Visitors to Antarctica – There and Back in a Day

As early as 1974 United States tourist company Travoca investigated the possibility of tourist flights to Antarctica with a landing at McMurdo Station, but must have abandoned the idea, as the flights never eventuated. Two commercial airliners had previously landed in Antarctica (one in 1957 and one in 1968), but neither was carrying fare-paying tourists. 6

With the commencement of commercial Antarctic overflights in February 1977, all of a sudden safe, warm and dry access to the wonders of the world of ice became available to anyone who could afford it – and it seems plenty could. The price of a ticket for the first of Air New Zealand’s flights in 1977 was NZ$245. At the same time, the average weekly income (before tax) was NZ$136,7 so the flight of a lifetime cost 1.8 weeks’ salary for the average-income earner. In the June quarter of 2007, New Zealand’s average weekly income was NZ$667 before tax8 so an Antarctic flight at 1.8 weeks’ salary would have cost $1200 – a bit more than a return flight to Cairns, and a bit less than a return flight to Perth (from Auckland).

The cost of the flights increased significantly over the four seasons during which they operated. In October 1977 the price was $275; in November 1978 it was $299. To give some relativity, in April 1978 Air New Zealand was advertising “Epic Excursion” fares Auckland-Sydney return for $224. The normal full economy fare was $320 9 – and accommodation was being offered from as little as $12 a night! By late 1979, the Antarctic flights cost $359 – a 46% increase in almost four years.

The escalating price seems to have been little deterrent. Between 13 February 1977 and 16 February 1980, QANTAS and Air New Zealand operated 40 Antarctic overflights. Those 40 flights carried approximately 10,000 tourists10 to the Antarctic, an average of 2,500 per summer. In the 23 summers between 1957 (the International Geophysical Year) and 1980, 17,105 tourists had ventured to the Antarctic (the hard and slow way), an average of 744 per summer. Clearly, access to the deep south by air introduced Antarctic tourism to a new age.