Words John Gray
A trip to Antarctica may become more accessible to tourists in the future now that a commercial passenger aircraft has successfully landed there for the first time. On November 26, 2015 a Boeing 757-200 ER passenger jet piloted by Loftleidir Icelandic made history by being the first commercial airliner to ever land on the icy continent.
Until now passengers have traditionally traveled to Antarctica in combination cargo/passenger planes that are equipped to handle ice landings. Those who make this trip are mainly scientists, including those of NASA, who spend time in the remote ice desert for different research projects. For adventure-seeking tourists flying is an option, but it is less expensive and more common to board a cruise ship from Argentina or Chile, followed by a ride on the Zodiac dingy (an engine-powered inflatable boat) in order to set foot on the icy continent.
The success of the Icelandic flight will undoubtedly encourage more passenger jets to do the same, and this will pave the way for more tourism. This trip, which was organized in partnership with the tour company Antarctica Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), could mean that within two or three years passenger jets will be regularly landing in the white wilderness. So if flying to Antarctica is on your bucket list, start planning.
What to see and do
For tourism, Antarctica is accessible only during the austral summer season from November to March. During these months, the sea ice melts enough to allow access, coastal temperatures can rise up to highs of 14°C, and there are twenty-four hours of daylight. During the winter the sea is impenetrable, temperatures can fall to -40°C, and there are twenty-four hours of darkness.
Antarctica is classified as a desert, and it does not rain or snow very much there. Snow actually builds up over many years to make ice sheets. You won’t find any greenery there, and the only plants that can survive are moss and algae. You won’t find any polar bears either (they are on the North Pole), but during the summer months you can spot seals, whales, penguins, and many bird species that migrate to breed and feed on krill, crustaceans, and fish.
Aside from admiring the exceptional wildlife and the breathtaking dramatic terrain, you can also engage in plenty of sports. Various activities on offer include kayaking around icebergs, camping trips, cross-country skiing, climbing Mount Vinson (Antarctica’s highest peak), or swimming in Deception Bay, a large volcanic crater filled with warm water.
“Antarctica has this mythic weight. It resides in the collective unconscious of so many people, and it makes this huge impact, just like outer space. It’s like going to the moon.”