Things to consider
Choosing to fly to Antarctica offers the traditional benefits of aviation - namely speed and comfort. It's a very different proposition to booking a flight for a regular holiday, and here’s why:
- There are no scheduled flights to Antarctica
- The only flights available for tourists are charter flights, which are only available as part of a package, rather than on a ‘seat only’ basis like booking a regular scheduled flight;
- In spite of the short Antarctic flying season (Dec - Feb) and no regular flight schedule, there’s a surprisingly good range options available, from 1 to 10 days in length
- Unlike boat-based cruises which can only explore Antarctica's coastline, flights unlock Antarctica's vast interior, including the South Pole
- Antarctica’s harsh and changeable weather makes flying challenging and susceptible to potential delays. The expediency of flying, therefore, needs to be balanced with this higher risk; learn more about Flying versus Sailing.
Prefer to sail? If you are planning on flying to Argentina and taking a ship to Antarctica, find out more about Antarctic Cruises.
Flying to Antarctica: what do I need to know?
Most popular ways to fly to Antarctica
5 ways to fly to Antarctica
With flying becoming an ever more popular route to Antarctica, there's an increasing number of flight options to consider, depending on time available, area of interest and budget:
1. Fly the Drake & Cruise Antarctica
The most popular way to fly to Antarctica, these trips combine the comfort and expediency of flying with all the benefits of then exploring Antarctica by small expedition ship.
- Flies to Antarctica in just 2 hours, avoiding Drake Passage
- Well suited to anxious sailors or travellers short on time
- Operates December - February only
- Tried & tested operation over 13 years
- Typically 8 days from $10,000 per person
2. Fly to Antarctica & Cruise back
An adaptation of the ‘Fly & Cruise’ concept, these trips fly in only one direction, the other leg is by ship.
- You still experience the excitement of the open sea
- Only one crossing of the Drake Passage
- The expediency of flying back at the end
- Choice of itineraries of 6 - 18 days from $5,000 per person
3. Fly to Argentina and Sail to Antarctica, both ways
The traditional route to Antarctica sailing south from the toe of South America remains the most popular choice for 90% of Antarctic travellers today.
If following in the footsteps of Shackleton & Scott is your chosen route, our Antarctic Cruises page has extensive information on all of the different voyages available, ranging from 10 - 30 days in length.
4. Fly to the South Pole
Fly into Antarctica’s vast, uninhabited wilderness which receives less than 500 visitors per year, compared to +1.2 million to Machu Pichu, Peru.
- Choice of adventures: South Pole flights to camping with Emperor penguins
- Access by charter flights from Chilean Patagonia or Cape Town only
- Limited departure dates as part of a packaged small group
- Restricted travel window of December & January
- Prices from $25,000 - $70,000 per person
5. Fly to Antarctica for a Day
If you've got $6,000 per person to spend, are short on time and willing to accept that you won't step on the Antarctic continent itself - only an outer island - then there are day trips available to Antarctica.
However, Swoop feels that the high cost outweighs the diluted Antarctic experience and only a few hours you'll get to spend 'in Antarctica'. With more time and for not much extra cost you could do it properly and spend 4-5 whole days in Antarctica on an Antarctic Cruise.
For anyone planning to fly to Antarctica, the town of Punta Arenas in southern Chile is the principal gateway to The White Continent.
What is it like to fly to Antarctica?
What our customers think
I sailed to Antarctica and then flew back across the Drake. Flying was so easy, taking off from King George Island and watching Antarctica fall away felt surreal, 2 hours later I was back texting photos to my family. I had to pinch myself, did I really just go to Antarctica!?
Agi, Hungary December 2016
I am back, and I must say that this was the most amazing experience of my life. So much so that I did not want it to end, EVER! Every aspect of this voyage was beyond expectations.
Leslie, USA January 2016
Everything was close to perfection. The service by Swoop Travel, the exceptional beauty of Antartica and the expedition team on the cruise were all 10/10!
Son, Thailand January 2016
No surprises - except relatively quiet Drake Passage.
Alan, UK February 2018
About Flying to Antarctica
Which are the Principal Airports?
For anyone planning to fly to/ from Antarctica, the town of Punta Arenas in southern Chile is the main departure point for all:
- Charter flights to King George Island, South Shetland Islands (flying time = 2 hours). This is the only commercial airfield servicing the Antarctic Peninsula for visitors.
- Scheduled flights to the Falkland Islands (flying time = 1 hour 40 mins), from where select Antarctic and South Georgia only cruises depart/return. This once weekly flight is only relevant to certain ‘Cruise south, fly north’ Antarctic departures.
- Charter flights into Antarctica’s interior, landing at Union Glacier basecamp (flying time = 4 hours), and for the lucky few on to the South Pole itself. These are ‘blue ice runways’ and a combination of skis and wheels are used, depending on conditions.
The only other flying route to Antarctica for visitors is from Cape Town in South Africa, which flies into Queen Maud Land to a luxury camp which accommodates only 12 people at a time.
There are other airfields and bases scattered across Antarctica which service field research or governmental traffic only.
The Cost of Flying
Operating charter flights to Antarctica is challenging due to Antarctica’s harsh environment and the specialist aircraft and experienced pilots required - all of which adds to the cost. While flying to Antarctica saves travel time and avoids the Drake Passage, the bottomline is that it costs more to fly than to sail, and so convenience comes at a price:
To fly to the Antarctic Peninsula in both directions on a Fly & Cruise trip it will typically cost 20% more than to sail in both directions. However, the growing demand for these trips clearly demonstrates that this investment is still perceived as good value and worth paying.
Fly to Antarctica & Cruise back trips which combine flying one way and sailing the other make savings with only one charter flight and can be attractively priced, starting from around $5,000 per person, depending on trip duration.
The deeper you fly into Antarctica the more expensive it becomes as the logistics, challenges and aircraft required become more specialised. A week at Union Glacier camp in the Ellsworth Mountains starts from $25,000 per person, a similar cost to a top cabin on a Fly & Cruise trip, however it’s a very different experience and fewer than 1% of visitors to Antarctica each year reach this point.
The types of planes used for flights into the Antarctic Peninsula are most commonly a BAE 146. For flights into and within the interior, the smaller more specialised Ilyushin, Twin Otter and Basler are utilised.
These planes are more ‘workhorse’ than luxury, but are perfectly comfortable for the short 2 hour flight between Punta Arenas and King George Island.
- Build: British-designed
- Capacity: 80 people
- Seating configuration: 3+3
- Renowned for its relatively quiet operation
- Its four turbofan engine configuration provides important redundancy
- Superior takeoff performance from short runways
- Toughened undercarriage and positioning of the landing gear for maximum stability makes it ideal for the non-tarmac airstrip on King George Island
Ilyushin IL-76 TD
Originally designed in 1967 for delivering heavy machinery into Russia’s hinterland, this iconic plane only operates between Punta Arenas and Union Glacier camp in Antarctica’s Ellsworth Mountains.
- Build: Soviet-designed
- Capacity: 60 people
- Seating configuration: 3+3
- Impressive lifting capabilities - able to carry a payload of up to 40 tonnes
- Good speed & range courtesy of four turbofan engines
- Ability to cope with both adverse Antarctic weather and short, unprepared airstrips
De Haviland DHC-6 Twin Otter
Deployed throughout the interior of Antarctica, these twin engined Twin Otters are the continent’s workhorse providing both vital passenger and cargo transportation.
- Build: Canadian-designed
- Capacity: 5-6 people
- Ski equipped
- Their rugged landing gear and STOL (short takeoff and landing) capabilities allow them to go where most aircraft can’t
The modified version of the original Douglas DC-3, the Basler is only used within Antarctica’s interior for getting larger groups than the Twin Otter can handle into remote areas.
- Build: US-designed
- Capacity: 12-15 people
- Seating configuration: 2+2
- STOL (short takeoff and landing) capabilities
- Versatile & tough
- Simple & spacious
Beechcraft King Air 300
The King Air is the world’s most popular business turboprop aircraft. In Antarctica it's exclusively used for the 1 & 2 day trips to The White Continent only. Comfortably accommodating up to 6 passengers, it's also ideal for chartering.
- Capacity: 6 passengers
- Seating configuration: 1+1
- Twin turboprops driving four blade propellers
- Max cruising speed 583km/h
- Range of up to 3,630km (1,960nm)
Highly recommend the fly in and boat out via the Falklands setup of our trip.
Alan, UK Customer
Be smart and give yourself a day extra in Punta Arenas before and after your trip like we did...less stress.
Lora & Mitchell, Texas Customer
Facts about Flight Delays
Even though the chances of experiencing a delay are relatively low, it's crucial that all visitors flying to Antarctica are prepared for the possibility and have contingency factored into their travel plans, just in case.
Flights to King George Island, South Shetlands
Although delays are possible, one of our principal Fly & Cruise operators has an impressive 80.9% success rate of flights arriving on the correct day across 141 flights over the last 14 years. A further 14.9% arrived the day before or day after, while only one trip has ever had to be totally cancelled. In reality, the majority of delays experienced are only a few hours.
Why are flights sometimes delayed?
Low clouds, fog and heavy winds are the main culprits, with King George Island being particularly prone to fog and low cloud. To be able to confidently depart from and return to Punta Arenas, pilots who are landing in Antarctica by sight only need a minimum 5 hour clear weather window. With such rapidly changing conditions, this is the real challenge, to successfully identify that ‘weather window’ and get there and back before it closes.
What happens if I am delayed?
If your flight from Punta Arenas is delayed, the local representatives will keep you regularly updated. Typically it's only a wait of a few hours, but in the unlikely event that its longer there are detailed contingency plans in place. Unfortunately you won’t be able to ‘make up’ any time lost once you get to Antarctica and will still leave on the day you were scheduled to.
Those delayed leaving Antarctica benefit from staying on at no extra cost. If you are on a Fly & Cruise trip, you continue to use the ship as your floating hotel and landings will be arranged while you wait for the weather to clear.
Will I receive a refund for delays or cancellation?
If you are very unfortunate to have your trip cancelled altogether due to weather, operators have a clear refund policy in place or will offer you the choice to re-book on an alternative date.
For shorter delays, compensation isn’t typically offered as weather is beyond anyone’s control and must be accepted as one of the risks of opting to fly. If you are uncomfortable with this, perhaps sailing to Antarctica, which is less prone to delays through adverse weather, may be a better option.
When do I need to book?
Due to the combination of the short flying season, limited flights and their huge popularity, these trips are in increasingly high demand and planning well ahead is crucial. You should definitely be booking your place(s) 10 - 18 months in advance of your departure date, but the general rule of thumb is the earlier the better, particularly for the prime dates around Christmas and New Year.
Having both flown and sailed to Antarctica I'm a big fan of flying. With the time saved, combining Antarctica with a few days in Torres del Paine National Park works brilliantly.
Alex Mudd Polar Specialist
Flights to Antarctica: FAQs
This narrow neck of water between the tip of Patagonia (Cape Horn) and the Antarctic Peninsula is the point at which the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans collide and is infamous as one of the roughest stretches of sea in the world. The ensuing currents can cause huge upwellings, or 'Waves of Terror', which at times can reach heights of 50 feet/15 metres. Typically only 30% of Drake crossings experience rough weather, however, those prone to seasickness may do well by choosing to fly and not take the risk.
As with so much in life, the answer sadly isn’t a simple one and there isn’t an optimal window. There are no set patterns to Antarctic weather and so it's better to focus on when it suits you to travel.
Travelling to Antarctica by plane definitely requires light packing! The luggage allowance is only 15 kg per passenger, including hand luggage. You do have the option to leave items in Punta Arenas and if joining a ship in Antarctica there will be a laundry service on board.
If you are flying to King George Island in the South Shetlands you won’t fly over Antarctica as you will be largely flying over water and then landing in the South Shetland Islands, which are located 90km/ 55 miles northwest of the Antarctic continent. If it's a clear day though, you may lucky enough to see Cape Horn en route.
For those select few flying into the interior, and perhaps all the way to the South Pole, you will certainly get some grand views of The White Continent from above.
How to Fly to Antarctica
Fly & Cruise Antarctica
A short two-hour flight quickly and comfortably transports you to the white continent. On arrival you then switch to an awaiting ship, aboard which you’ll spend the next few days…
Fly to Antarctica & Cruise back
These trips cruise one way and fly the other. They’re a hybrid between a traditional Antarctica cruise and a Fly & Cruise trip which either fly or sail in both directions. In…
Antarctic Interior and South Pole Expeditions
The interior is a vast, untouched playground accessed by less than 500 people a year. Nevertheless, there's a surprising range of challenging adventures here: fly or ski to the …