Frustrated Australian travellers may soon be flying to Antarctica on Qantas 787s.
While flights over the Tasman are still grounded and experts warn international flights may be off limits until at least next year, the Australian airline has kept a cool-head.
Flights over the frozen continent will be resuming as soon as November, well ahead of other routes affected by pandemic travel restrictions. Although the planes do not touch down in Antarctica, the circular scenic flights over the South Pole are expected to be a popular with frustrated Australian travellers.
The 12 hour scenic flights will be operated from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth on a privately chartered Qantas 787 Dreamliner. Although there are additional social distancing measures in place, it will essentially run under the conditions of a domestic service.
With the first glimpses of ice reached within 3 hours of flight, the proposed route takes in the McMurdo dry valleys, rugged mountains and the magnetic South Magnetic Pole.
"There is no passport or luggage needed for an Antarctica Flight, you can even go in board shorts if you wish," as Antarctica Flights CEO Bas Bosschieter told 7 News.
"It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit Antarctica in a day.
"I personally think it's the best answer to the question 'What did you get up to on the weekend? Just popped down to Antarctica'."
The company has been operating private charter flights over the continent for the past 26 years but, with a glut of unused aircraft now available due to pandemic travel disruption, this will be the first time the company has been able to charter aircraft from Qantas' ultra-long range Dreamliner fleet.
Prices start from $AUD 1200 with a premium "Ice Class" fare costing as much as $AUD8000, with flights departing Melbourne and Sydney as soon as November 15.
Extra safety measures will be in place this year, with passengers required to take temperature tests prior to departure. Qantas PPE kits, including face masks, will also be provided.
"Whilst it is very difficult for Australians to travel overseas at this time, our Antarctica Flights guests will be able to "visit" another continent in a day," said Bosschieter.
Of course the idea of an Antarctic sightseeing flight is nothing new to New Zealanders. Air New Zealand launched its own southern polar sight-seeing flights for passengers in 1977, two days after Qantas' inaugural Antarctic flights. However, the route was abandoned following the Erebus air disaster in which a DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus on 28 November 1979, killing 257 onboard.
It is still a highly sensitive issue for Kiwi travellers and airlines. While flights from New Zealand were briefly resumed in 2012, three decades after the crash, the route was again abandoned.
Air New Zealand currently has "no plans to operate sightseeing flights to Antarctica," said a spokesperson for the airline.
For now it will be an experience only available from Australia.