Sunday, 4 October 2020

Where to go if you miss airplanes and flying

Boardwalk at The Oval
Boardwalk at The Oval in Singapore. Photo credit: JTC

The global pandemic has unfortunately brought travel to a halt, but thankfully, there are ways to relive what you’ve been missing. Some airlines have begun rolling out “scenic flights” or “flights to nowhere”, with many of these selling out fast. Others are offering dining experiences within an aircraft in the form of “plane cafés”, or in plane-themed restaurants with actual plane food served on plastic trays by cabin crew.

While it’s not quite the same as the real deal, these options make for a fun outing to satisfy the aerophile in you.

1. ChangChui Creative Park, Bangkok

This quirky marketplace in Thailand’s capital is eye-catching, to say the least, because the first thing you see when you enter is a gigantic disused jet plane which was purchased from Thai Sky Airlines and reassembled onsite. The L-1011 TriStar Lockheed plane (a wide-body trijet airliner), which sports a prominent red slide all the way to the ground, was slated to be a fine-dining restaurant but is now only open for special occasions. However, you can still grab a drink beneath its wings at the Runway Bar. The rest of the buzzing creative village should not be missed as well. Opened in June 2017, Chang Chui was included in TIME’s 2018 list of the World’s 100 Greatest Places, and it’s no wonder. Sprawled across 26,941m2, the park offers a wide variety of things to do and see, with stalls hawking artisanal products or trendy independent fashion labels and homeware, a cinema, art installations, live performance spaces, as well as various bars and eateries, with some sporting décor made from recycled material such as salvaged zinc panels from containers and old wooden doors.

2. The Dreamliner Airways Café, Johor Bahru

Take “flight” in this themed café that has a startlingly authentic aircraft-like setting. Located about four hours away from Kuala Lumpur by car, once you enter its doors, you’d see a backdrop that resembles an analog flight information board and various clocks displaying the time in different cities. Take photos with the props available, such as a pilot hat and briefcase, before settling yourself into a cushioned seat where you, literally, buckle up. The “windows” have been dressed up with a cloud background so you feel like you’re up in the air, while a flat screen TV on the walls serves as “inflight entertainment”. Naturally, the wait staff are dressed as flight attendants and menus come in the form of a “passport” and “boarding pass”. The menu features an array of comfort food, such as grilled salmon with honey mustard and salted egg deep fried chicken chop as well as Malaysian cuisine such as Penang-style char kway teow and kampung fried rice.

Jumbo Stay
The Double Bed Ensuite Cockpit

3. Jumbo Stay, Stockholm

While you won’t usually associate a good night’s sleep with being in an aircraft, this themed hotel promises something unexpected. Housed within a decommissioned Boeing 747-212B jetliner and located at the Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Jumbo Stay offers all manner of creature comforts such as plush flat beds, clean bathrooms and an on-site café. Choose from dorm rooms, standard rooms or suites for a unique night’s stay, depending on your budget and party size. We recommend the Double Bed Ensuite Cockpit where you get to bed down at the flight deck, complete with pilot controls and a front-row view of the runway. 

4. 331 Station Coffee War, Chon Buri

Housed in an actual retired airplane this themed café is located about an hour’s drive from Bangkok. The Airbus 330 is parked in a sandy field alongside vintage military trucks and aircraft. To enter the café, you need to purchase an “airplane ticket” for 100baht, which you can exchange for a drink. The plane interiors are fairly spacious and comfortable, with leather seats, wooden tables and a huge bar located in the middle of the craft. You can also choose to settle yourself into one of their Business Class seats (there are Economy seats as well) and imagine living the high life while indulging in the café’s selection of coffees, teas and desserts. Don’t forget to make a pit-stop at the cockpit to grab some Insta-worthy shots.

5. iPilot, various locations

If you’ve always dreamed of piloting your own plane, you can now try your hand at controlling the take-off and landing of a jumbo jet with this realistic flight simulator. Available in cities such as Munich and Düsseldorf, you will be guided by qualified instructors who are usually licensed pilots of either private or commercial planes. During the immersive experience where you’d be in an enclosed cockpit, you get to choose from more than 24,000 airports around the world to take off from and land at. Try ascending from London’s Heathrow Airport and touching down at Hong Kong’s infamous Kai Tak Airport, all in 30 minutes.

6. Queensland Air Museum, Caloundra

Aviation enthusiasts would love this history-rich museum that is located adjacent to the Caloundra Airport, an hour away from Brisbane. Run by volunteers since the 1970s, more than 75 military and commercial aircraft are displayed in its hangers, such as the General Dynamics F-111 (a tactical attack aircraft), the Lockheed P-3 Orion (an anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft) and Australia’s first Douglas DC-3 (a propeller-driven airliner and the world’s first successful commercial airliner), as well as an assortment of aircraft engines, equipment, artefacts, photographs and books. To make the most of your trip, book yourself into an aviation tour where a guide will take you through the highlights of the museum.

7. Museum of Flight, Seattle

Located south of Seattle, this non-profit air and space museum is the largest private one of its kind in the world. There are more than 175 aircraft and spacecraft to admire, such as the impressive Lockheed M-21 Blackbird (an American supersonic reconnaissance drone) and a full-scale mockup of the NASA Full Fuselage Trainer (a space shuttle orbital), as well as thousands of artefacts and other exhibits and rare photographs. For something out of the ordinary, sign up for a “premium experience” where you get a curated private tour and access to aircraft cockpits and cabins as well as artefacts not on public display.

In Singapore

Singapore Airlines A380 dining
Dine on board SIA’s A380 at Changi Airport

1. Discover Your Singapore Airlines

The national carrier has launched three specially curated experiences to engage its fans. For two days only (24 and 25 October 2020), you get to dine at Restaurant A380 @Changi, a double-decker superjumbo parked at Changi Airport. While there, you can join a behind-the-scenes tour of the aircraft before your meal and tuck into a sumptuous meal of international or Peranakan cuisine while washing it down with two complimentary alcoholic drinks and a free flow of other beverages. Meanwhile, you can also sign up for a rare behind-the-scenes tour of SIA’s training centre or have First Class or Business Class meals delivered directly to your home (go all in and book the all-inclusive package, which comes with the tableware and luxurious amenities available exclusively on board flights).

Sushi Airways
The interior of Sushi Airways

2. Sushi Airways

Located in the charming Kampong Glam neighbourhood, this airplane-themed sushi bar features staff dressed as flight attendants and an interior that is decked out to look like the vintage Douglas DC-3. Little details such as airplane lighting, round airplane-like windows, a menu that is a “flight manual” and actual airline meal trolleys add to the overall ambience. Tuck into a selection of fresh sushi, sashimi, handrolls and other Japanese rice and noodle dishes, artfully plated on exquisite ceramic plates.

Flight Experience Singapore
VR jet experience at Flight Experience Singapore

3. Flight Experience Singapore

Ever dreamt of being a fighter jet pilot and having your own Top Gun moment? This virtual reality military jet simulator allows you to weave in and out of the valleys of the Grand Canyon or the skyscrapers of New York city via a 15- or 30-minute mission that involves several flying challenges. Once you settle yourself into the cockpit (which even has an ejection seat), a qualified flight instructor will take you through the controls and teach you how to complete turns, climbs, descends, loops and barrel rolls, before sending you onwards to put your new skills to the test.

Seletar Airport boardwalk
The boardwalk next to Seletar Airport. Photo credit: Joy Fang

4. Boardwalk at The Oval, Seletar Aerospace Park

Located close to popular restaurants such as Summerhouse and Wheeler’s Estate, this wooden pathway runs alongside the runway at Seletar Airport so you get a view of the private jets up close. Besides getting to see the occasional aircraft taking off and landing, it’s also a relatively serene spot for picnics and a picturesque backdrop for a wedding photoshoot. If you have kids, there’s an aviation-themed playground next to Wheeler’s Estate that is equipped with various swings, slides, an aeroplane structure, a helipad merry-go-round and even a “control tower”.

Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours before visiting. Do also remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.

For updates and travel advisories, please visit Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website. 

SEE ALSO: A look at how 7 different cultures around the world enjoy their tea

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