Scenic flights to Antarctica: Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliners to replace 747s in 2020/21 season

It isn't an international flight (because it doesn't land) but this could still be one of the first opportunities to leave Australia by air.

The twin joys of air travel and Antarctica are combined in a day trip over the White Continent, scheduled for later this year. 

The Qantas Boeing 747s that have been used for the past 26 years will be replaced by a 787 Dreamliner. Passengers on the 12.5 hour journey  will take in icebergs and ice floes before passing over the mountains of the Antarctic mainland.

Antarctica from the air

You can get a bird's-eye view of the frozen continent on board a Qantas jumbo jet. Antarctica Flights runs sightseeing trips that fly from Australia's major capitals several times a year. Video: Antarctica Flights

There are 19 possible flight plans, and, once over the continent, the views from both sides  of the aircraft include mountains, glaciers and the coastline.  

Experts onboard will include Di Patterson who in 1989  became the first woman in the world to lead an Antarctic research station and physicist  Mike Craven who is a veteran of six  Antarctic winters.

And in a new COVID-19 reality, contactless temperature checks will be conducted on all passengers before boarding (those with a temperature of 38 degrees or higher won't be allowed to board and will receive a credit for a future flight). A reduced number of economy seats will be sold for the flight and an extra headrest cover and sanitising wipes provided for the seat rotation that happens half-way throughout the journey.

Since the flights take off and land at the same airport, they're considered domestic travel and so will be permitted under current travel restrictions.

The future of the scenic Antarctica flights had been uncertain after Qantas announced the retirement of its 747s jumbo jets. Due to the flights to Antarctica flying so far from usable airports, in the past only four-engine planes were allowed to fly the routes. 

However, the 787-9 Dreamliner, which Qantas normally uses on its 17-hour non-stop flight from Perth to London, became a possible replacement in 2018 after the US Federal Aviation Administration extended the aircraft's extended operations (ETOPS) certificate.


For Dreamliners, this was previously limited to 180 minutes' flying time, but was extended by the FAA to 330 minutes - five and a half hours - making the Antarctica flights possible. 

Antarctica Flights has been planning for the retirement of the 747s for the past two years, with Dreamliner pilots joining flights to Antarctica to build up their experience. Each captain on board a flight must have completed at least two previous trips to Antarctica as co-pilot. At least two experienced captains will be on board each flight, with a third captain on board to gain experience on the route. 

One advantage the Dreamliner will have over the 747 are the plane's windows, which are the largest of any commercial aircraft. This will allow passengers to get a better view while flying over the spectacular Antarctic landscape.

The Antarctica flights will mark the first time the Qantas Dreamliners have flown since the airline grounded much of its fleet due to travel restrictions association with COVID-19.

The planes have been in storage at various sites around the country, but with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce predicting that international air travel is unlikely to recover for several years, Qantas will move several Dreamliners to storage facilities in the US in September. 

Qantas' final 747 jumbo jet departed Australia for the last time on July 23, bound for an aircraft boneyard in California's Mojave desert.

Full bar service is included. Flights for 2020 are scheduled for November 15 and December 31 from Melbourne and on November 22 from Sydney. There will also be flights from Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, plus a second Sydney flight, in 2021 Economy seats start at $1199, premium economy $3999 and business class $6499

Phone 1800 633 449, see

- with Craig Platt

See also: On board a Qantas jumbo over Antarctica

See also: Tears and tributes as the last Qantas 747 departs Australia for final time