Flying to Antarctica

How to skip the Drake Passage

Flights to Antarctica

For those short on time, or not wanting to experience the infamous Drake Passage, a Fly-Cruise to Antarctica is an excellent option. Over the past decade, flying across the Drake Passage in two hours has been gaining in popularity, rather than spending up to two days crossing the passage traditionally by ship. You will also appreciate that recent upgrades to the airstrip in Antarctica makes it more reliable than ever to skip the Drake Passage and fly to Antarctica.

Top 5 reasons our clients love flying to Antarctica:

  1. Reach Antarctica quickly and comfortably by flying instead of sailing
  2. Shorter trips of 7 to 9 days with the same amount of time in Antarctica are great for time constrained travellers to get away from work or squeeze in a trip during the holidays.
  3. Avoiding the Drake Passage is great for those anxious travellers that may be prone to seasickness.. For those particularly sensitive to motion, this is the only viable option without an extra 4 days on a sailing crossing.
  4. Maximize your time in Antarctica and eliminate 4 sea days
  5. Once in Antarctica, embark your ship for the cruise portion of the just as if you had sailed there

Most of our Antartic fly cruises include a pre-night, and sometimes a post-night hotel, in either Santiago, Chile or Punta Arenas, Chile.

In Antarctica, all flights either land in or depart from King George Island and its gravel airstrip managed by the Chilean air force. King George Island is part of the South Shetland Islands which also makes it the perfect starting point for your Antarctic expedition. This archipelago has many interesting locations to explore and is home to places like Half Moon Island where you can sail right into the caldera of a geologically active volcano. The South Shetlands are also just an overnight sail to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Most fly cruise options include four to five days of expeditions – with each day focused towards making sure you get to set foot on the white continent; there are no sail-by programs here with the Polar Adventure Company.

In general, your expedition days include a variety of activities and all activities onboard and off are included except for Kayaking, Camping, and SUP boarding. You would usually have a mix of:

  • Visiting penguin colonies
  • Hiking on the land
  • Visiting research bases (when available)
  • Visiting historical sites (whaling stations, expedition huts, outposts, etc.)
  • Naturalist-led hikes
  • Photographer led hikes
  • Polar dip
  • Zodiac cruising for whales, ice, and birds
  • Onboard music, lectures, special events (cocktails, trivia, game nights, etc.)

How Fly and Cruise to Antarctica Works

Step 1. Starting in Punta Arenas, you will arrive at your leisure the night before the voyage, catch your included shuttle, and check into your hotel. You will meet the operator representative that will most likely let you know that there is an intended flight time the next day, but to remain flexible as the conditions must be safe for the flight. You will be instructed generally to leave your bags out the night before and they will be collected and moved to the airport and onto the plane for you. You will not see these bags again until you are on the ship.

Should conditions not be right, there is usually a plan B which involves some attractions around town as they wait for the weather window. Delays due to weather are not uncommon.

Step 2. Flying to Antarctica. Departing Punta Arenas on your chartered flight you will land on King George Island, from there you will be shuttled down to the beach and board a Zodiac to be taken to your ship. Your first Zodiac ride in Antarctica! Depending on the time you land at King George Island, you may even be a shore landing that evening somewhere in the South Shetland Islands.

Step 3. Exploring Antarctica. You will spend the next few days exploring Antarctica before returning to King George Island for your flight home. While exploring Antarctica you can expect up to two shore landings or Zodiac cruises a day, naturalist talks, research station visits, and more. Did you sign up for kayaking?

Step 4. Flying from Antarctica. At King George Island, you wait for the weather window for the next group to arrive on the plane that will take you back to Punta Arenas. Due to the unpredictability of the weather window, it is usually advisable to have a post-cruise hotel in Punta Arenas, and most companies provide this. It is not recommended to book onward travel on this day, and to instead fly the next.

The Antarctic Aircraft

Flights to Antarctica generally leave from Punta Arenas, in Chile, aboard a specialized 90-passenger BAe 146 / Avro RJAe aircraft. These aircraft operate rather quietly, despite their four jet turbines, and have been marketed under the name Whisperjet as a result. They are also used at small, city-based airports such as the London City Airport.

Their ability to utilize short runways and the equipped gravel kit make them perfect for the 2-hour flight from Punta Arenas, Chile to King George Island in Antarctica. They are comfortable, much like a smaller commuter-sized jet – and offer a meal and drink service onboard. Baggage on these programs is generally limited to one checked bag of no more than 50 lbs (23kg), one carry-on and one personal item.

Antarctica Cruises that Fly Both Ways (Fly/Fly)

Flying both ways skips The Drake Passage completely and your sailing days and nights are within the more sheltered waterways of Antarctica. A Fly/Fly option also maximizes your time in Antarctica as you explore the South Shetland Islands, and the Antarctic peninsula for penguin colonies, historic sites, research stations, and more.

You have saved up to four days of sailing with this trip option and will get to spend nearly your all your time on your Antarctica trip in Antarctica!

Antarctica Cruises that Fly One Way (Fly/Sail, Sail/Fly)

Instead of flying both ways, another way to cut out part of the time, or to limit your Drake Passage experience would be to fly in one direction instead. There are a variety of options that either fly in or out of King George Island and cruise the other direction. These trips have great benefits over a sail/sail trip by allowing you to still have the Drake Passage experience for those who are keen, and it also allows you to visit both Punta Arenas in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina. If you want to continue your trip by exploring more of Patagonia this may be the best option for you.

These fly/sail or sail/fly itineraries can reduce the per day cost of your trip compared to a trip that flies both ways.

When to Book

Antarctica Fly & Cruise experiences will often sell out faster than conventional sailing voyages. Our clients are booking their Fly & Cruise trips 12 months or more in advance. This better ensures the availability of your desired departure dates, operator, and cabin category.

Our Most Popular Antarctica Fly and Cruise Partners

Silversea Expeditions

Silversea is the most luxurious of our offerings for Fly Cruise voyages – with features like 24-hour gourmet dining, butler service, superb entertainment and premium beverages. They also offer doo-to-door service that includes pickup and drop-off from your home (extra cost) and options like business-class airfare. They also include a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas in their fares, as well as a post-hotel in Punta Arenas.

Their ships all feature balconies, spas, multiple dining options, unlimited free Wi-Fi and included gratuities. The Silver Cloud has a capacity of 254 passengers, while the Silver Wind has 274 and the Silver Endeavour is 200. They are a comfortable size, with top-of-class amenities and an efficient expedition operation.

Don’t let the luxury fool you: Silversea has stepped up their expedition game in recent years and is now among the best in the industry – with top notch guides and outstanding itineraries.

Here are a few of Silversea's Fly Cruise Voyages, to see them all, click here.

Quark Expeditions

Quark has one of the best expedition team out there and will provide excellent onboard lectures with a leaning toward science and not just filler talks. They have fewer inclusions, tips are not included, and drinks are limited to beer and wine at meals. They do include a parka, boots on loan and a pre-and post-night hotels in Punta Arenas.

Their 172-passenger World Explorer (reduced to 140 passengers for fly-cruise itineraries) is the sister ship to the Atlas Ocean Voyages fleet and is a new build and very comfortable – it is their main vessel for their fly and cruise programs.

Their brand new, Xbow designed, 138-passenger Ocean Explorer also does fly/cruise itineraries, it is a sister ship to the Aurora Expeditions fleet and the newest of Quark's ships.

They do not include adventure options, such as kayaking and camping, on their fly cruise programs.

Here are a few of Quark Expeditions Fly Cruises - to see them all, click here.

Atlas Ocean Voyages

Atlas Ocean Voyages trips are all-inclusive and the rates will include pre- and post-cruise hotels in Punta Arenas and a pre-cruise hotel night. They are a 5-star experience in terms of the ship and service onboard.

Trips include all gratuities, a free parka to keep, boot rentals, an open bar, medical evac insurance, and more. They offer a variety of Adventure options, including camping, kayaking and SUP. We have had hundreds of travellers on Atlas' voyages and they have given it rave reviews.

They offer both Fly/Fly and Fly/Cruise options.

Here are a few of the Atlas Ocean Voyages Fly Cruises - to see them all, click here.

Antarctica 21

Antarctica21 pioneered air-cruise expeditions in Antarctica, and they understand all the complexities of ensuring a smooth, safe, and enjoyable adventure. They focus on smaller-ships with 100-passenger Magellan Explorer and the 78-passenger Ocean Nova.

There are less inclusions here – tips, drinks (other than beer and wine at dinner) and internet are extra; however, they do include a pre- and post-hotel in Punta Arenas. For adventure activities, they offer sea kayaking and snowshoeing.

Here are a few of the Antarctica 21 Fly Cruises - to see them all, click here

Aurora Expeditions

Aurora is an Australian company, with a lot of polar experience in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Their new ships, the Sylvia Earle and the Greg Mortimer are new as of 2021 and feature the new Xbow design, which is reported to be both more fuel-efficient and better in rough seas. We have sailed on the Greg Mortimer and can attest to the comfortable and spacious rooms, excellent food and quality expedition team.

They are more of a 4-star experience but benefit from the smaller ship size, carrying up to 132 passengers. They only offer Fly / Cruise – where you would fly into King George from Punta Arenas and then sail back to Ushuaia (or vice-versa). They are one of the very few companies that offers snorkelling (In dry suits) as an optional activity in addition to their sea kayaking and paddling.

Here are a few of the Aurora Expeditions Fly Cruises - to see them all, click here

Frequently asked Questions about

Flights to Antarctica

1. How do I get to Punta Arenas?

Flying to Punta Arenas, Chile is typically via Santiago, Chile and there are daily flights with multiple airlines. Another option is taking a motorcoach bus from Ushuaia but it’s a long drive. (about 10 hours)

2. Is there anything to do in Punta Arenas, Chile?

Once in Punta Arenas, you have access to a charming, small city with some great local restaurants and, if time allows, you have day tour options into Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia.

3. Can we book Business Class or a Window Seat?

All seating on the charter jets are the same fare class, and seats are typically assigned upon checking in at the airport. A boxed meal and beverages are provided on all flights.

3. What is the success rate of flying vs. Sailing to Antarctica?

With recent landing strip improvements each operator has a successful (on-time/same-day) departure rate of + 90%. Naturally, Antarctica weather is unpredictable, so patience and a sense of adventure is important.

4. Why are Fly & Cruise more expensive than sailing?

Because of the high cost of the flights to Antarctica, and the comparatively short itinerary lengths, you can expect to pay a higher cost per day for these voyages.