You can fly to Antarctica on a Boeing 757 — and run a marathon there, too

Jan 31, 2020

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The Boeing 757 is a fairly common sight around many U.S. airports. American Airlines, Delta and United fly dozens of them; it’s an airplane known for its versatility, performance and range. You can find it doing quick runs from Atlanta to New York JFK, cross-country flights from Newark to Los Angeles or transatlantic routes from Philadelphia.

But in Antarctica?

That’s not where you would think to see an airline workhorse. There aren’t any airports in Antarctica, and no scheduled flights. Most visitors to the continent arrive by cruise ship; only a few every year take chartered flights, and most of those do not land on the continent itself, stopping instead on islands offshore. The closest things to an airport are a Chilean base on an island off the Antarctic Peninsula, which can handle small jets, and a short gravel strip at a British research station on Adelaide Island. Neither is on the Antarctic mainland.

There are, though, runways on the actual Antarctic continent carved out of ice, or made from packed snow. Usually, only tough cargo planes like Russian-made Ilyushins or rugged De Havilland or Basler turboprops can get there. They aren’t built for comfort; the Basler, for example, is a direct descendant of the C-47 Dakotas that dropped paratroopers over Normandy on D-Day. (You could travel in a little more comfort aboard an Airbus A319 airliner chartered by the Australian government, but that’s only open to researchers and personnel supporting the Australian presence in Antarctica.)

Enter the 757.

On February 6, a VIP-configured 757 will leave Cape Town, South Africa, and land five and a half hours later on the actual Antarctic mainland, on a blue-ice runway at Novo Station, a Russian base. Owned by British-based charter operator Titan Airways, it will visit Antarctica as part of the World Marathon Challenge, a grueling endeavor in which runners will fly to all seven continents in seven days and run a full marathon in each. “This is the first time the same plane will be used to touch down on all of the seven continents within the seven days,” event organizer Richard Donovan said in an email.

If running a cumulative 182 miles in a week while being extremely jetlagged appeals to you, a seat on the 757 for the entire world tour can be yours for $24,000. But there’s a cheaper way to get on that unique 757 flight: seats on the Cape Town to Novo leg are available for $10,000. That will buy you passage to Antarctica and back, and a stay of 12 to 16 hours there — with no need to actually run a marathon, although passengers are welcome to if they want.

In the Southern Hemisphere, February is summer, and that means temperatures won’t be extremely cold. According to Donovan, “good winter clothing for North America / Europe would work fine,” with temperatures not expected to drop below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll get there in comfort, too — the plane is fitted with just 76 seats, compared to around 190 for most 757s in airline service. They recline to 140 degrees, plenty relaxing for a day trip to Antarctica, although runners tired from doing 26 miles in subfreezing temperatures may want an actual lie-flat seat. According to organizers, the plane has power and USB outlets and an inflight entertainment system, and there will be full meals served on board.

The same 757 was used for the World Marathon Challenge last year, but the Antarctica leg was flown on an Ilyushin 76 cargo plane, a far different experience from the business-class atmosphere of the Titan Airways jet.

Inside the World Marathon Challenge Boeing 757 (Photo courtesy World Marathon Challenge)
Inside the World Marathon Challenge Boeing 757 (Photo courtesy World Marathon Challenge)

Besides the participating athletes, Donovan said there will be an eight to 10-person event-support crew, in addition to the flight and cabin crew, and media.

Novo Station — that’s short for Novolazarevskaya — is the first stop on the seven-day world tour. The 757 will then return to Cape Town before flying on to Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Fortaleza and Miami.

People interested in the flight — unfortunately, credit cards are not accepted for payment, only wire transfers — can get in touch at rd@worldmarathonchallenge.com and should plan to be in Cape Town by February 4. Departure is at 6 a.m. on February 6, with the return landing at 5:30 a.m. the following day. As for the flights’ carbon footprint, Donovan said he carbon-offsets them via “investment in forestry in Brazil.”

Featured photo by Stefan Rousseau – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

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