#8 Lose your pre­ten­sions to join the su­per-jet set

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

The win­dows are scratched and dirty, the tray ta­bles bro­ken and there’s a prob­lem with the lava­tory, but ev­ery­one is grate­ful to be on board. We’re just about to take “the world’s most ex­clu­sive transcon­ti­nen­tal flight” and this is by some mar­gin the most com­fort­able way to reach our des­ti­na­tion.

De­part­ing from Punta Are­nas on the heel of Chile, we have boarded an Antarc­tic Air­ways air­craft for the two-hour flight to King Ge­orge Is­land on the tip of the Antarc­tic Penin­sula. For cruise ship pas­sen­gers to reach this des­o­late out­post, it’s a two-day jour­ney – nau­se­at­ing at times – across the churn of the Drake Pas­sage. We will get there in just two hours.

Like seem­ingly every­body else on board, I had heard tales ga­lore from sur­vivors of the sea voy­age – of bro­ken bones and tilt­ing ships whipped for hours by re­lent­less 10ft waves. Many who un­der­take the jour­ney con­sider it a rite of pas­sage, a test of com­mit­ment and a way of “earn­ing” the right to wit­ness the un­blem­ished splen­dour of Antarc­tica. I doubt the su­per-rich ac­com­pa­ny­ing me, swad­dled in Mon­cler win­ter­wear and Canada Goose parkas, would agree with that assess­ment.

That so few peo­ple make the jour­ney by plane is more likely due to price, ca­pac­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity. De­par­tures are of­ten de­layed by bad weather – we’re re­lieved to take off just two hours be­hind sched­ule – so syn­chro­nis­ing land­ings with cruise ship itin­er­ar­ies is im­pos­si­ble.

Most air pas­sen­gers fly in for a brief day tour or an overnight stay on King Ge­orge Is­land, ar­riv­ing on a dinky Beechcraft King Air 300 air­craft. The ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes an am­ble to a re­search sta­tion and a boat tour to some pen­guin colonies, but this barely scratches the sur­face of what Antarc­tica has to of­fer. Fares start at $5,500 (£4,077) per per­son; pri­vate air­craft char­ters cost from $33,000.

My ex­pe­ri­ence is dif­fer­ent. I’m fly­ing with a group on a larger BAe 146-200 as part of a trip or­gan­ised by Eyos Ex­pe­di­tions. The plane, with liv­ery match­ing a pen­guin’s plumage, ac­com­mo­dates 70 pas­sen­gers and costs from $125,000 to char­ter. At King Ge­orge Is­land we will board the su­pery­acht Legend for a one-week voy­age south. Even for the ex­cep­tion­ally well-trav­elled – and there are plenty of them on board – this jour­ney is trip-of-a-life­time stuff. The mood is cel­e­bra­tory.

The cabin crew are soon bound­ing down the aisle with booze. There’s cham­pagne of course, but the stew­ardess in­forms me that her home­made pisco sour has medic­i­nal qual­i­ties: “If you drink it you won’t get a cold.” It seems sen­si­ble to take the pre­cau­tion. I feel sur­pris­ingly tipsy af­ter just one glass.

Like the flight it­self, the food on board is both hugely in­dul­gent and de­void of pre­ten­sion. Along­side an ar­ray of meats and cheeses, a slab of tiramisu and a sal­mon salad, we are pre­sented with a sin­gle Af­ter Eight choco­late and can take our pick from a packet of Qual­ity Street sweets. Although I’m full, I am later com­pelled to ask for a sec­ond mug of chicken soup. It is so com­fort­ing and un­ex­pect­edly de­li­cious.

We fly on, with breaks in the clouds

Flights to Antarc­tica are short, but pricey

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