Halloween 2023 is finally upon us, and what better time would there be than today to explore some of the rather mysterious aspects of aviation? To celebrate the most frightening time of the year, we’ll be answering four spooky aviation questions, from the mysteries of aircraft graveyards to how those working in the industry work to put the fright into flights.
What Is An Aircraft Graveyard, And Where Are They Located?
Mention the words ‘aircraft graveyard’ or ‘aircraft boneyard’, and a lot of people will probably give you a rather odd look. Not only would most people be positively perplexed at the logistics of such a scheme (to start with, how on Earth would one bury an aeroplane?!), but they would likely also ask for what purpose they exist and where exactly one would find such an ‘aircraft graveyard’.
An aircraft graveyard is a storage area for dearly departed (or rather, retired) aircraft, much like a boneyard for items of no further use. Aircraft retired from service are typically stored in expansive areas for either temporary storage, with the potential to be brought back into service if maintenance work allows, or long-term storage until their parts are reused or sold before the aircraft in question is eventually scrapped.
For logistical reasons, aircraft graveyards are primarily located in dry, desert areas owing to the lack of paving required and the reduced risk of corrosion, which is beneficial should the aircraft be recommissioned. Aircraft cannot be brought back into service at short-term notice; thus, such planes often remain at the same storage facility for an extended period of time during maintenance work until they are finally deemed flightworthy.
One notable civilian aeroplane graveyard is Kingman Field, Arizona, USA, which houses retired aircraft belonging to aviation giants American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Other aircraft graveyards outside of the USA include facilities at Alice Springs Airport (ASP), Australia, which housed aircraft belonging to international carriers such as Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, among others, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Cotswold Airport (GBA), England, whose storage facilities and recycling services are run by Air Salvage International, whose clients include British Airways.
Although extremely unlikely, you could one day find yourself flying on a plane that once found itself in such a graveyard—temporarily dead, some would say, but certainly not buried.
What Is A Ghost Flight?
Eerily-named ‘ghost flights’ are a fairly rare phenomenon in aviation and are unlikely to be something that the majority of people have experienced; however, such a strange name is bound to raise questions, namely: what exactly is a ‘ghost flight’, and are they as ghoulish as their name suggests?
A ghost flight is a commercial flight operated by an airline with an aircraft carrying less than 10% of the plane’s total capacity, meaning that in some cases, a flight will operate with only its crew on board. Although such flights can be a novelty for those on board (imagine being practically the only soul on an empty plane!), they quite evidently represent a high financial burden for airlines and, more importantly, contribute unnecessary amounts of CO₂ to the atmosphere in relation to the total number of passengers being transported.
This brings into question why an airline would purposely choose to operate a flight with such low passenger numbers. The answer, sadly, is quite shocking. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the number of ghost flights soaring across the skies above increased drastically as a result of airlines operating such flights in order to retain their much-coveted airport slots. As part of European Union (EU) legislation, if an airline does not utilise 80% of its allocated take-off and landing slots at European airports, it risks losing them and having them given to other airlines (the so-called “use it or lose it” rule).
Although this percentage was reduced to 50% by the EU during the early months of the pandemic, the number of ghost flights operating from the UK is said to have hit an astounding 15,000, with London Heathrow Airport (LHR) being listed as the primary departure airport. Whilst a number of these flights were operated as cargo flights for vital, in-demand supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccines, many others were operated simply as a means for airlines to protect their airport slots rather than run the risk of losing them before travel restrictions were eventually eased.
Fortunately, ghost flights are relatively rare due to the evident lack of financial viability in operating a flight at such low capacity, and with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions over time, this hopefully means that, for the most part, the unnecessary measures taken by airlines in recent years to retain their airport slots are a thing of the past. Like the ghoul that shares their name, however, ghost flights and planes are likely to remain.
Are There Any Abandoned Airports?
There are abandoned houses, there are abandoned hotels, and there are, of course, abandoned airports. Over the years, several airports around the world have been left to ruin, with causes ranging from financial difficulties and competition from neighbouring airports to civil and political unrest.
One of the most famous abandoned airports is the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport, located in Berlin, Germany. Just over 80 years after its opening in 1923, the airport—which gained attention for its role in the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949—ceased operations in 2008 when dwindling passenger numbers left the city’s administrative authority with no option but to shut down the airport as airlines moved their services to other, larger airports in the city.
Today, the site of the former airport is home to Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field), a bustling public park that opened in 2010 and has since gone on to host a number of cultural and sports events and music festivals. The former airport grounds have also served as a shooting location for major productions, including The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2, The Bourne Supremacy and many other English- and German-language films and TV shows.
Another example of an abandoned airport whose spirit lives on includes the former Kai Tak Airport (HKG), Hong Kong, which now serves as a cruise terminal following the airport’s closure in 1998 due to capacity issues. Meanwhile, the largely abandoned Nicosia International Airport (NIC), Cyprus, is now home to the headquarters of the UN Peace Keeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) following the Turkish invasion of the country in 1974, which led to the airport’s inclusion into the UN-controlled buffer zone, making commercial operations unviable.
Whilst an abandoned airport may seem like an ominous prospect, the fact that the example cases listed above have been repurposed shows that, in fact, there is life after death… for former airports at least.
How Do Airlines Celebrate Halloween?
In recent years, airlines have been keen to help passengers celebrate major religious and cultural events. Last year, for example, flag carrier Emirates devised specially themed menus for passengers travelling to celebrate religious festivals such as Diwali and those travelling to key cultural events such as Oktoberfest. Although not an officially celebrated holiday, many airlines still like to give their passengers a treat to celebrate all things spooktacular on Halloween, on top of using the mystery-filled occasion to drum up their fair share of publicity.
Numerous airlines have run Halloween flash sales over the years, including Ryanair, Play, JetBlue, and, quite aptly, Spirit Airlines, giving passengers the chance to book flights for scarily low prices.
Some airlines focus on their in-flight offerings to ensure that they get passengers into a spooky mood. In 2022, for example, Delta Air Lines marked Halloween by upgrading its in-flight entertainment selection to include a mix of sweet and scary classics such as Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, Halloweentown, Ghostbusters and more.
On the ground, meanwhile, airline staff often go the extra mile in making what are otherwise dull and uninspiring airports just a bit more fa-boo-lous. Just last year, Southwest Airlines decked out its help desks at the gates of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), and Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport (FLL), USA, with colourful decorations and tributes to fan favourites Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Finally, for those who may be worried about their travel plans over the Halloween period, rest assured that pilots flying during this time are fully trained to spot and pass any low-flying witches that may come their way, whether they can dodge the spells they cast is another matter entirely.
How will you be celebrating Halloween 2023? Will you be taking advantage of any Halloween ticket sales? Let us know in the comments!