“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving” ~ Terry Pratchett.
With revived Qantas flights offering a day trip to Antarctica from Australia, I was certainly intrigued and keen to find out what the experience was like. However, I soon realised all Antarctica flights reviews were from several years ago with no information on what it’s like travelling during our current times.
The combination of other cancelled trips since 2020 and my curiosity getting the better of me meant I bit the bullet and bought a ticket faster than you could say “Antarctica by air.” Why not take advantage of the opportunity to witness the unique beauty of the most uninhabitable continent on our planet?
Little did I realise I was about to be a part of an incredible experience – the inaugural Qantas 787 Dreamliner flight to Antarctica. How special is that? I love to experience new things and share my reviews with you, so you’re about to find out exactly how it went.
If you’ve been wondering whether you should take the plunge as I did, this Qantas Antarctica flight review details the honest truth about seating arrangements and covers everything you need to know to decide whether this bucket list experience is worth it for you. Read on for more!
This Antarctica flights review will cover:
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Full disclosure up front: I took this Sydney to Antarctica flight unbeknownst to Qantas or Antarctica Flights and paid in full with my own money. I am not affiliated with either company in any way. The purpose of this review is to share my honest thoughts and opinions about the experience to help with your decision making.
Antarctica flight from Sydney
Antarctica Flights provides the unique opportunity to view our southernmost continent on a Qantas 787 Dreamliner. If you’re not familiar, Dreamliners are new to the fleet and replaced Qantas 747 jets that were retired earlier in 2020. Flights are offered from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth & Hobart.
If you take the Sydney flight as I did, flights depart from Sydney Airport Domestic Terminal 3. You don’t even need to bring your passport as the flight departs and lands in the same location. Although, leaving and coming back is not the same as never leaving – it’s a memory that will stay with you forever!
Sydney to Antarctica flight time
The total flight time from Sydney to Antarctica and back ranges from 12 – 14 hours. This depends on the flight path chosen for optimum viewing conditions, as there are 19 for the Captain to select from depending on the day’s weather.
The flight can approximately be broken into several stages:
- 4 hours into the flight sea ice can be seen from the windows
- 4 hours sightseeing flight time over the continent
- 4 hours return to Sydney
Meal services are completed outside of the sightseeing flight time.
Seating options & pricing
To ensure all passengers receive a fair chance for optimum viewing outside, seats are swapped halfway through the flight as illustrated below. I booked Superior Economy tickets, the subject of this review. The arrows depict seats that swap with one another during the flight.
The prices below are if you book directly with Antarctica Flights. All prices are in AUD, more explanations about seating here. A credit card surcharge is added to the total at the time of booking:
- Business Class Deluxe – $7,999 (dark blue)
- Business Class – $6,499 (light blue)
- Premium Economy – $3,999 (dark green)
- Superior Economy – $3,199 (light green)
- Standard Economy – $2,199 (dark pink)
- Explorer Economy – $1,199 (light pink)
What happens when you book
After booking your seating class online, you won’t be given your actual seat number. Physical boarding passes are issued on the day at the flight gate. It’s based on the luck of the draw! But don’t worry if you don’t receive the exact seats you hoped, I’ll explain why further down the page.
Two weeks before the flight, you’ll receive an info pack in the mail. It contains:
- Expedition notes booklet for what to expect on the day, who your Antarctic Expeditioner guest speaker will be
- Glossy Antarctica map with information about the continent
- Commemorative brochure detailing Australia’s involvement in Antarctic exploration
- Flight DVD order form & souvenir guide
- Name card on lanyard coloured by seating class
- Health questionnaire declaration (to be handed in on the day).
What to bring on your flight
As we won’t actually be landing on the ice, there’s no need to bring along special gear! Checked bags are not permitted on Antarctica flights so I suggest bringing the below items in a small bag or backpack:
- Don’t forget your camera! Make sure it has good zoom capabilities. My photos in this article were taken with a Canon G7X Mark III camera (more about why I chose this camera here)
- Camera batteries, as my first fully-charged battery died halfway through the flight so a spare is a great idea
- Sunglasses as it can get very bright with the sun reflecting off the ice and sunset in the west when flying home
- A device to watch your own movies or play games, like an iPad or Kindle. In-flight entertainment is available but limited due to the grounding of most international aircraft in 2020
- A good book to read as none of the bookstores in the Domestic terminal are open early morning to buy one (I’ve written this #1 Amazon New Release if you’re interested!)
- Reusable face mask if you prefer to wear your own. Masks are no longer required for Australian domestic flights with Qantas.
- Glossy Antarctica map so you can reference points of interest as you fly over them
- Health questionnaire declaration to hand in at the gate before boarding.
What you DON’T need to bring
You won’t need these on a Dreamliner (but may be handy for other types of aircraft!):
- Foot hammock as the Dreamliner seats are very comfortable, even for short people like me! My feet usually dangle on board, but not in the Dreamliner seats
- Neck pillow as the seats have built-in neck supports that are height adjustable
- Warm clothing as blankets are provided and the cabin can get warm over the ice from the sun outside.
Antarctica sightseeing flights review
Now, let’s get into my Antarctica flights review.
After being paranoid for days about missing my alarm for 7:00am check-in at the airport, my excitement finally kicked in on arriving at the Domestic terminal and seeing Qantas Antarctica flight number 2900 on the Departures board!
As per the information provided in the expedition notes booklet, I proceeded to make my way straight through security and over to Gate 11 (the gate and time may vary but will be confirmed in your info pack). All passengers’ temperatures were taken with a contactless thermometer on entry. Here is where I handed in my health questionnaire declaration.
Collection of boarding pass
This is the moment of truth – whereabouts will you be seated within your cabin class? Seats are allocated on best availability at the time of booking so it’s up to the universe to decide for you.
On receiving my boarding pass, in all honesty I was a little disappointed at first to see I’d be seated in seats H & J (one & two seats from the window). My initial hope was that I’d receive the direct window seat and middle aisle seat (F & K). However, once the flight was over I was happy to receive the seats I had – keep reading to find out why!
Inflight: Dreamliner seats
If this will be your first time in a Boeing Dreamliner like it was for me, there are a few nice things I noticed that are different to other aircraft:
- There are no sliding window shades. Instead, individual windows can be dimmed from light to dark blue. I was so confused after takeoff why the window became a sapphire hue, but soon figured out the button beneath the window adjusts the level of tint.
- Windows appear to be a single panel of glass and reflection from the inside is very minimal. This is a huge plus as outside photos from inside aircraft usually have a reflection of yourself.
- Windows are quite large, the largest on any passenger aircraft in fact. They measure over 18 inches high and are good for viewing over the window passenger’s head if needed.
- Seats are very comfortable for petite travellers like me! I’m 5’2″. As mentioned above, my feet usually dangle which causes aches and discomfort. The upright incline of the seat is in a nice position and I didn’t feel like I was being hunched forward like I do on other aircraft. The adjustable neck rest is another plus.
- Much thought has gone into the entertainment system with each chair hosting two USB charging ports and a PC charging outlet. Directly under the screen is a mini folding shelf to place your devices like iPads, removing the need to pull out the tray table. This leaves a nice amount of leg room!
MORE DAY TRIPS FROM SYDNEY:
Inflight: Meals and beverages
We don’t take an Antarctica sightseeing flight to talk about the food so I’ll keep it short. While brunch and dinner are quite tasty, in Economy class their presentation does leave a lot to be desired. But hey, it’s plane food so you kinda know what to expect.
Snacks are plentiful, not only is there a bag of various snacks and bottled water in your seat pocket, snacks can be requested throughout the flight so you’re well fed. Expect cheese and crackers, hot sausage rolls, Tim Tams, pretzels, almonds, crackers with salsa and more.
As with international long haul flights, alcohol is available on board to enjoy a celebratory drink. Due to health restrictions, bottled water can’t be refilled by staff so extra water will be served in a plastic cup. I simply poured this into my bottle (and managed not to spill any, yay!)
NOTE: If you’re after a snack during the 4 hour sightseeing period, you’ll need to make your way to the galley to ask crew. Health restrictions mean only 2 people can be standing around the galley aside from staff, although there were more than this requesting hot drinks as well. During this time crew seemed a little run off their feet so you’ll need to be patient.
As mentioned earlier, your flight path will depend on the best viewing conditions for that day and will be determined by your Captain that morning.
On our approach to Antarctica around 11:15am our flight had a radio call with an Aussie expeditioner who was currently living at Casey Station, a permanent Australian Antarctic research base. He explained Mawson Station can receive 52 blizzard days per year with winds reaching 220km/h!
Apparently at Christmas time, around 50 expeditioners and researchers from the international stations throughout Antarctica get together to create a 5 minute video of life on the continent that year. A light-hearted way to celebrate when they’re so far from home.
TIP: Expeditioners live by a quote – “ice gets in your bones”, meaning once you visit Antarctica you’ll want to return again and again.
Throughout the sightseeing time commentary was also provided by Peter Hicks, a producer and director of documentaries about Antarctica. He described Sir Douglas Mawson’s role in Australia securing 42% Antarctic territory, points of interest as we flew past them and their significance, which was interesting.
Now to the part you’ve been waiting for! The quiet cabin became a hive of activity once the first icebergs could be seen from the windows. These were surrounding Balleny Islands at first as we flew towards several capes and glaciers before heading further south towards Mt Minto.
I involuntarily gasped too many times to count at the incredible scenery just outside the window. While I’ve flown over Fiorldand National Park in New Zealand’s South Island and visited the Top of Europe’s Jungfraujoch in Switzerland, neither prepared me for the indescribable beauty and otherworldly sights below.
Dark, jagged rows of mountain peaks pierced through the white snow creating a brilliant contrast, reminding me of a giant dragon hibernating beneath its icy blanket. The sun’s rays hit icebergs in a way that made them glisten in the sunlight like diamonds. Gaping cracks were visible on the mountain ledges, appearing like a giant creature had clawed its way through the snow.
Notable sights we had the pleasure of seeing were:
We didn’t get as far as Mount Erebus this time.
I always like to say Mother Nature is the best kind of artist and she sure didn’t disappoint! I couldn’t help but imagine what kinds of treasures from the past lay eternally hidden beneath the ice; what secrets we’ll never know from the harshest continent on our planet.
Here is some of the spectacular scenery I’ll remember forever. Note that I did NOT have a direct window seat, these photos have been zoomed in around other passenger’s heads and the like. Imagine what you could also achieve! I’ll let these shots speak for themselves:
Halfway through the sightseeing time we did our seat swapping. To abide by current health regulations this involved wiping down our TV screens, belt buckle, armrests and tray tables with the sanitiser wipes provided in our “Fly Well” packs. Cabin crew oversaw the swaps one row at a time to avoid confusion. It really was no hassle!
Inflight: After sightseeing
Once sightseeing was completed, we began to journey back to Sydney. In this time, dinner was served and in-flight raffles and auctions were held.
At the beginning of the flight you’re handed a brochure listing items for sale during the in-flight auction. Items included on my flight were a rare rock dating back 100 million years to the time of Gondwana that was found on Antarctica, limited edition Antarctica bottle of whiskey, old Australian $100 note with Sir Douglas Mawson signed by his daughters, rare prints and more. Proceeds went towards the Mawson’s Huts Foundation.
Some passengers were quite competitive with the auction, which made for a great spectacle. Others were very vocal when their raffle ticket numbers were called. The whole cabin clapped and cheered for the winners, it was an exciting little experience to be a part of!
Important tips & advice when selecting seating class
Now to the part I feel is most important in this Antarctica flights review – what you need to know when selecting seats. I’ll be completely honest here so you know exactly what to expect from each seating class. Mentioned in order of cheapest tickets to most expensive:
- Explorer Economy – 22 seats on the flight in awkward locations without windows. It’s clearly mentioned on the Antarctic Flights website these seats do not swap and that these passengers can view outside from common areas.
Honest truth: I understand the flight needs to be as full as possible to turn a profit, however these seats are simply not worth it. Due to current health regulations, only 2 people at a time can stand at the emergency exit door window to try capture a view outside (this also goes for waiting to use the toilets). You also cannot block the aisles as cabin crew are still working around the aircraft.
TIP: I was seated in Row 56, a row with Explorer Economy seats directly behind. The only way the people seated behind me could see outside was to try and steal a glimpse from my window and the window in front of mine. These people had cameras with huge zoom lenses, however with 3 people already trying to look out the window in each row I doubt they really were able to see much at all.
- Standard Economy – 36 seats with partially obstructed views due to seats being on the edge of the wings.
Honest truth: These might be ok if you have a limited budget.
- Superior Economy – This is what I booked and I’m honestly glad I did. On the Dreamliner, 50 seats towards the rear of the aircraft meant views were not obstructed by the wings. Do note though, if you receive a direct window seat for one leg of the flight, don’t expect to see much during the other leg of your flight in the inner aisle seat. This is why I ended up being satisfied with the middle and aisle seats from the window as I had views for the entire flight. On the 787, there are 88 seats in this area.
Honest truth: I definitely recommend these seats if your budget allows!
- Premium Economy – On the Dreamliner, 28 nicer seats than Explorer/Standard/Superior Economy, however you’re seated directly over the wings. Also as there are 7 seats per row rather than 8 to seat swap, it means someone ends up being seated directly in the middle of the plane away from all windows. On the 787, there are 32 regular seats in this area, 3 per row rather than just 2 on the Dreamliner.
Honest truth: Not ideal for viewing but may be an option if you prefer larger seats on the Dreamliner.
- Business Class – 12 partially obstructed views seated over the leading edge of the aircraft’s wings. Window seats are guaranteed.
Honest truth: As there are only 4 seats per row, it means you’re always near a window with plenty of space.
- Business Class Deluxe – At the forefront of the aircraft with unobstructed views and 30 luxurious seats, you can’t get much better than this! Window seats are guaranteed.
Honest truth: If your budget permits, why the heck not? This would be the ultimate experience!
Concluding my Antarctica flights review
Overall, I was left quite impressed with the experience and in complete awe of Antarctica’s untouched beauty. Flying over the Antarctic is a bucket list item I never dreamt I would be able to experience in my lifetime – and I’m so glad I have!
I feel given the situation and the increase to their workload due to health regulations, the cabin crew did a fantastic job adhering to the rules and passengers were made to feel safe at all times. The on board raffle and auction towards the flight’s end were entertaining. It was such a fun atmosphere that ensured several laughs!
TIP: Before my flight I had read some reviews from years ago and passengers claimed it was the quickest 13 hours of their life – I solidly agree with this.
In the time it would take to almost fly to Los Angeles or Dubai we’d traversed the Southern Ocean, navigated our way above sparkling glaciers and sharp mountain peaks, witnessed icebergs larger than cities and even saw some little huts. It’s an experience few people can claim to have undertaken and there’s something truly humbling about that.
Are flights over Antarctica worth it?
While the prices are not cheap by any means, I believe flights over Antarctica are worth it. Antarctica sightseeing flights provide an amazing opportunity to see this incredible continent without spending weeks on a ship to get there.
As a fellow professional in the tourism industry, what pulled at my heartstrings was learning most cabin crew from my flight had been out of work since March 2020, this inaugural flight 8 months later being their first day back. Keeping staff employed during these times in itself makes the flights worthwhile. And the flight is 100% carbon offset, too.
What are your thoughts on an Australia to Antarctica flight? Does this Qantas Antarctica flights review convince you to visit our icy continent someday? I’d love to hear what you think about an Antarctica day trip like this in the comments below.
While you’re here, why not take a look at all my articles for Australia, ideas for responsible itinerary planning, how to be an “invisible” tourist around the globe and much more – I especially have loads of content on my popular Japan travel blog if you hope to visit someday. Come and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok for more travel inspiration!
Until next time,
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