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