Flights of fancy

One-day aerial hops to Antarc­tica earn ul­ti­mate brag­ging points

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Adventure - LISA ALLEN

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.

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