Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
Last February, I enjoyed a sublime holiday that I will remember as my most epic journey ever: a trip to Cape Town (South Africa) and Antarctica (the 7th Continent). You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: KLM Boeing 787 Business Class from Amsterdam to Cape Town
- Review: One&Only Cape Town, South Africa
- Review: The Silo Hotel Cape Town, South Africa
- Review: Private Airbus A340 First Class flight from Cape Town to Antarctica
- Review: Echo Camp by White Desert, Antarctica
- Review: Trip to the South Pole & Emperor penguins
- Review: Private Airbus A340 First Class flight from Antarctica to Cape Town (today)
- Review: KLM Boeing 777 Business Class from Cape Town to Amsterdam
Today: First Class flight from Antarctica to Cape Town in a private Airbus A340 jet
Last February, I visited Antarctica with White Desert, the first operator taking guests into the rarely seen interior of Antarctica and managing Antarctica’s only luxury camps. This is my review of the return flight from Antarctica to Cape Town, a 5 hour and 30 minute journey in First Class onboard an Airbus A340 that was privately chartered by White Desert and operated by Hi Fly. Hi Fly is a fully certified airline with two air operator certificates, one issued by Portugal and the other by Malta. The A340 airframe that flew us back to Cape Town was built in 1997 and used to fly for Singapore Airlines (1997-2004) and later Emirates (2004-2013), before joining the Hi Fly fleet.
Since I’ve already published a detailed review of the outbound flight here (Cape Town to Antarctica), I decided to write this trip report in a somewhat different format, summarizing my flight experience from start to end, illustrated by dozens of photos. You can watch my YouTube video with my impressions during the return flight (including a phenomenal take off scene) here:
Have you ever traveled to Antarctica? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
- Flight route: Wolf’s Fang Runway to Antarctica
- Airline: Hi Fly
- Aircraft type: Airbus A340-300
- Aircraft registration number: 9H-TQZ
- Departure time: 7 pm
- Arrival: 10:30 pm
- Miles: 2300 miles (4630 km)
- Flight time: 5 hours and 30 minutes
- Seat: 1K
- Class: First Class
After an unforgettable week in the great outdoors of Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land, our time in the White Continent was coming to an end. The White Desert staff picked us up in a 4×4 Arctic truck and took us to Wolf’s Fang runway, a short 15 min drive through an otherworldly landscape. At Wolf’s Fang, a tented lounge – decorated in the style of the early explorers – was available, where we could wait a little while the plane was being loaded with cargo. The lounge provided a haven of comfort and warmth amidst Antarctica’s unforgiven climate.
After a short wait in the lounge and playing some board games with my travel companions, it was time to board the aircraft. The staff accompanied us on the short 15 min stroll from the lounge to the plane. I wished the short hike would have taken longer since the view of the massive Airbus A340 against a backdrop of jagged mountains and glacial icefields was beyond spectacular, unlike anything I had ever seen before. There was quite some activity on the airfield, since the return flight carried more passengers compared to the outbound flight. The passengers were a mix of White Desert guests & staff and scientists of a nearby research center who were leaving the continent as winter approached.
White Desert’s camp guests were seated in the First Class cabin, which still featured the old Emirates cabin design with lots of gold and wooden trims.
The First Class seat, while old, was still very comfortable and had loads and loads of leg room but nonetheless felt dated compared to today’s First Class seats. A monitor – displaying the flight route – was hidden in the seat’s center armrest while the seat’s other armrest held the tray table, the seat controls and a handheld remote.
After boarding was complete, the doors were closed and it did not take long before we took to the skies. The takeoff roll on Wolf-Fang blue ice runway felt surreal (and bumpy) and the scenery right after lift off was breathtaking. The plane made a U-turn, allowing us one last glimpse of the White Continent, before we climbed through a thin cloud layer and proceeded in one direct line to Cape Town, a journey of 5 hours and 30 minutes across the Southern Ocean.
Shortly after takeoff, the crew handed out hot towels to refresh a little.
A tablet was provided to each passenger (with a small selection of movies and documentaries) as well as noise cancelling headphones. The Airbus A340 was not equipped with WiFi.
Dinner service started about 45 minutes after takeoff, while we left the shore of Antarctica behind. The menu read as follows:
As a starter, an antipasto platter was served with breadsticks and charcuterie.
As a main course, I choose braised beef shirt rib on sweet potato puree with roasted courgettes & carrots.
Chocolate malakoff was served as desert.
After dinner, it was time for a nap. The angled lie-flat First Class seat allowed a recline to a near 180 degrees, and the Hi Fly cabin crew provided a pillow and blanket.
The flight from Antarctica to Cape Town was remarkably smooth (no turbulence at all), which was also the case for the outbound (Cape Town to Antarctica) flight. I was expecting a lot of turbulence on both flights (since Antarctica is surrounded by a belt of stormy weather) but fortunately, that proved not to be the case. It allowed me to stretch my legs as often as I wanted, and also gave me the opportunity to explore the plane’s other cabins.
The 42 Business Class seats were assigned to White Desert staff and guests who had booked a daytrip to Antarctica.
Meanwhile, the scientists from some of Antarctica’s research centers were having a party in the front Economy Class cabin, celebrating the end of their mission on the White Continent.
I also checked out the lavatories, which were equipped with Charlotte Rys toiletries (a South African luxury brand).
The sun was setting as we approached Cape Town.
The plane landed at the city’s international airport at 9 pm local time, after which it was time to say goodbye to my travel companions and White Desert’s amazing staff.
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