Qantas Antarctica Flight 2018 – Part 1 | Queen of the Skies - Boeing 747-438ER - VH-OEJ | QF2902 Melbourne (MEL), Victoria – ZZF (New Zealand Ross Dependency) - Hobart (HBA), Tasmania, Australia | Economy Class StandardImage courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.
Welcome to my Antarctica Trip Report! It was an enjoyment reliving this again and being able to upload this to A.net. I’ve read Antarctica flights online before and heard first-hand about this experience over the years as well. Now (finally) I get to tell my own experience and share it with others. The route for this particular flight took us over the New Zealand Ross Dependency. The route is chosen from the 19 routes available. Continued weather updates provided to the flight crew from Hobart and the Australian Antarctic Base at Casey, also provided for optimal viewing during the flight. Source: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ross_Dependency
Obviously, I have a lot of photos here of wing and ice, so I have tried to only add the best ones, and explain some of them as I go. I’ve also tried to get as much of the aircraft in the photography here as well to share, and as part of its final years of Qantas service. So I will attempt to break up the blue and white photographic scroll with text on the narrative of the journey as well as anecdotes that help explain things in a way that I had chatted with others about the flight, and thoughts and helpful insights as well. Some detail e.g. the statistics and comments are from a DVD video produced by Sky Video Productions that we purchased of the flight.
As a summary of the route, we crossed the coastline at Cape Adare over the Ross Sea, the north-easternmost peninsula in Victoria Land, East Antarctica. We then tracked inland to Mount Minto (4,165 metres elevation), across the Transantarctic Mountains to Mount Melbourne (a stratovolcano 2,732 metres elevation), back along the coast, over the dry valleys, across to Ross Island and Mount Erebus (3,794 metres elevation, and an active volcano). We saw two bases (research stations) here, McMurdo (United States of America) and Scott Base (New Zealand). We then tracked back along the coast, and viewed more bases (Italy, China and South Korea) at Terra Nova Bay. We continued north over glaciers, the Drygalski Ice Tongue, and sea ice to Cape Hallett, and on towards Cape Adare, and then travelled north-west back to Hobart. The latter-part of this journey is covered in Part 2 of this Trip Report. The flight was approximately 12 hours, with an 8 hour return flight, and 4 hours over the ice. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_ ... Antarctica
(Sourced August 2019).
Source: https://archive.org/web/Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018. Introduction and Booking the Flight
In mid-2017 it was announced that a Qantas Antarctica Flights charter would be operating out of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia (HBA) for the first time. Being from Tasmania originally, this was an opportunity for me to fly routes not having flown before to make my journey to HBA, and also to share the experience with locals, who wanted to make this journey as much as I did.
We paid our deposit over a year out from the trip. This was a really good idea because we were able to secure the Class we wanted, and also the best seating within that Class. The seating we chose was Economy Class Standard. This was over the wing, but also in front and behind the wing, so this enabled us to have that first choice – of having the more unobstructed view of not being directly over the centre. We were allocated seating just behind the wing on the right-hand side of the aircraft. We also paid our travel insurance at this time.
I used a travel agent, and as the primary booking person; coordinating everything, and in particular, on behalf of a group for the first time. I saw this as valuable experience for future journeys. I did also liaise directly with the Antarctica Flights to sort out and verify some details in the booking process and for other general information.
I decided to book my own trips return to HBA directly online with Qantas (as the only interstate passenger in our group). I do this regularly and decided to keep this part separate and not go through the agent. Maybe it was my sense of being in control; my routine, and confidence in what I wanted and needed to do, but I also felt that I could get a good deal this way as well. I am not sure, but in the future I will check this out more thoroughly to see how it values out with trip package deals from the home destination. This was not a complex trip to plan and organise so it was possible this time around.
I also booked accommodation myself using trivago and decided on the hotel closest to the airport at HBA, which was a sensible choice. The hotel also was up to my own personal standard of expectations (decent) and quite reasonably priced. I booked early. Turned out the hotel was quite heavily booked that weekend due to flight weather cancellations that week and pax overnighting in Hobart.Economy Class Standard
When I first considered doing this flight, my initial plan was to go Business. At the time of booking, the Economy Class Standard was the one my budget directed me to. As a travelling party I also had to fall in line with what everyone else wanted. However, for me personally, it had to be a window seat booking because I wanted that option of ‘owning’ the seat for a length of time, rather than standing or waiting for a window, had I chosen one of the different options, or the cheaper one.
The arrangement was that we were given two boarding passes and swapped allocated seats half way. I got the window ‘full-time’ on the way home. We did all share the window throughout the middle part of the journey however. This is an advantage when you are travelling as a group. The door near us had a window to view also, and we were also able to look out other windows if convenient. Because we were on the right, I did not have much opportunity for viewing on the left, as illustrated in the photos I took, and I did miss out on a few landmarks, and directly, the homeward bound sunset.
If one of the higher classes was booked, a view from both sides of the aircraft would have been easier. However, I personally didn’t see my decision as a disadvantage to the experience and how much I wanted to spend. The screenshot below shows the classes available, and the seating arrangements and pricing at the time of the flight.https://www.antarcticaflights.com.au/home#seating
(Sourced December 2018).About Qantas Antarctica Charter Flights
Qantas have been operating these flights since 1994. Here is the information about the flights and the history from the brochures we were given. The charter company Antarctica Flights website also has all the info including pricing and FAQ. https://www.antarcticaflights.com.au/
(Sourced December 2018). Our Aircraft for the Journey ~ VH-OEJ ‘Wunala’ Qantas Boeing 747-438ER
This aircraft was the last of six Boeing 747-438ER ordered new by Qantas Airways in 2001. It rolled off the production line at Everett (Paine Field), Washington, United States in 2003. It is powered by General Electric GE CF6-80C2B5 engines and was the 57th and last Boeing 747 delivered to Qantas Airways. It was painted in the traditional Aboriginal ‘Wunala Dreaming’ livery, the second Qantas 747 to carry this special livery scheme. It was named ‘Wunala Dreaming’ after the scheme, and operated its first revenue service from SYD to LAX as QF107 in August 2003.
In 2012 it was ferried from SYD to Xiamen, China (XMN) for repainting in the new corporate livery of that time. The aircraft was reconfigured with seating 58J, 36W, 270Y at Melbourne (Avalon) (AVV) the same year and renamed ‘Wunala’, with a black kangaroo directly under the name. VH–OEJ is due to be retired with Qantas Airways by 2020 or into the early ‘20’s, as part of the 747 retirement from the Qantas fleet. At the time of this flight there were six other Boeing 747-438ER remaining in the fleet, –OEE, -OEF, -OEG, -OEH, -OEI. http://www.aussieairliners.org/b-747/vh-oej/vhoej.html
(Sourced December 2018).https://www.qantas.com/au/en/qantas-exp ... 400er.html
(Sourced December 2018).https://www.qantas.com/content/dam/qant ... -400ER.pdf
(Sourced December 2018).Trip from Canberra (CBR) to Hobart (HBA)
I arrived at Hobart (Cambridge) International Airport the day before. I only just made my connection in MEL. I won’t go into detail about these flights here (I did do a blog in Travel, Polls & Preferences
) - they are not the main focus of this trip report, but the main theme here was it was very cloudy, showery and windy. So this was my first visit ever to HBA, and I was surprised how small it was! There is a feature of HBA in that there are no aerobridges. So on this day, I had the opportunity of waiting at the top of the stairs for nearly five minutes while a JQ flight departed nearby. This allowed me to take some photographs from this vantage point, a rare treat I say, but the wind and the rain in my face made this a bit less than perfect. Ah, memories and first impressions.
I entered the terminal, and then got anxious, as it became apparent my checked in luggage had not arrived. After speaking to a very helpful Qantas ground services employee about this - and filing a claim, this was then followed by some not so helpful people who misdirected me - and had me with waiting at the wrong area for a shuttle bus. I did eventually meet up with my friends. I had more time to look at HBA on my departure so wasn’t too concerned about checking everything out at this stage - it would not take that long anyway. There were also some terminal upgrades going on.About Hobart International Airport (HBA)
Hobart Airport (IATA: HBA, ICAO: YMHB) is located in the suburb of Cambridge, 17 km (11 miles) northeast of Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, Australia. It is operated by the Tasmanian Gateway Consortium under a 99-year lease. The airport maintains a conjoined international and domestic terminal. The major airlines servicing the airport are Qantas, Jetstar Airways, Virgin Australia and Tigerair Australia - operating domestic flights, predominantly to MEL and SYD.
HBA has not had a regularly scheduled international passenger service since 1998 (to Christchurch, New Zealand), but the airport still maintains customs and immigration facilities for aircraft entering Australia. Due to the airport's southern location, Skytraders operates regular flights to Antarctica on behalf of the Australian Antarctic Division using an Airbus A319. http://skytraders.com.au/about/
(Sourced March 2019).
The airport is situated on a narrow peninsula and take-offs and landings are inevitably directed over bodies of water regardless of approach or departure. The airport has an elevation of 4 meters (13 feet) and operates curfew-free services. Hobart Airport has one runway, 12/30, which is aligned north–west to south–east. The runway was extended in 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_In ... al_Airport
(Sourced January 2019).
I was impressed with my hotel. I say this, because it adds to the overall experience. After a catch-up, and a meal, and making some new acquaintances, it was a relatively early night, for an early wake-up call! I was also reunited with my checked-in luggage that evening. There were two more Qantas Boeing 737-800 flights due in that afternoon and evening, one of which we were to board the following day.
~ Sunday 24 November 2018
The day had finally arrived! I got about five hours sleep, but was already awake to answer my alarm call. We made our short journey via car to the airport in the morning light. By the time we parked and went through security, there were already a lot of other passengers arriving. We got to see the different coloured lanyards, worn for the different classes the pax had paid for. Ours were orange, and this was the largest group of us.
Now I will mention here our flight to MEL – on-board one of two chartered Boeing 737-800. This takes me back a few weeks prior to this day. Initially, we were supposed to fly on the Boeing 747-400ER out of Hobart. The runway had been upgraded and extended. However, we received a letter weeks earlier informing us that the runway did not pass Qantas engineering inspection at the time, for a fully-loaded safe take-off for our aircraft. ‘Plan B’ was to charter two Boeing 737-800 to fly us to MEL, where our 747-400ER flight would be waiting at the Domestic Terminal (the Antarctica flight is Australian domestic – no passports required). It did not worry or inconvenience me personally, as I got a free flight out of it. Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
As shown in the photos, our aircraft was VH-VYA, the 25th 737 delivered to Qantas, and named ‘Narooma’. Source: http://www.aussieairliners.org/b-737/vh-vya/vhvya.html
We got our three boarding passes, and when we were called, we boarded our assigned flight QF1362. I had an aisle seat in Row 20. There was no view for cloud anyway. I loved the fact that we boarded via the rear stairs - on this occasion. The cool Tasmanian, very fresh morning air, not raining – the noise and odours of the tarmac. Nostalgia central I would say. I don’t recall if there were other flights arriving or leaving at this time, but it wasn’t busy. The other chartered Boeing 737-800 for the flight to Melbourne.
A flight attendant came through the cabin with a counter clicker, manually counting us as she went. The flight was not full - our flight was the second to leave, and we were on the older of the two aircraft. The refreshment was very basic, but at least there was a snack and beverage.
Before too long, and having no sense of direction on this flight because I was stuck in the middle. I did acquaint with the couple next to me, as my travel buddies were all together across the aisle. Later, when I viewed the video I saw that they travelled in a more expensive seating allocation for the main event than us which was why I did not see them again until my return flight to SYD. I loved the fact that they mixed us all up on this flight though. I had no idea what criteria they used to seat us – but it was such a random way to fly.
So we landed in MEL in no time, and eventually I was able to see the 747-400ER – and ‘Wunala’ - waiting for us as we taxied in nearby! The weather was also quite favourable! It wasn’t long before we were boarding through Domestic Gate 23. I spend a lot of time in this area at MEL, during a transit usually, and I was pinching myself so to speak, that I was boarding a Qantas 747 at one of these gates - a memorable moment! It took a while to get all the passengers on board, and the official filming and photography that had started in HBA also continued here. The penguin had followed us too of course, and while I had already had my photo taken with him or her, I did get a ‘high-five’ here as I was boarding. QF2902 departing Melbourne, Victoria (MEL) – ZZF – arriving Hobart (HBA), Tasmania, Australia
Details for the flight -
Fuel load – 179,600 kilograms
Take-off weight – 403,000 kilograms
Fuel to be used – 150,000 kilograms
Take-off speed – 330 km/h
Scheduled flying time – 12 hours 30 minutes
Planned distance of travel – 9,450 kilometres
Flight crew – 4 Captains, 1 Engineer
Cabin Crew - 16
Passengers on board – 360
Seating capacity – 368
Departure time – 9:20am AEDT (+ 11 UTC)
Arrival time – 9:35pm AEDT (+11 UTC)
We found our seats, which were just forward of the galley in Row 55 – my seats for the flight were G then K. In my seat pocket I had snacks! I checked out everything around me, taking photographs of it all – as I do. I also very importantly, found where to plug in my charger for my devices. Although I was tempted to souvenir the safety card, I did not.
As mentioned earlier, I was allocated the centre for the first half of the flight, so once seated I couldn’t see much from here obviously. However, the most exciting part here was, once Captain Greg Fitzgerald made his announcement about how we were going to have a great day; how much combined experience the crew had and some of their experience in operating these flights previously, and the weather forecast being very good - he announced that ATC would be broadcast throughout the cabin during the taxi and take-off. Could this get any better! Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.
We approached runway 16/34 (3,657 metres in length) for a take-off to the south. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melbourne_Airport
(Sourced May 2019). Back to my central seating, I was more attuned to the auditory and motion sensory than the visual here, so when I saw the video, which was recorded from the flight deck, I could see the take-off point, near the ‘piano-keys’. Sounds obvious, given how heavy we were, but I am glad I couldn’t see this at the time. With my little domestic flights I am not used to these limits! Yes, a take-off from HBA would
have been interesting too! I didn’t feel nervous with anxiety at all, though at the time, it was all about the adrenalin. This would also be the last 747 flight I would ever be on. Nothing but positive excitement would dampen this experience - only happy memories here!
As it took us about half an hour to fly over cloud-enveloped Tasmania and Bass Strait, I made the most of the time, and looked around my seating area once again. I also checked on my devices again to make sure they were charging. I am not sure if there were a few no-shows, but I had two seats next to me spare, and there was one person on the other centre aisle. This I felt grateful for as I could spread my things out, and I did grab an extra food packet while it was going, while we were still on the ground. I was starting to get hungry and needed to snack. I also looked at everything else again, from pillows to blankets (not needed) - to the brochures we were given. Most of these I have already included in the photographs above. I also had a look at the inflight entertainment (IFE).
Time for the first meal service. The food was quite good, and of a moderate size. I can’t remember anything really negative about it. I certainly did pack some dried snacks of my own as well, as I always do when flying. I personally think it is best not to overeat on long flights, but to get more than enough non-alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated. I was also given a second meal that was offered to me which I took. In part, the issue being that we were required to add dietary requirements onto our booking form. Mine was not fulfilled, for whatever reason. Maybe they just didn’t want heated food left over either. I didn’t question it.Selling raffle tickets.
Here I will discuss some of the comments and questions I got before the flight ~Why would you pay all that money to sit on a plane for twelve hours and look at ice?
I can’t recall my responses to this, but maybe I said something like, well it is just as well I am going and not you. Or, OK – I’ll find someone else to go with.If everyone goes to one side of the plane to view out the window on one side could the plane tip over?
Well, it did cross my mind quietly. Not in quite that raw sense though. Why would anyone pay (all that money) and not have a window seat?
I kind of agree with this one, based on what I’ve already said.Do you land on the ice?
One of the more interesting ones, besides that contrary to my knowledge, not a lot of people realise Qantas actually does these flights, and you can actually fly over Antarctica as a commercial passenger. It seems the majority of people associate Antarctica with ships. As soon as they hear the word Antarctica, straight away they imagine I am doing a cruise to the continent, not a flight. I got that a lot. The word flight in the sentence hasn’t even registered.
For the written record here, I would never do the cruise. Reasons being, I love flying; it is the best way to see the most of the continent in a given timeframe; I get seasick when I lose sight of land; and I don’t want to be on a ship in this remote part of the world for days on end. I am sure the cruises are an amazing experience, but I personally don’t need to go and set foot on the ice - this was my chosen Antarctic experience.
Further to the flying, it also meant that I could test out my endurance again, of a long haul flight, albeit in daylight with no time zone change. I also would get a chance to fly on a 747 one more time, for the last time, and a Qantas one at that. This aircraft will forever remain with me in the memories of the experience. Relative to its age in technology, in no way did it disappoint and the aptly named ‘Queen of the Skies’ is truly deserved here! What if it crashes, it is so remote?
I certainly had this thought when I was down there. Some people just won’t go for this reason. I didn’t think about it at all beforehand, it wasn’t until I was down there as said, that I had that uninterrupted time to look and think, that this was one of the dialogues that running through my head. A lot of the pax on board were aware of the Mount Erebus accident, which I will discuss in Part 2.
It was time to get up and walk around, to aid digestion, and stretch my legs and explore. I will mention here the wearing, or not wearing of seatbelts. I am the sort of person who does take the seatbelt wearing seriously on flights, and wearing it as is intended. For this flight, it was not enforced during the cruise, although when seated of course, we were advised to please keep our seatbelts fastened. Most of the time I didn’t, because I felt, personally speaking, we were lulled into a false sense of security. Worth noting here though, is there was no turbulence
at all! When you are walking around and are up and down and looking out the window, standing increases your risk of injury anyway - and standing and looking was part of being on this flight. Enough said.
I headed down toward the back of the aircraft. It was so hot down there! I am glad I wasn’t seated there. We then listened to a live link up from the Casey Station (Australian Antarctic Territory) about how life is down there currently; the weather, and other interesting facts. I am vague here, as I had trouble hearing the dialogue, even with headphones on. The Captain did advise us to wear the headphones to hear the audio better. This commentary was not on the video, although the others were, hence the notes. I didn’t sense a great disappointment, as there are plenty of resources available online about life on the bases. I did note though that this aircraft is very noisy in the cabin. It was probably also partly due to where we were seated. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia ... _Territory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia ... _Territory
(Sourced August 2019).Selling of the merchandise.
It became apparent that we were heading east at this point (towards the International Date Line). To be totally honest, I may have missed the brief and hadn’t read every detail of the brochures as yet, but I thought we would be heading directly south, and overflying the Australian Antarctic Territory, at the outset of this flight. It wasn’t till later that I learnt more about the Antarctic geography and the territories. Anyway, a longer flight! https://www.timeanddate.com/time/dateline.html
(Sourced July 2019).Snack time again. Signs we are approaching the continent!
On approach to the coastline the Captain announced that we were descending to a lower altitude, and then discussed the bank angle of 25 degrees that would be used for viewing points of interest. He also discussed the g-force, and what to expect. I didn’t feel anything unusual at all. The Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA) flown over the continent is 10,000 feet (3077 metres) above sea level, or 2,000 feet (615 metres) above the highest ground within 100 nautical miles (180 kilometres).
From the DVD video, I took some notes from the talks which I will summarise for this report. Antarctica is the world’s highest, driest, coldest, and windiest continent. The average elevation is 2,500 metres, the lowest temperature recorded is -89.2°C and winds can reach 320 km/h. The continent is twice the size of Australia – with polar night in winter and almost continuous daylight in summer. It is uninhabited except for several scientific research stations. 99% of the continent is a permanent blanket of ice.
The first lecture from on board was from Di Patterson. She was the first woman in the world to lead an Antarctic research station and spent 13 months at Mawson Station. Points from her commentary include – our current latitude of 71 degrees south; the viewing of the Transantarctic Mountains - one of the longest mountain ranges in the world; Cape Adare, the site of the first recorded landing of man on the Antarctic continent in 1895 by a Norwegian whaling vessel group; and discussion of the first wintering over group of 10 in 1899 for 12 months by 7 Norwegians and 3 British (one Tasmanian).
Now for the main feature - enough from me for this one (Part 1). Enjoy these images.We are over the continent! I still have those feelings of the moment when I view this photo.Time to get the sunglasses out – a recommended and essential item.Some rare cloud cover during our journey over the continent.The rock itself. I will discuss this more in Part 2. I considered this feature very interesting too for the fact that you got to really see what was under all that ice.
It was now around the half way time point of the journey, and time for the seat rotation, for those of us issued with two boarding passes. So I will leave Part 1 here. In Part 2, I will add some more noted comments from the talks, and show and discuss the rest of the journey over Antarctica, and the landing back in HBA. I will also show and discuss my look around HBA the next day on departure from Tasmania, my upgrade to Business Class to SYD, and the visit to the HBA Qantas Club Lounge. Then of course, I will add more of my own thoughts and observations and other interesting facts from this memorable trip!
Thank you for reading or browsing Part 1 of my report.