TAIPEI (Reuters) - A Taiwanese airline carried around 120 passengers on a "flight to nowhere" on Saturday to view the South Korean resort island of Jeju, before flying straight back home, the latest gimmick to give people a glimpse of normality during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tough border restrictions to keep the coronavirus under control have led to a 97.5% plunge in international travel in the region, according to the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines.
Many frequent flyers miss getting on planes and airlines including Taiwan's EVA Airways Corp <2618.TW> and Japan's ANA Holdings Inc <9202.T>, desperate for revenue and to keep their pilots' licences current, have offered special sightseeing flights.
Saturday's flight by Tigerair Taiwan, the low-cost unit of Taiwan's largest carrier China Airlines <2610.TW>, took off from Taipei's Taoyuan International Airport and flew up to Jeju, circling low to give passengers a chance to see the island, though mist limited views, and then flying back to Taiwan.
"I feel like I haven't gone abroad for a long time, and I think this event is very special. It's a good deal," said passenger Chen Shu-tzu, 43.
Some passengers wore traditional Korean dress to mark the flight.
Passengers and staff posed for pictures before the flight took off, holding a sign in Chinese, Korean and English reading: "South Korea is missing you. Tigerair Taiwan Longing flight (to) take off."
While international travel has collapsed, domestic travel is booming in Taiwan, where the pandemic is well under control.
Flights to Taiwan's sun soaked offshore islands and rugged east coast are packed, with Tigerair leasing out some of its aircraft to bolster supply on domestic routes.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Mark Potter)