Antarctica Sightseeing Flights restarted flights to Antarctica aboard a Qantas Boeing 747-400 in 1994. Qantas introduced very strict guidelines for the operation of the flight program, including previous experience by flight captains; altitude guidelines; number of routes to ensure optimal sightseeing and safety; and regular environmental impact assessments.
The flights operate during the southern summer between November and February when the daylight is long and the skies are clear. Return flights take approximately 12.5 hours, depending on the departure city, operating at 3077 metres, however the altitude feels much lower due to the lack of pollution over Antarctica.
Flights operate from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Around three hours after departure the first icebergs start to appear. The first land sighting over the continent is usually the French research base, Dumont d’Urville, with the gigantic Astrolabe Glacier providing a perfect backdrop.
The flight heads east to Commonwealth Bay and Cape Denison where the hut of legendary Australian explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson is located. Often the crew will fly the aircraft in a figure of eight pattern so that travellers on both sides get a great view, albeit in the distance. Antarctica in a day over the Trans Antarctic Range to the sometimes smoking volcano Mount Melbourne; the Italian base at Terra Nova Bay in the Ross Sea; and Mount Minto, the highest mountain in the region.
Depending on weather conditions flights may head further south to the dry valleys and the American Base at McMurdo Sound; or west to the Australian base at Casey Station.
Passengers often have the chance to fly over the South Magnetic Pole, where those who bring a compass will see it spinning out of control. No need to worry though, as the aircraft has three different navigational systems.
Each flight carries two Antarctic experts who talk about living and working in Antarctica; the environment; wildlife, and the experience of over-wintering at an Antarctic base.
There are a variety of different seating options on board the aircraft and most seats change around at the half-way point. Normally those in a window seat or the seat next to a window seat change to the adjacent aisle seat to ensure plenty of viewing for all. On New Year’s Eve there’s a live jazz band on board and the New Year is welcomed in full sunlight over the ice.
Prices start from $1,199 per person for economy class centre seating through to $7,999 per person for Ice Class in Qantas’ first class full-length sleeper seats. Ice Class passengers also enjoy extra beneﬁts including champagne and complimentary gift pack. Four flights will operate this season including the New Year’s Eve Party flight ex Melbourne on 31 December; the 21st Anniversary flight ex Sydney on 7 February 2016; a Valentine’s Day flight ex Melbourne on 14 February 2016; and an Australia Day flight ex Perth.