivered First and Business Class meals for two; including canapes, appetizers, main course, desert, wine or Champaign plus amenities.

If you splash out on a First Class wine and dine you can also receive aa 22-piece First Class tableware set and a brace of First Class amenity kits and sleeper suits. No really. Prices for a meal for one, with caviar, satay, garlic bread, wine and amenity kit start at SGD180 (the left-hand four squares below), with the First Class fandango above at SGD888 (the right hand six squares).

In-flight food at home from SIA@home. Photo: SIA

SIA also had a stab at selling tours of its Singapore training centre, grooming workshops with cabin crew and wine tasting with the airline's sommeliers.

Malaysian Low Cost Carrier Air Asia has launched AirAsiaFood, a delivery service in Singapore from March 3rd 2021. It already has 500 delivery riders, pitches its pricing around 5% lower than current competitors, and soon expects to feature some 300 local restaurants.

Flights to nowhere

Several airlines have flirted with offering scenic or just-for-the-hell-of-it flights that pedal pre-COVID flying nostalgia, departing from and arriving back at the same airport.

All Nippon airlines of Japan even operated some flights to nowhere using the world's biggest passenger plane, the Airbus A380 - usually used on ts lucrative services taking holidaymakers and honeymooners to Hawaii. The turtle-liveried aicraft - called 'Honu' (a Hawaiian term of endearment for the giant turtles) and very much taken to heart by the Japanese public - took off with 334 passengers onboard and crew serving cocktails and wearing Hawaiian shirts, before landing back in Tokyo 90 minutes later. 

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For fly-me-to-the-moon romantics, Taiwan's Eva Air used a 'Hello Kitty' themed aircraft for a night-time circumnavigation of country's main island coinciding with the August Mid-Autumn Festival. Included in the price was the cabin crew serving mtraditional mooncakes and the pilot tilting the aircraft towards the full moon. The company even laid on a three-hour speed-dating flight to nowhere to allow people the opportunity to 'engage in deep conversation', according to the airline. Starlux, also of Taiwan, has ran several such flights too. 

Goodbye Kitty! See you back in three hours. Photo Eva Air

And Japan's Peach has been running school trip two-hour flights to nowhere during which the kids learn about the work done by pilots and cabin crew. Royal Brunei Airlines also flirted with the concept in its 'Dine & Fly' flights last August, during which passengers enjoy a happy atmosphere and an in-flight meal while flying for 85 minutes over Brunei and the surrounding Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. 

Dine & Fly fandango's snapped up in minutes. Photo Royal Brunei

Qantas started the trend when it offered scenic flights with relatively low level flybys over Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef. You might think that a seven-hour nonstop flight from Sydney back to Sydney might be a tricky proposition to sell - but not a bit of it, as the 150 seats up for grabs at £445 a pop were snapped up in under ten minutes.

The Czech Republic's Smartwings had a go in Europe too, when it trumpeted Europe's first flights to nowhere back in October 2020. The three 60-minute jaunts over-flew the Danube Bend, Lake Balaton, and Budapest, with seats going for £81pp for a window seat, or for a middle seat view of nothing on a flight to nowhere, £58.

It's perhaps no surprise that these pretty pointless flights came and went in a flash - it was always more about public relations as it was revenue, and once the environmentalist's predictable backlash took hold, the offering of such scenic boomerang flights quietly stopped.  

Flights to who knows where?

Qantas sold a seven-hour flight over the country's Gold Coast and Outback wilderness that sold out in ten minutes. With flying removed as an option for so many millions of people, the flights prove popular as they allow a small number of enthusiastic flyers to experience that sense of expectation and excitement that some still feel at the prospect of a flight.

'We're on a ride to nowhere. Come on inside'. Photo: Qantas

My Gran took me as a kiddie on a British Rail mystery trip from Derby to as-it-turned-out, Bridlington. Enough fun was had to book another mystery day out the very next year, which unfortunately, as-it-turned-out, trundled back to Bridlington.

Let's hope Qantas has more luck in resurrecting a surprisingly 90's phenomenon of people paying for flights, and still not knowing where they were going to land until boarding the aircraft. This new take on a slightly bonkers old idea is designed to boost domestic tourism and will be operated from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney by three Boeing 737s.

The Qantas Mystery Flights booked out fast, and there's now a waiting list in case of more day trips being offered, which incidentally include on-the-ground tours and experiences.

Blueberry juice anyone?

This super Scandy airline has long had an eye for innovation, but who would have foreseen buying Finnair blueberry juice drink or Reindeer Meatballs in a supermarket?

For now the business class meals are only available at a supermarket close to the airline's Helsinki Airport hub, but the And now its blueberry juice drink is available across Finland at around 300 K-group shops, in an attempt to secure the jobs of catering staff.

Finnair's Blueberry Juice. Branded vodka next? Photo: Finnair

Fins have a bit of a blueberry fetish - they play a role in the cuisine and simply everyone there has foraged in the woods to pick their own - the blue-fingered lot living in the northeastern region of Kainuu pick a yearly hoard of 60kg per household .

Luckily enough it's a super-food that doesn't taste like wallpaper paste, and slugging back an onboard blueberry juice is part of the Finnair experience - indeed about a million litres of the stuff is served annually on Finnair flights.