Travel Guide: Can You Fly to Antarctica?

August 5, 2021

Antarctica: the seventh continent of the world and, by far, the least populated continent with minimal human activity. It’s the coldest and iciest continent on the planet, accounting for nearly 90% of the Earth’s total ice surface.

While much of the continent is believed to be one giant landmass, Antarctica also includes many islands in the surrounding the Southern Ocean. Some of these, such as South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, are considered sub-Antarctic. Islands visited during expeditions to Antarctica reach as far north as the tip of South America where the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, which includes the island of Cape Horn, invites travellers to explore its rugged beauty.

Now, what can you expect on a voyage to Antarctica, and what do you need to do to prepare yourself for a trip across the world’s southernmost continent? In this guide, we’ll give you some practical tips to get ready for an adventure you will never forget.

Is it illegal to fly over Antarctica?

uark Expeditions' guests who cross the Drake Passage by plane enjoy incredible aerial views when landing in the Antarctic

Quark Expeditions' guests who cross the Drake Passage by plane enjoy incredible aerial views
when landing in the Antarctic.Photo: David Merron

Since Antarctica is such a remote location and has very little human activity, this is actually a legitimate question for many travellers. Can you fly to Antarctica or Is it illegal to fly over Antarctica? More importantly, given the conditions of the landscape, is it safe to fly over Antarctica?

The short answer is, no, it’s not illegal to fly over Antarctica. But there are practical considerations that make it challenging for regular airlines to navigate across the land. In many parts of Antarctica, there’s limited or no infrastructure, no landing strips, and obviously no refuelling stations for planes.

It’s best to book such an adventure with experienced operators who specialize in polar exploration. Quark Expeditions has taken guests to various parts of Antarctica on many polar expeditions, offering options to fly to Antarctica from the southern tip of South America rather than sail across the Drake Passage. In fact, you can now, thanks to the launch of Quark Expeditions’ new ship Ultramarine,  explore Antarctica by helicopter once your ship arrives in Antarctica. Ultramarine is equipped with two twin-engine helicopters that introduce an entire new spectrum of helicopter-supported adventures that immerse guests in the wonders of the Antarctic—with incredible aerial views.

Can planes fly to Antarctica?

Yes, you can fly across the Drake Passage to King George Island, and then continue on by ship. The Antarctic Express: Fly The Drake itinerary takes you over the southern continent via the Drake Passage by way of a chartered plane that takes you to your vessel. This 8-day adventure explores the Antarctic Peninsula and even reaches the South Shetland Islands on the northern periphery of the Antarctic landmass. You’ll be able to go on a hiking excursion onshore and even take part in a polar plunge, depending on the weather conditions. Ultramarine’s two onboard H145 twin-engine helicopters can take guests flightseeing and provide other helicopter-supported adventures that provide a new way of experiencing the region. Quark Expeditions' guests have been airborne in the Antarctic before—on an earlier trip to Snow Island to see the Emperor penguin colony. Because of the icy conditions of the Weddell Sea, and the location of one of the world's largest penguin rookeries, guests go by ship and then transfer to helicopter—and then cover the last stretch on foot for an unforgettable look at the penguins. So there are different aerial options when you visit the Antarctic.

While it's possible to fly in a plane to Antarctica, visitors can also enjoy helicopter flight seeing once they get there.

While it's possible to fly in a plane to Antarctica, visitors can also enjoy helicopter flight seeing once they get there. Photo: Quark Expeditions

What is the best way to visit Antarctica?

As mentioned, the best way to visit Antarctica is with a seasoned polar operator with a solid track record of taking guests by small polar vessels that can navigate places larger cruise ships cannot reach. That’s why Quark Expeditions maintains the largest fleet of small polar vessels in the expedition industry. No large cruise ships.

In addition to our experienced crew, Quark Expeditions also offers onboard experts (glaciologists, penguinologist, historians, wildlife experts) who can educate and inform our travellers about what to expect from the land, the wildlife, and to narrate the history of how Antarctica was first discovered and explored. This will help travelers get the most out of their adventure in a truly authentic way.

Flying across the Drake Passage is an excellent option for travelers who want to make the most of their Antarctic voyage and are strapped for time (or have limited vacation days). Rather than sail across the 800-km Drake Passage, guests can fly by charter plane from Punta Arenas, Chile, and land at King George Island—and then start exploring the incredible Antarctic Peninsula by ship.

By eliminating the 2-day ship crossing of the iconic Drake Passage, you can visit the Antarctic in as few as 8 days. You’ll experience incredible aerial views as you enjoy unforgettable perspectives of the Antarctic landscape as well as the South Shetland Islands.

Fly to Antarctica and cruise

The Antarctic Circle is an incredible location in its own right, and crossing the circle by air or by sea will provide you with photographic moments that are undoubtedly worth capturing. That’s why we recommend that you book passage on the Antarctic Express: Crossing the Circle voyage for a 11 day adventure across the Antarctic Circle.

You’ll fly into King George Island and embark on your journey across Western Antarctica and into the Antarctic Circle itself. You’ll have the chance to go on a paddling excursion through the Circle and you can join hiking and Zodiac excursions on your journey, which are included in the trip. We want you to get the most out of your time in Antarctica, and these experiences will truly make it memorable.

Packing for a fly cruise to Antarctica

For any polar adventure, you need to be prepared for the elements. You want to be sure you have the right gear, the equipment, and the clothing to enjoy your time on the southern continent.

Start by checking out this helpful packing checklist. Among the most important items to bring are:

  • Base layers of clothing
  • Mid-layers of clothing
  • Protective outerwear
  • Gloves and glove liners
  • Durable footwear
  • Hats and neck-warmers
  • Refer to the complete list above for additional accessories.

And never leave home without your adventurous spirit! That can make or break your dream voyage!

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