Japan’s virtual airline has soaring business class demand amid global pandemic

Tokyo to Rome, first class for $90 sounds too good to be true.

Those booking these “flights” might never leave the ground but they don’t feel short changed, as passengers on Japan’s leading “virtual reality” airline.

First Airlines offers time-strapped tourists “virtual holiday packages” with in-flight meals, top destinations and entertainment on offer – all in a 110-minute simulation.

Operating out of Ikebukuro, the simulation facility in downtown Tokyo is nowhere near an airport. But don’t let that ruin your experience. First Airlines needs no runway to visit destinations as far away as Paris, New York, Rome and Hawaii. The fact that you save 12 hours in the air, can only make the prospect more appealing.

Virtually there: The airline says it has had a spike in demand for virtual holidays. Picture: First Airlines.Source:Supplied

Passengers have the choice of business class ¥4,980 or first class ¥5980 ($72-$90) fares with a slight difference in catering and seats. However, all passengers are treated to the same surreal experience.

The seats have been retrieved from the first class of an A310-340 and the meals are wheeled round in catering trolleys that wouldn’t be out of place in an Airbus galley.

The final piece of realism is provided by the cabin crew, all of whom are former airline workers, says First Air.

Passengers in Tokyo can’t wait to get back in an aeroplane seat. Picture: First Airlines.Source:Supplied

Catering is designed by destination. A menu of lamb cutlet, Puha thistle soup and Pavlova is offered on the virtual New Zealand service to Auckland.

The 50” TV sets installed above passenger’s heads are far more generous than anything you’ll find in the back of an air plane seat.

First Airlines: The check in desk is a good 20km away from the nearest runway, but that doesn’t matter. Picture: First AirlinesSource:Supplied

On arrival to their chosen “destination”, passengers are handed VR headsets for a themed holiday experience. This might be a brisk stroll aux Champs-Elysées or on a Hawaiian beach.

The virtual airline’s president Hiroaki Abe said business has been good, with bookings doubling since the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Good as: A very real meal of lamb and pavlova on the virtual flight to Auckland. Picture: First Air.Source:Supplied

“We get some customers who normally travel to Hawaii every year and they can experience some of that here,” he told Reuters reporters who were testing the experience.

ANA Japan’s largest airline recently reported a 96 per cent drop on last year for international passengers.

There’s uncertainty as to when demand and traveller numbers will return to pre 2020 numbers. However, at least some of those passengers can be found here – strapped into a plane simulator above the Ikebukuro train station.

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been republished with permission

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