Qantas Antarctica Flight 2018 – Part 2 | 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.
My apologies for not uploading the two parts closer together. Link to Part 1: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1428697
Welcome to my Part 2 of my Antarctica Trip Report! At the approximate half-way point in our journey over the ice at 15:50, the announcement was made to move to the seat allocated on our second boarding pass. For those of us that were booked in the Classes with rotating seat allocations this included me. As I had occupied my window seat already, we still shared the seating arrangements among our own travel group. This continued to make it easier to get up and walk around during this stage of the flight too.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.
As a recap of the 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. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_ ... Antarctica
(Sourced September 2019).Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.
At this half way point we were at our furthest south on the route, and this was in the vicinity of Ross Island and Mount Erebus. Mount Erebus
As much as I really don’t want to discuss air accidents during any Trip Report, this is a good time to acknowledge and provide some information on the Air New Zealand Flight 901 accident in 1979, given that we were flying past the location. Firstly, the mountain itself - it is the second-highest volcano at 3,794 meters (12,448 feet) in Antarctica, after Mount Sidley, and is the southernmost active volcano on Earth. It is also the sixth-highest ultra-mountain on the continent – being a mountain summit with a topographic prominence of 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) or more. It is located in the Ross Dependency on Ross Island, which is also home to three inactive volcanoes: Mount Terror, Mount Bird, and Mount Terra Nova. The volcano has been active since about 1.3 million years ago, and is the site of the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory run by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Erebus
(Sourced September 2019).
My first thoughts when I saw it were, well, that’s close; and, this is my first ever volcano sighting. I actually didn’t know Mount Erebus was a (an active) volcano. I usually tend to research things in more detail after I have seen or experienced them, rather than before. This was no exception. In my opinion, it was also difficult to see that the mountain was on an island too, with the lack of coastline and distinctive geographical features.
McMurdo (U.S.) and Scott Base (N.Z.).
McMurdo Sound, Mount Erebus and nearby Mount Terror, and the Ross Sea were discovered by James Clark Ross, a British Royal Navy officer and explorer, in 1841. McMurdo Sound was named after Lt. Archibald McMurdo of HMS Terror. Mount Erebus was also named after one of his ships, which in turn had in turn been named after the Greek mythological god of the darkness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMurdo_Sound
(Sourced September 2019).Air New Zealand Flight 901
The most I knew about this flight prior to the trip was that it happened in 1979; it was a controlled-flight into terrain (CFIT); with a New Zealand carrier; and it ceased Antarctica charter viewing flights for many years afterwards. I deliberately didn’t read up on it before the flight. What I learnt from my post-flight research was that the rescue operation was called ‘Operation Overdue’, and about the unique challenges they faced – both during, and after the recovery operation.
There was a thread in Civil Aviation
on this site started in November 2019 titled ‘TE901 28th November 1979 - 40th anniversary’ which is worth reading, and which doesn’t need me repeating any details of the inquiries here. There are also a lot of resources online to find out more. YouTube videos were my own first go-to sources for further knowledge on this. https://www.erebus.co.nz/
is also a definitive site on the tragedy (Sourced February 2020).
As we banked around, I looked for any signs of wreckage, but I couldn’t see anything – maybe I needed binoculars. I actually didn’t see anyone with binoculars during the trip as I recall, but it would have been a handy item for more detail, overall that is. Those with zoom lens cameras would have got the best benefit of this aspect though.
The only aircraft wreck (a small part of) I have seen in situ to date is the Catalina Flying Boat on Lord Howe Island. Thinking about air accidents during this stage of the flight, it is poignant, that as a result of tragedy, the changes and learnings from these events often change in large ways or small to make flying safer. The opportunity I had today, and the preparation that went into it, had some relevance in this tragedy in 1979.
Now during our banking around Mount Erebus, it was announced that a marriage proposal had taken place on board. This is not unusual on these flights. This was not one of the themed flights though, where special events take place, like new years’ - with live bands, or citizenship ceremonies for Australia Day flights. I didn’t want to do a themed flight at the outset, as I wasn’t after the party atmosphere, or the hearts, roses or flags. I am also wondering now about the live band, from the point of view of space, reach of pax and the aircraft noise – interesting!What groups of people do these flights?
My observations (based on this one only of course) were that most of the people were in the older, retirement age group, and couples. The second largest group to me was young, to middle aged adults, my age group. There weren’t a lot of young families. I only saw about three school-age children. There were some students, whom I believe were on a study trip, also some who won a trip. The gender mix overall was fairly equal in my opinion.
I got the impression that most were there for the special unique experience; the interest of Antarctica, research or scientific or hobby. They weren’t there for the 747 experience, primarily. Av geeks on this trip didn’t stand out, to me at least, as would be the case on the final domestic Qantas 747 flights. I would say most if not all of the pax were Australian, with a large number of local Tasmanian travellers, based on the people that I met.Grounded sea ice.Ross Sea, McMurdo Sound and Mount Erebus.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.
The second lecturer was Ian Allison, who was an Hon Research Professor at the Antarctica Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Hobart. He has studied ice and climate in Antarctica for 45 years, spent 15 months at Mawson Station, and was part of 25 research expeditions to the Antarctic.
Further highlights from the commentaries include: the difference of 1000 kilometres in the distribution of sea ice between summer and winter; the first climb of Mount Minto in 1988 by an Australian expedition; the effect of the shine or reflection on the ice (shown in some of the photos here) – known as wind glaze; the shades of white and blue colour and the reflection and absorption of light – one of the best light shows in the world in my opinion; and the behaviour of the Emperor Penguins and the four rookeries in the Ross Sea area, and the Weddell Seals. I didn’t see any penguins or seals – again, binoculars would have helped this.
My visual highlights were the wind glaze effect, and the reflection and absorption of light, particularly later into the afternoon, and also, the fall of the snow and ice on the changing landscape. Next to these moments, the exposed rock was a highlight, as I mentioned in Part 1, you got to see what the ground without its cover looks like (in this area), and my expectation was not this.
I expected the colour of the rock to be black, sharp and rough or pitted, rather than this light brown smooth topography. This was the angle we were viewing it from anyway. From the ground it may look different - based on my very much naïve perception of rock further north, that has a very different timeline and exposure to this one. While more of a geography geek than a geology geek, it did give me some learning here, which I valued from the trip.
One of the things that I was thinking about during our few hours there, was the question, should we even be here? It is an environmentally pristine environment, obviously because it’s been virtually uninhabitable to humans. I am not sure what my own answer to this is, but I guess if you are doing the flight then you are endorsing it by being there and taking that opportunity. I did feel a bit of a guilt of conscience. It reminds me also of that relatively common term nowadays called ‘flight shaming’ which can be defined as ‘the inherent guilt that an individual feels as a result of one's aviation-related carbon footprint’. I don’t ‘flight shame’ others or find alternative means of transport myself if available, but I know of others that do both. I don’t recall there was an option to buy carbon offset emissions in the ticket price on this flight like Qantas offer on their regular scheduled services. Australian Aviation
did a feature on the preparation of these flights in their April 2019 issue. In this, they discussed a few things worth mentioning here, one being the environmental requirements.
They mention that additional paperwork for the flight needs to be completed for the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart. This is the government agency that approves Qantas to do these flights over Antarctica, and is based on environmental impact studies that Qantas supplies and logs that are kept during the actual flights when flying beyond 60 degrees South latitude. These are then submitted to the agency post-flight. Also discussed was that during the flight, when passing 60 degrees South the crew switches the aircraft’s heading reference from Magnetic to True as the deviation between the two becomes too great when nearing the South Pole. Prior to the flight also, when the aircraft for the flight is identified, it is tracked through maintenance to avoid any technical issues on the day. It is also fitted with specially approved camera and inflight audio equipment which allows the commentary during the flight and for the production of the DVD that is produced of the flight. (Source: Australian Aviation, April 2019).
We are on our way home now, back to Australia and civilisation as we know it. It hasn’t gone too quickly which is really good - but now we are past the half way mark, the reality is that my journey on –OEJ and the 747 experience is coming to an end. On a positive note, the light is starting to throw some even more magnificent shadows on the ice and snow at this stage of the flight.
Having the whole back half of the aircraft or behind the curtain to walk around, stretch and view in, I felt that for a twelve hour flight, this was an advantage of this Class, as our allowed section for wandering covered Economy Class Standard, Superior and Centre, so Rows 43 to 75.https://www.qantas.com/content/dam/qant ... -400ER.pdf
(Sourced December 2018).https://www.qantas.com/au/en/qantas-exp ... 400er.html
(Sourced December 2018).https://www.antarcticaflights.com.au/se ... nd-pricing
(Sourced November 2019).
There was quite a bit going on in my mind as I stared out the window – one of which was the sound of the wind in a Californian desert. I am contemplating where this aircraft will end up, and the desert is one of the most likely scenarios. Perhaps it will be there waiting for a new owner, or possibly not. One day of course it will cease flying forever – but what a legacy. 2020 is Qantas’ Centenary year and the 747 is being acknowledged as a huge part of this 100 years of service – and rightly so! The Queen of the Skies is an important title to hold.
Please note here that the majority of this report was written prior to March 2020. As we all know, the airline industry has changed dramatically since then, with the pandemic disrupting and ceasing many routes of air travel, and changing the industry beyond anything ever experienced before. As I understand it, the remaining 747 fleet are not yet officially retired as of early 2020 and are currently being stored. -OEF had already been retired in February, and so this applies to -OEE, -OEG, -OEH, -OEI, and this aircraft -OEJ.Selling tickets for the in-flight auction.Meal time once again – this was a nice meal.Back over cloud, as soon as we are away from the coast again.
Time for a drink of the alcoholic variety - cheers! I saved this for the homeward journey, as I wanted my full sensory experience on this trip, and not be drowsed. I didn’t have much, and ‘dry and crisp’ wasn’t to my palette anyhow. I am more a sweet wine drinker. Therefore, I did not over pour. The other main reason though is the combination of cabin altitude and (only in moderation) alcohol drinking is not a great combination. I shared the small bottle, and I held my plastic cup up to the window and said a farewell cheers to the successful 747. How is it being on a special flight like these for 12 hours in Economy with full bar service?
Very friendly! People (strangers) were hugging, there was quite a bit of friendly contact, partly due to the walking around with limited space, and not caring about personal space – within respectable limits. Not once did I feel really uncomfortable or wishing it to end sooner, or for someone to move away – not that they really could – and we all understood this. It was all positive on this flight, in this Class at the very least, from my experience.
There was a thread started in Civil Aviation
titled ‘QF to end scenic flights to Antarctica?’ in late 2019, which discussed, among other things, the atmosphere on board for those who have done the flight. I contributed by saying that with regard to the mentions of drugs and alcohol on these flights, mine was very sedate! While the alcohol was flowing, the lack of personal space between pax, particularly with those narrow aisles was noticeable, but not obnoxious in any way - just good-natured friendly banter and hugs from strangers, but that was in the minority. Most were just content to sit, stand or walk around and enjoy the experience. How was I coping physiologically?
I was fine, as long as I could continue to get up and walk around, particularly after eating. Not eating too much or too much at once on a long flight is important in my opinion. My ankles were a bit swollen. Mostly though, my knees were hurting. This in my opinion was due to standing and walking around, which was done counter to trying to avoid sitting too long of course. It was the altitude, the pressurisation and the pitch up attitude of the aircraft that made this so in my experience.
Earlier on in the flight I took my fitness tracker off my wrist, as it started to bother me. I could have loosened it but at the time I wasn’t wearing it every day so I just took the option to remove it for comfort. I did notice later on, looking at the data, that my heart rate was quite high! I guess it is the adrenalin. I’ve worn it on other flights and it hasn’t been that high – interesting. Of course, they are nowhere near as exciting or interesting as this!
Other than this, I was as well as well can be. While I didn’t have any pre-existing health issues that would affect me on this flight (which need to be disclosed prior to flight), I did have ongoing health worries pending at the time, and had even deferred an elective medical procedure so I could do this trip. As a consequence of it all, I was tired the day before, and certainly the day after, but on the day I felt really good! For this I am grateful. I also had extended family with existing health issues, so this trip was quite cathartic for just letting all the worries go for that period of time – to recharge, for the rest of 2018 and beyond.
Time to listen to soppy love songs on the IFE. It was about the only audio I could hear the most clearly still. I also watched out the window, as a piece of the wing, the part in the photos below with the dark colour beneath it, was quivering. Only occasionally, then it would stop, then start again. It was mesmerising. Not much else to look at or do.
Time to draw the raffle and hold the in-flight auction. This auction was to raise money for the Mawson’s Hut Foundation. This process offered some entertainment as bids were being offered and received from further up the front too, and it was a different and unique, relayed way of holding an auction. It was well received, some items going for modest or quite high amounts, the latter towards the end of the bidding for items if I recall, when the spirit of the process really got going.
After this, I walked around for the last time. Some people had gone to sleep, or maybe they were just napping. They had seen what they had come to see - nothing more to see here. Some people looked bored, or were just tired. It was a good time and place to just zone out, and there is nothing wrong in that.Lots and lots of cloud now.The reason they are crowded around the rest room is that it needed a repair.I was not on the side for the sunset, and didn’t go over for a look. Image below shows the other side.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.Getting dark inside and outside now as we head north.
This final part was the most disappointing part of the trip for me. It was dark and dreary outside, and I was hoping for a welcoming party and a bit of fanfare as the 747 approached and touched down. Going into this, I thought it would still be daylight, but I didn’t anticipate the cloud cover and rain showers into this perceived fanciful occasion. There was indeed a crowd of onlookers there, but this was mainly airport ground employees. Sadly also, any decent photos or video were also not possible of the wing on approach and landing for the same reasons of weather and darkness, and too much reflection. I remarked to my seat mate that we would be back in range now for flight trackers to see us. I said that we would be watched by our friends and loved ones at this moment. Indeed we were. We tracked around to the north for a landing to the south. This seemed to take a very long time, with the lack of situational awareness from the cabin.
We touched down, and to be honest, I don’t remember too much about this moment. It seemed a heavy landing though, but what that really means is that it was a 747 landing, and this was not a really long runway at 2727 metres (8947 feet). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobart_Airport
(Sourced March 2020).
It was time to leave. As we made our way to the front, I tried to get as many photos as possible, but this was not all that easy, and also when I turned around as there were many people in the shots and they were looking at me. I noted when we walked out that the further forward we got the messier the cabin looked! This was mainly on the floor. Note the ‘No Smoking in Galley’ sign here.The cabin may be refurbished but there were parts here that were showing their age.Heading up towards the pointy end.
One of the Captains was standing at the top of our stairs to farewell us. It was at this point that I nearly lost my balance, and slipped down the covered but slippery wet metal steps as I recall them, taking a few people along with me. This was a close call. I was disorientated, slightly off balance and maybe a bit emotional and tired as well. It took me a bit to reorient my mind and body back onto terra firma. Disaster averted, I was now able to look back at one of the – the last - highlights of the trip, which was an open air and across the tarmac disembarkation, into the rainy night air alas, and an up close and personal view of the aircraft, which we didn’t get at MEL. I would remember this moment for a long time.
The Queen loomed large at this small airport, and with the other commercial aircraft nearby. A beautiful sunny twilight evening would have been a stunning backdrop to this moment – but nonetheless I was very grateful for my ‘official’ personal farewell to the Queen of the Skies on the tarmac at Hobart Airport. Also, no, I didn’t ask to look at the flight deck before I left! To be honest, it didn’t even cross my mind – avgeek and all. I do regret this in a small way and don’t like to dwell on it now. We were allowed to stay on the tarmac and get photos for as long as we wanted, within a reasonable time.The ground crew on duty take the rare opportunity to see a 747 at HBA.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.Image courtesy of Sky Video Productions 2018.
We made our inside the terminal, and out again, as we had no checked in luggage to wait for. We drove the short drive back to our hotel. I didn’t get much sleep that night, maybe four or five hours. I was so buzzed by the experience.
I was going to add in a fairly brief account with some photos, of my next morning at HBA, and my departure to Sydney. I’ve now decided I will add this into the comments field of this report, rather than here. This report is long enough and has taken me a while to get this far!What were my perceptions and what has changed?
I assumed some years ago that a higher seating class would be better - not at all. I felt that we hit it just right with this class of fare and in my opinion, the higher you go the higher the expectation is, and we were there to see the scenery, not to enjoy the service primarily. At least this was my approach to it anyway. It was daylight most of the way so no need for recliners and sleepers and all the comforts that come with long-haul flights. This was a day sight-seeing trip. Economy Class with a window and the opportunity to walk around as we did was fitting for the experience. I am glad I didn’t pay more, or less.
The catering was average and adequate. Again, not there for the fine dining, so while something a little more refined would have been nice, I didn’t go hungry, or have to pay extras for anything else I wanted on board. Out the window: I didn’t think we would get to see so much rock. I underestimated the light show we would see. I thought there would be more scattered cloud. The Captain did mention that it was one the best flights he had experienced, in terms of weather, in 25 years of doing the flights. This is luck and chance, but this was on our side in late November 2018. Yes!
I didn’t realise that it would free the mind for twelve hours from the reality of life the way it did for me – and I am sure many others. It is a complete respite from the world. Cut off from civilisation, apart from the flight crew and their communication to land that is. This was cathartic. Two memorable quotes from the flight
“It’s a long way down.” Too true! Maybe some of us are not well travelled in long-haul, but this comment was also made by a traveller I met who had travelled extensively overseas. I guess you are aware of the remoteness, and the fact that you have to come straight back makes the distance more so. This quote was overheard in the Qantas Club Lounge at HBA the following day and was from my new acquaintances that I met before and after the flight.
“Just a lazy Sunday afternoon...” This is my own quote. The continent is massive. When I saw our flight route after we got back the track looked so small, compared to the time we were down there flying around. We barely saw anything of the great land mass. However, what we did see in that small area was so varied.Will Qantas continue to operate these charters in the future?
As of April 2020, I don’t know the answer to this. It was discussed in the thread in Civil Aviation
titled ‘QF to end scenic flights to Antarctica?’. With the 747 retired, they would need to operate the A380 or maybe the twin Boeing 787 Dreamliner on this route. I am glad I have done it now, with the 747 as even if a twin were certified to fly over Antarctica - give me a 747 any day. The A380 is not as good for viewing, with the larger wing apparently, and having been on neither of the two newer aircraft yet, I will still say in my opinion, I believe the experience for the Antarctic flight would not be as good on either of these two replacements. Maybe other countries may operate a charter sight-seeing flight? Who knows, let’s wait and see on these ones.
In conclusion, of course I am really glad I did this flight, and when I did it. Sometimes fate intervenes, and I felt that this inaugural - and at this time, only HBA Antarctica Qantas charter flight was the one for me. It was unique, and I got to visit a new airport not previously ever visited, for the first time. I got to do the flight with friends, both old and new. As said, obviously I got to do it on the iconic 747. The experience made me feel special and privileged for the duration and booking process, and the best Qantas and the charter company can hope for is that people are left with a positive experience, and to share it with others. I certainly was and it is a great thing to also be able to share it here.
Thank you for reading or browsing Part 2 of my report.
Link to Part 1: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1428697