Qantas Will Fly 787s Over Antarctica

Filed Under: Qantas

Qantas doesn’t plan on operating international flights for over a year, and the airline has retired its 747 fleet, grounded its entire A380 fleet, and will soon ground most of its 787 fleet. But that isn’t stopping the airline from chartering out its planes for some awesome aerial tours of Antarctica in the coming months.

Qantas’ sightseeing flights to Antarctica

For over 25 years, a company has been chartering Qantas planes to operate flights to Antarctica. The planes don’t actually land there, but rather they operate roughly 12-hour aerial tours of the most intriguing continent.

In past years these flights were operated using Boeing 747-400s, while they’ll now be operated with Boeing 787-9s.

Here’s a news segment from these flights in the past, to give you a sense of what these flights are like:

When are these Antarctica flights operating?

There will be seven Antarctica flights operated using Qantas aircraft over the coming months, departing from five Australian cities:

  • On November 15 there will be a flight from Melbourne
  • On November 22 there will be a flight from Sydney
  • On December 31 there will be a flight from Melbourne
  • On January 26 there will be a flight from Perth
  • On February 7 there will be a flight from Brisbane
  • On February 14 there will be a flight from Adelaide
  • On February 21 there will be a flight from Sydney

The exact timings of the flights vary, but as a general rule of thumb they leave in the morning (somewhere around 8AM), and return at night (somewhere around 9PM). The flights are generally scheduled to be in the air for around 12 hours, with about half of that time spent flying to & from Antarctica, and half of the time spent over the continent.

How expensive are Qantas’ Antarctica flights?

Qantas’ Boeing 787-9s are in a three cabin configuration, with business class, premium economy, and economy. However, the pricing used to sell seats is much more complex than that. As you’d expect, window seats come at a premium on this service, since the flights are all about the views.

They sell two types of business class seats, one type of premium economy seat, and three types of economy seats.

What’s the pricing like? Let’s look at the various options, noting that you switch seats halfway through the flight, so that everyone gets at least some views.

Here are the three options for business class and premium economy:

  • Business Class Deluxe (7,999 AUD) — this includes the forward business class seats with the best views, and everyone gets a window seat for half the flight
  • Business Class (6,499 AUD) — this includes the business class seats closer to the wing, and everyone gets a window seat for half the flight
  • Premium Economy Class (3,999 AUD) — all premium economy seats are priced the same, though not everyone gets a window seat, given the 2-3-2 configuration

Qantas’ 787-9 business class

In economy the configuration is 3-3-3, though the middle seat isn’t sold, so there are “just” eight seats sold per row. Here are the pricing options:

  • Superior Economy Class (3,199 AUD) — this includes the economy seats in the back of the plane, which have the most unobstructed views
  • Standard Economy Class (2,199 AUD) — this includes the economy seats with a somewhat obstructed view, due to the wing
  • Explorer Economy Class (1,199 AUD) — this is the only option where you don’t switch seats, and you won’t have a window seat, so you may be stuck doing much of your viewing from the aisle

These flights are a cool concept, but…

As an aviation geek and someone who wants to visit Antarctica, I think these flights are so cool. At the same time, even if I lived in Australia and had the means, I couldn’t see myself actually booking one of these:

  • If I’m going to spend a ton of money to see Antarctica, I’d much rather book a cruise, where I can actually step foot on the continent (obviously this isn’t a great time for cruises, so I’ll put this on my bucket list for the future)
  • While this sounds great in theory, you’re spending a lot of money to potentially only have a few hours of views over Antarctica
  • A lot of what makes Antarctica so special is the wildlife and how unspoiled it is, and I’m not sure that’s fully captured from the sky; aerial views over Greenland, Northern Canada, etc., are pretty incredible as well, and can be seen on many transatlantic flights
  • For those in economy, this seems borderline claustrophobic; economy isn’t very spacious to begin with, and then it appears that many of the people seated in the center section of the aircraft spend much of the flight standing in the aisle hovering over those in window seats

Don’t get me wrong, this seems awesome, and I’d definitely go if I won it as part of a sweepstakes, or something. However, I couldn’t imagine spending so much on a seat on a flight to nowhere.

Bottom line

A company will be chartering Qantas 787-9s to operate seven flights to nowhere, flying over Antarctica. While this service has been operating for years, perhaps there will be more interest this year than ever before, given that Australians largely can’t travel abroad.

While I love the concept, personally I couldn’t imagine spending the money for this. I’d much rather save up and book a cruise to Antarctica at some point, which gives you more than an aerial view for a few hours.

What do you make of these Antarctica flightseeing services? Surely everyone agrees they’re cool, but could you see yourself paying for the experience?

(Tip of the hat to Live and Let’s Fly)

  1. It’s really a once in a lifetime experience! And it saves one two weeks single journey by boat through the rough Antarctic sea! Though nothing beats flying the Queen of the Skies on these flights… did it as part of my first Australia visit 4 years ago, and still cherish the memories of that flight. The whole ambiance onboard was special too; I’ll never forget the sense of euphoria across the entire plane as the first person spotted and shouted ‘Snow!’ as we descended over Antarctica. The QF crew volunteers to operate these flights, and are equally enthusiastic to be onboard. If memory serves me well, CO2 compensation by pax is actively offered by the tour company organizing these site seeing flights.

    Now defunct Air Berlin used to offer similar site seeing flights over the north pole… curious why no other airline in Europe took over.

  2. Agree a cruise is a better use of money to see Antarctica, plus there is no way I’d be swapping seats during COVID. That’s one sure way to spread it. Frankly, flying is off my radar until all of this settles down. I doubt these trips will go ahead anyway (at least the 2020 ones), though Qantas did recently operate farewell 747 joy flights so anything is possible. There is ultimately a market for it and from what I’ve heard the flights are often well booked.

  3. Nope. I was booked to go to Antarctica in December but it has sadly been cancelled. Not spending 8k for a couple of hours of seeing it from the sky. These flights have been operating for years. Were originally arranged by a travel agent very close to where I grew up. Supposed to be amazing though.

    I wonder if you earn SC’s???

    As an aside my QF status year started again on Aug 1. Got my 50% bonus SC on the same day!

  4. Spare a moment of remembrance for those lost during the crash of Air New Zealand 901 at Mount Erebus.

  5. OK, how can you tell the difference between Antarctica and the Arctic from 35,000 feet? It’s just a big sheet of ice, right?

  6. The famous Antarctica sightseeing flights. Doesn’t sound like this flight is COVID compliant.

    We’ll see if COVID or Mt. Erebus kills more people.

  7. Although I haven’t been to Antarctica, I have flown from Iceland to Greenland and spent some time cruising there too. Having flown extensively all over the world, the trip from Reykjavik to Illusilat in winter is one of the best 10 things I’ve ever done. The plane is small and flies quite low. You get a totally different perspective from the air, can see the extent of the amazing ice fjords and marvel at the sheer power of mother nature. My face stayed glued to the window for several hours!

    Cruising was interesting too – seeing an iceberg invert (from a distance) was incredible. In terms of experiences, flying and cruising are not comparable in this case. Even though I’m in Australia, at $7000 I don’t think I’ll be going on an Antarctic joy flight any time soon. But I can certainly see the appeal and hope those who do decide to go have a magical time.

  8. Do we know the altitude, Ben? If they spend hours sweeping around Antarctic mountains at 15,000 feet I’d consider it. At 35,000 feet, we’ve presumably seen similar Arctic views en route from JFK to HKG.

  9. I just did an Antarctica trip with Quark… you would never be able to appreciate Antarctica by airplane!! Gotta go in person, its 100% worth it. Put that money towards the cruise/expedition!

  10. How sad for the environment. Antarctica is already melting. a little extra ozone from these flights will help it along.

  11. Qantas needs to ask Air New Zealand about their personal experience with Antarctic Sightseeing flights in the past. RIP all 257 passengers and crew who slammed into the slopes of Mt Erebus in false whiteout conditions.

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