So, I’m considering a trip to the Falkland Islands, and this might just include a 16+ hour flight in economy from an air force base. Have I lost my mind?
In this post:
The basics of the Falkland Islands
For those who aren’t familiar with the Falkland Islands, this is a remote South Atlantic archipelago, just a few hundred miles from Antarctica (many cruises to & from Antarctica stop here). There are just over 3,000 residents there, and it’s a British overseas territory.
For what it’s worth, the Falkland Islands being a British overseas territory is disputed by Argentina. An undeclared 10-week war happened in the Falkland Islands in 1982, over control of the islands. This was between Argentina and the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom won, as Argentina surrendered.
Even more than 40 years later, this continues to be a point of contention with Argentina, which claims control of the islands, and calls them Las Malvinas. Recently this dispute even caused Argentina to try to block flights to the Falkland Islands…
Air service to the Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are not only incredibly remote, but also have a small population. Nonetheless, it’s important for the islands to have some air service, both for the movement of people and cargo.
Yesterday I was talking to a friend about possibly flying Boliviana de Aviacion’s A330. Somehow this turned into a plan to visit the Falkland Islands. I figured this would be an interesting topic to talk about, as there are two very different ways to get to the Falkland Islands.
LATAM’s service to the Falkland Islands
Every Saturday, LATAM Chile operates a flight between Punta Arenas (PUQ) and Mount Pleasant (MPN). This is a short 530-mile flight, and the easiest way to get to the Falkland Islands. Of course that’s still an adventure, because Punta Arenas is pretty remote to begin with.
On top of that, LATAM also operates a once monthly Saturday flight between Río Gallegos (RGL) and Mount Pleasant (MPN). This is a short 466-mile flight, so both of the LATAM services to the Falkland Islands are true short hauls.
As you can tell, one of the challenges with LATAM’s service to the Falkland Islands is that you can’t visit for less than a week, given that all the service operates on Saturdays. If you’re looking to visit for less than a week, fortunately there’s one alternative…
AirTanker’s service to the Falkland Islands
Interestingly the most seats into the Falkland Islands aren’t on LATAM, but rather are on AirTanker from Brize Norton. Sorry. say what?!
AirTanker is an airline that’s contracted by the British government to operate flights in select markets, and that includes operating flights to the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands are around 8,000 miles from London, so how does this service work?
AirTanker operates twice weekly flights between Royal Air Force Base Brize Norton (just outside of London) and Mount Pleasant. The service is operated by an Airbus A330-200, and G-VYGJ seems to be one of the jets most regularly operating this service. The flight can’t be operated nonstop, so the aircraft generally refuels in Ascension Island (ASI), with each sector taking roughly eight hours.
Is Ascension Island to Mount Pleasant the most interesting flight sector in the world, or what?!
It’s my understanding that the aircraft is in a one cabin configuration, with 291 seats. You can see the cabin in the below video with AirTanker cabin crew testimonials.
These flights are open to the public, but aren’t bookable directly online. Rather, you have to make an inquiry with the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS).
This sounds like an adventure
I can’t believe I’m considering this, but a trip like this sounds like an adventure, flying one way on LATAM, and one way on AirTanker. I roughly know what to expect from LATAM, but I’m curious, have any OMAAT readers flown with AirTanker?
- What’s it like departing from a Royal Air Force base?
- What’s the meal service like on a flight contracted by the UK government and departing from a government base?
- Are these flights actually consistently full, given how many seats there are? That would obviously make a big difference in terms of comfort…
- Will I be able to document this trip, or is this a case where photos could be banned for much of the journey?
- How would I do on a 16+ hour flight in economy, as it has been a while since I’ve flown that far in a non-premium cabin? Okay, you don’t need to answer that one…
The Falkland Islands are a remote destination that has long fascinated me. LATAM flies there once weekly, so my assumption had long been that the only practical way to visit was to stay for a week. However, if you’re willing to take a plane contracted by the British government, you can get there twice weekly from Brize Norton via Ascension Island.
Anyone have any experience with these AirTanker services to the Falkland Islands?