Demand high for seats on board Antarctica Sightseeing charter flights on Qantas Dreamliner 787
When Captain Lisa Norman takes command in the cockpit next month she will truly put the “dream” in “Dreamliner”, becoming the first female pilot to captain a commercial passenger flight to Antarctica aboard the revolutionary Boeing 787, popularly known as the Dreamliner.
Scheduled to depart from Melbourne on New Year’s Eve, that flight will be the second 10,500 kilometre-long Antarctica Sightseeing charter of the annual November to February season, when weather in the deepest south is at its most favourable.
Meanwhile, the first flight to Antarctica is due to depart Sydney on its 13-hour long journey Sunday morning with Captain Norman one of five pilots overseeing the controls. Passengers will spend about four hours of flight time viewing icebergs, coastlines and mountains from the comfort of the plane.
With luxury cruises to the white continent suspended this season due to the global pandemic and resultant border closures, the sightseeing passengers, who will be subject to COVID-19 safety measures on board, will effectively be the only tourists on the planet to visit Antarctica this year and potentially all of next.
Although Captain Norman, 53, feels that gender-based milestones, namely being the first woman to command a flight to Antarctica, “shouldn’t really matter these days” she does acknowledge that it “will help to inspire young aviatrix”.
“We do need to celebrate the wins,” she says, “though I do like to say that I’m the captain flying the aeroplane, not that I’m the female captain flying the aeroplane.”
In another milestone, today will see the first Qantas Dreamliner, renowned for its fuel-efficiency and passenger comfort, to fly to Antarctica after the earlier than planned retirement of the airline’s Boeing 747s which flew the special route for a quarter of a century before COVID forced it out of action.
Demand for these most joyous of joy flights – classed not as international services but a domestic sector (and Qantas’s longest) – has been intense with only 10 per cent of seats for the 2020-21 Antarctica sightseeing season remaining to be sold.
The eight flights include two charters from Sydney and one from Melbourne with the remaining services from other Australian capitals. Flights for the 2021-22 Antarctica season have gone on sale with 30 per cent of seats already sold.
“It didn’t take too long before our Antarctica Flights went viral after the flights went on sale in early August as one of the only ‘overseas’ trips Australians could take any time soon,” says Bas Bosschieter, chief executive of the Melbourne-based Antarctica Flights, operator of the tours. “Sales have been solid ever since.”
Both passengers and pilots, including Captain Norman, will also benefit from the 787’s windows that are considerably larger than those of the 747s.
Mr Bosschieter says that while the 747s will be missed, the major advantages of the Dreamliner are that windows are six per cent larger for enhanced viewing and with fewer passengers – 218 guests instead of 352 – there will be a quieter “in-cabin” experience.
Captain Norman says that despite the considerable responsibility of piloting such a flight, where special procedures apply due to uniqueness of Antarctica, there is still plenty of time for the pilots to enjoy the sublime views.
“These flights are so important during COVID-19 in that it allows people to still enjoy flying,” says Captain Norman, 53. “I’m fascinated by Antarctica and totally wrapped up in it. It’s drier than even the Sahara and the sheer size of it extraordinary.”
Fares on the Antarctica Sightseeing charter start from $1199 a person.