Flights of fancy
One-day aerial hops to Antarctica earn ultimate bragging points
WHAT does a person wear during a one-day flight to Antarctica? This is one of the most common questions put to Phil Asker, founder of Antarctica Flights, who has been operating scenic tours to the frozen continent for nearly 20 years. Never mind that the chartered plane does not land in Antarctica during the 12-hour round trip.
‘‘It’s amazing howmanypeople ask if they should wear parkas and woolly clothes,’’ says Asker, whose company’s summer season of flights runs from November 10 to February 6, including a gala departure on New Year’s Eve.
Paying from $1199 a person for a centre-row economy seat to $7499 in first class, passengers on board the chartered Qantas 747-400 jets see key Antarctic sites, including the South Magnetic Pole, Commonwealth Bay, closed Russian base Leningradskaya, Scar Bluffs, Cape Denison, Mawson’s Hut and the French base of Dumont d’Urville, depending on the weather and the itinerary. Each round trip covers 9500km to 10,500km.
My flight from Sydney takes four hours to reach Antarctica, another four to circumnavigate the continent, then it’s four hours to get home.
There’s a party atmosphere on board and in business class we are served our first glass of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve at about 10am, followed shortly afterwards by brunch — french toast with jamon, cheese and herbs, or baked polenta, goat’s cheese and truffle-celeriac lasagne with spinach.
As we fly over icebergs, coastal cliffs, glaciers and spectacular mountain ranges, the atmosphere is charged.
‘‘It’s like a party, all I amwaiting for is the music,’’ says one of the passengers, a Melbourne doctor who is a veteran Antarctica flyer.
‘‘New Year’s Eve is awesome — they have a jazz band. Some passengers are still awake when they get to the South Pole, [others] are smashed. The rules of normal travel go out the window.’’
Asker says those who book the oneday flights are a mixed bag, including internationals so keen to experience the spectacular scenery that they fly to Australia simply to take part. ‘‘People have flown into Sydney on the Friday [done the Antarctic flight] on the Sunday, and flown home to Japan or the UK on the Monday,’’ he says.
There are also first-timers taking their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Antarctica.
‘‘You can fly to an incredible place — truly like no other — and then sleep in your own bed that night,’’ he says.
While most want to tick Antarctica off their bucket list, Asker says one woman from the NSW Blue Mountains has done the trip five times.
Business and first class tickets usually sell out first; Asker says the business class centre aisle seats represent the best value for money, at $3999 a person. Unlike business class deluxe, at $6999, passengers in the centre row are not required to rotate seats.
Business class deluxe comprises the window seat and the aisle seat next to it, with the two passengers swapping halfway into the journey.
Seats in other cabin classes operate similarly so the best views are shared.
Seat rotation does not suit everybody, but Asker says most are charitable when asked to swap or share their window view, particularly after they have seen their first glimpse of ice.
Antarctica Flights offers a choice of 19 routes in order to take best advantage of the weather conditions, with departures from Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and, commencing in November, Brisbane.
For many, it’s not just the views that are the main attraction — being able to brag about a Sunday flight to Antarctica in the office on a Monday morning has its appeal, too. Lisa Allen was a guest of Antarctica Flights.