With the arrival of 60 passengers at the Taipei Songshan Airport on July 2, at a glance, it looked like Taiwan has resumed its flight operations. Passengers got their boarding passes, checked in with their luggage and even boarded a China Airlines flight the first time since the Coronavirus pandemic began. But all of them were headed to 'nowhere'.
For the travel starved Taiwanese, it was an opportunity to share the experience of a flight — a fake journey — part of a promotional event 'pretend to go abroad' by the Songshan Airport. In a June post, the airport's social media team announced a lottery that would facilitate a tour to winners. Around 7,000 people took part in the lottery and only 180 of them were selected.
"People who didn't have the opportunity to take international flights at Songshan can use this chance to experience and learn more about the boarding process and relevant service facilities," Chih ching Wang, the airport's Deputy Director told The Telegraph.
Fake Boarding Passes
Apart from going to the altitude, the 'journey' included everything else. Passengers' luggage was checked in while they were issued fake boarding passes for the 30-minute trip in an A330 aircraft. However, in-flight meals were not provided.
"In addition to letting the participants go through security screening, identification inspection and other immigration clearance procedures, they actually boarded the plane to experience the fun of boarding," Ting Hsu a Songshan Airport's planning department staff told CNN.
For passengers, it was a half-a-day of fun. "I really want to leave the country but because of the epidemic lots of flights can't fly," one of the passengers told Reuters. Another travel said he hoped the pandemic ends soon so he could "fly away".
For the airport authority, it was an opportunity to test the airport's readiness. Since the flights were grounded, the Songshan has undergone renovations and the event was a way to show off. The authority took all the necessary steps which they should during a pandemic time. Screening, hand sanitizing, were all part of their coronavirus-prevention measures.
"China Airlines has arranged personnel for airplane cleaning and disinfection to give instructions on pandemic prevention so that the public can understand our aviation industry's efforts in pandemic prevention," Hsu said.
The 'tour' has been so successful that it has arranged two more such journeys — on July 4 and July 7. After China Airlines operated the first flight on July 2, EVA Air has agreed to host the next two. Taiwan imposed lockdown in March and grounded all the flights. The early response to the pandemic has been successful as Taiwan has reported a total of 449 cases so far. However, with many countries easing restrictions, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that international travel would resume gradually.
Domestic travel although is in operation at present. For Songshan airport, the number of flights has dropped drastically as it operates flights to Tokyo, Seoul, and some Chinese cities. Taiwan too has suffered massive economic losses as tourism is a major contributor to its GDP.