Exclusive Emptiness: Encounters With The World’s Least Crowded Elite Flights And Resorts

I’ve never had a plane to myself, though I’ve been of just a few passengers on an aircraft. There were two other people on a Delta flight to Cincinnati years ago after a series of delays. And my United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Washington Dulles on January 1, 2000 (“Y2K”) was nearly empty.

I’ve had first class cabins to myself – on Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Paris; on ANA from Chicago to Tokyo; on Thai Airways from Bangkok to Tokyo; and Korean Air from Seoul to Singapore and from Kuala Lumpur to Seoul to name just a few.

No One To Serve Krug To Except For Me And For My Wife

But the closest I’ve come to having an entire resort to myself was visiting the Le Meridien Chiang Rai in 2009. It was July (off-season), not long after the resort had opened, after red shirt protests in Bangkok and immediately following Songkran. At one point during my stay occupancy peaked at 14 guests, but was as low as five. I loved the property and the personalized service! We were never completely alone, though!

A Resort To Ourselves

A Resort To Ourselves

That’s a special experience that one couple had at Grand Velas, Los Cabos – a chain that comes to mind when I think of all-inclusive, but actually good. They chronicled their adventure on TikTok.

@freedom_hustler If anyone wants the place to yourself, come now. Bingo starts soon. Some of these games aren’t 2 player #freedom #abandoned #resort #blackmirror #vacation ♬ Suspense, horror, piano and music box – takaya

Cameron and his wife, expecting a baby, planned a dream vacation at the Grand Velas Boutique Los Cabos in Mexico. When they arrived, they thought the empty resort was a joke. At one point during their stay they weren’t completely alone, seeing two other couples. But the stay felt like a scene from “Black Mirror.”

Although to me “Night of the Comet” comes to mind, where a comet impacts earth and wipes out the population but all of the structures remain… and just a few people survived.

Here there were impeccable outdoor settings and luxury amenities, with empty restaurants, beaches, and kids’ area. They were fully serviced – yet vacant.

Come to think of it, my best approximation of this is visiting the Emirates first class lounge on the A concourse in Dubai, where an entire level of the terminal is reserved for first class passengers (another one for business class, and one for coach).

Buffets are fully laid out. Shops and restaurants are fully staffed (admittedly, most employees just fiddled with their phones). And my wife and I were the only passengers for hours.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For me it was a SFO-PEK flight back in 2005 on United. Upgraded using miles to business and was seated in the second business cabin… where I was the only passenger. (The forward business cabin was also very lightly booked.). FAs treated me like royalty.

  2. The closest we’ve come to to having someplace to ourselves was Disney World. We had a trip planned with our young daughter in October 2001. After the attack we called and they said everything was still open. We were booked for Port Orleans moderate resort but got called a week before and told due to low attendance they were closing some resorts and moved us to the Polynesian with no price increase. At Magic Kingdom they told us we could just stay on rides as long as we wanted and I could count the people walking around Epcot. It was surreal.

  3. My wife and I went to Bali and Java a few months after 9/11. Resorts in Bali were nearly empty, but then we went to Amanjiwo in Central Java and it was literally empty . . . except for us. We were given the run of the house, given the Presidential Suite and had the gamelan orchestra play for us while we were served dinner by the pool – a private resort. An excellent experience, although it was a bit jarring to see people wearing Osama Bin Laden t-shirts in the streets.

  4. “But the closest I’ve come to having an entire resort to myself was visiting the Le Meridien Chiang Rai in 2009. It was July (off-season), not long after the resort had opened, after red shirt protests in Bangkok and immediately following Songkran.”

    Songkran is always in mid April. There is no way something in July could immediately follow Songkran unless there was time travel.

  5. Ah, a 2020 Emirates BC flight to Dubai when there weren’t 15 people in total. We could sleep wherever we wanted and champagne from the virtually empty FC.

    Then a Maldives resort built for hundreds of guests when there were only 60 there. A complimentary OTW villa with infinity pool for the price of a regular room.

  6. Took a United flight from Washington National Airport to San Diego the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, 1999. DCA-ORD was an A320, rather full; ORD-SAN was a 757, only four of us in coach. When I boarded, I remarked that I must be the first one on. The flight attendant said, “No, you’re the last. Now we can close the door.” She said the airplane would make plenty of money because of the cargo and mail in the belly, and it was needed in San Diego for a sold-out return flight the next morning. I was coming down with something and felt miserable, and she provided excellent service, including brandy and sherry to make the uncomfortableness a little less so.

  7. I had an Aer Lingus flight from IAD to DUB with maybe six passengers during the Covid panic but when travel was still possible. It was glorious.

  8. I’ll never forget my flight from DEN to CLT on 4/11/20 (during the beginnings of the pandemic). There were less than 5 passengers on the plane (Boeing 737) and the FA’s told us we could just sit anywhere we wanted in coach for “social distancing”. Was the most eerie flight I’ve ever been on…They got us on the flight, said there would be no in-service and literally turned off the lights (it was a red eye). Absolute silence for 3.5 hours flying across the country. So much uncertainty in the world at that point and no one could get masks and this was before the vaccine as well. When I finally got to my final destination (my mom’s house in Upstate New York), I quarantined for two weeks in my mom’s basement.

  9. Late 1970s. 747 from London to Boston to Philadelphia. All but a handful of people got off in Boston and of course no one else allowed on. Far more flight attendants than passengers. They told us we could sit wherever we wanted so everyone spread out and had their own section of the 747 to themselves.

  10. We had snagged 1st class JAL reward tickets SFO to HND. Then a typhoon came throught the Tokyo area delaying our flight by 13 hours. By the time the flight left we were the only 1st class passengers left.
    The flight attendants couldn’t do enough for us. They said, don’t bother moving from your seats, we’ll make these other seats into beds. They even escorted my wife from the lavatory to her seat.
    (She whispered to me “I knew the way.)

  11. A cool thing about the Le Meridien Chiang Rai is they have a dock. So when we took a boat taxi 60km down the Kok river after staying in the beautiful mountains of Mai Salong founded by the Chinese Nationalist ex-gorillas/mercs who live there, we had the boat captain drop us off right on the hotel property and walked to checkin.

  12. My second flight ever, when I was 9 (in 1981), from DFW to SAN, was only myself and my sister. Don’t remember the plane, but it definitely at least 2X2.

    Since then, September 20, 2021 comes to mind. PHL to MCO, US Airspace just re-opened. The flight was actually fairly full, but then there was a mechanical issue…. And literally only half of the people got back on, they were that scared. Disney was open but abandoned, and as someone else pointed out, you could ride rides back-to-back, especially Splash Mountain.

    Some years later, Allentown to CVG during a huge snowstorm. We were the ONLY flight to leave, I was the only passenger to make it to the airport… we got the double ‘car wash’, we made it. My wife thought I was crazy!

    Probably the best? PHL to Heathrow, late 2009 during the Great Recession. Double Aisle, and this was before I started flying 1st. I’d say there was probably maybe 30-40 people on the plane. We basically all moved around in coach, I took up an entire interior row so was able to sleep flat. And why people took a window (yes with two seats), is beyond me! I tried that once and it was terrible.

    Ever since then I made it a rule in our company that you can always fly business class on the red -eyes, but coach back (since you just watch movies for 8 hours)… though there was a time when AA offered $500 Business class upgrades which was *well* worth it… I miss the ice cream cart!


  13. My wife and I were the only two guests at Calala Island for two nights. We arrived at about 11 AM on day 1, we had all of day 2 with the full staff to ourselves, and day 3 until about 11 AM before a second couple arrived.

  14. 7 people in coach on a PanAm 747 repositioning flight decades ago.

    25 people in a 737 to Maui December 2020. 5 people in the giant hotel pool.

    Less than 12 in a Barbie jet to Jackson Hole in September 2020.

    Many many flights in hillbilly first class (3 or 4 coach seats for sleeping).

    The trick is to find out where everyone is going, and go somewhere else.

  15. Egypt during Covid- Jan 2021

    Getting there, planes were at most 1/3-full (Less so in J)

    No lines at any of the Pyramids in Giza. We walk/crawled in immediately. No scammers either.

    Flight back was on UA- FRA-IAH My wife were 2 of 5 in J- Superb service. That will likely never happen again- Once in a lifetime

  16. My first Cathay flight was an award flight in first class (remember those?) for my wife and I. The 777 from Chicago was pretty empty overall and it was just the two of us in first. When I asked if such a low load was normal I was told no but not many people were flying on Chinese New Year.

  17. Had some widebody flights between the US and Europe during 2020 where I was the only passenger in the business class cabin. Also had some transatlantic wide body flights in in 2020 when I was one of under 15 passengers on the entire flight.

    Have had some other very empty flights before 2021 but not since — although earlier this year was on a long-haul intra-Asia widebody flight where all economy class passengers had an ability to get two or more seats for themselves and most could have the poor person’s version of business class.

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