Qantas has begun its latest series of sightseeing flights from airports in Australia to the Antarctic region. And while passengers never get to step foot on the ice itself, the views from the aircraft are said to be breathtaking and unparalleled.
November 2023 saw the first flights of the 2023/24 season, with the airline due to operate flights from Melbourne (MEL), Perth (PER), Brisbane (BNE), and Sydney (SYD) over the ice shelf, landmarks, and the captivating beauty of Antarctica using its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.
The first flight of the season (flight number QF1330) departed from Melbourne on November 17, 2023, quickly followed by a flight from Sydney on November 25. Each flight is scheduled to last around 13.5 hours and take passengers on a guided tour of Antarctica, including the famous McMurdo Sound and, of course, the Magnetic South Pole.
The aircraft flies what the airline describes as “sweeping figure 8s” so that every passenger onboard can get a proper view. Also, each passenger is issued two boarding passes – everyone moves seats halfway through the flight so that they can all experience the outstanding views out the windows. Passengers can also get up and move about the cabin to enjoy better views.
As an added extra to the airborne Antarctic experience, which covers around 9,500 to 10,500 km (5,937 to 6,563 miles) round trip, expert Antarctic expedition leaders travel onboard each flight to talk to passengers about the polar environment and its history. At the same time, video screenings throughout each cabin depict life on the ground.
According to the airline, approximately three hours south of Australia, passengers usually see the first scattered ice followed by dozens of icebergs and ice floes. The flight then crosses the South Magnetic Pole, where passengers can start to view the rugged mountainous topography of the Antarctic mainland itself.
While the flight is flying over the Antarctica Treaty area for around four hours, approximately three to four hours will be spent flying over the Antarctic continent.
In planning the specific route, the flight takes considerable time is taken to select the most spectacular area of Antarctica within the range and duration of the 787-9. The selected route for each departure is chosen from 19 different flight plans that the carrier uses for their flights, taking into account daylight hours and the weather conditions both en route and over Antarctica itself.
More about the Antarctic flights
The airline has been operating such flights for almost 30 years, although the special flights were paused during the pandemic.
Those onboard the special flights enjoy two full meals, snacks, and complimentary bar service during the flight.
Tickets on the unique flights start at AUD 1,199 (US$791) for a standard non-window seat in the economy cabin (although passengers in these seats can move about the cabin) and reach a maximum of AUD 7,999 (US5,279) for a ‘Business Deluxe’ package, where passengers can “admire aerial views of Antarctica in utmost comfort in Qantas business class seats while enjoying the airline’s full international business class service.”
Qantas states that every Antarctica flight it operates is carbon offset to ensure that the impacts of its operation are effectively net zero.
Qantas’ antipodean neighbor, Air New Zealand, has also operated such flights to Antarctica in its history. However, on November 28, 1979, a company McDonnell Douglas DC-10, erroneously flew into Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew onboard. This flight was supposed to leave Auckland Airport (AKL) in the morning and spend a few hours flying over the Antarctic continent before returning to Auckland in the evening via Christchurch (CHC).