Could my Fly & Cruise voyage to Antarctica be delayed by weather?

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Antarctica Planning & Tips

Since their inception, Fly & Cruise voyages to Antarctica have proved extremely popular among travellers looking to experience the wonders of the White Continent. If the concept of a Fly & Cruise voyage is new to you, it simply means that you fly to Antarctica where your cruise ship will be waiting for you, and fly back, as opposed to sailing there from Patagonia. For people with less time on their hands, Fly & Cruise voyages give guests the same amount of time on the continent without having to spend the two days required to sail across the Drake Passage in each direction.

Fly & Cruise voyages are also well-suited to people who suffer from severe motion sickness. Although motion sickness medication is improving quickly, and most modern Polar vessels are equipped with stabilizers, the Drake Passage is a notoriously rough stretch of sea and it’s common for ships to experience a little motion during the crossing. For many travellers, this only adds to the feeling of adventure, but for some, it can mean the difference between visiting Antarctica or missing out on the experience entirely.

A Cape Petrel flying over the Drake Passage in stormy conditions
A Cape Petrel flying over the Drake Passage in stormy conditions

Whilst Fly & Cruise voyages manage to avoid sailing across the Drake Passage, you are more susceptible to delays when flying to Antarctica. I’ve been lucky enough to experience several Fly & Cruise voyages and they have always run very smoothly and been absolutely breathtaking.

What are my flight options?

Unlike every other continent on Earth, there are no scheduled flights to Antarctica. All flights are chartered and can only be booked as part of a package.

A traveller gets ready to board her flight to King George Island, Antarctica

98% of flights to Antarctica depart from Punta Arenas and arrive on King George Island where your cruise vessel will be waiting to pick you up. The flight time is normally two hours, direct, and operates in the peak of Austral summer from December to February. If you can only travel outside of these months then you will need to sail to Antarctica.

The plane itself is a BAE-146, equipped with four turbo propeller engines and a capacity of 80 guests. I certainly wouldn’t describe the plane as luxurious, but it does the job and adds to the sense of adventure, plus there is always a rousing cheer upon arrival. 

How likely is it that my flight will be delayed?

A plane lands on the runway of King George Island in Antarctica
A plane lands on the runway of King George Island in Antarctica

Because flights to Antarctica are more susceptible to bad weather than ships, many people prior to booking are often concerned by the potential for delay, especially as Fly & Cruise voyages are generally more expensive than sailing itineraries.

Whilst the weather at the end of the Earth is unpredictable all year round, the high summer period from December to February offers the warmest and most stable conditions for flying. As flights only operate during this period, delays are far less common than people realise.

Over the past 18 years, close to 80% of all flights between Punta Arenas and King George Island have departed on schedule, and 16% have departed within a day of the scheduled flight time. Only one trip, ever, had to be totally cancelled due to inclement weather. These odds are more than promising enough for most people to book a Fly & Cruise voyage without hesitation.

What is the contingency plan?

When delays do happen, the main culprits are wind, low clouds and fog, particularly around King George Island where you land. So, what is the contingency plan?

In the unlikely event that your flight to Antarctica cannot depart on the scheduled day due to unfavourable weather conditions, you will be given accommodation and guided excursions to local attractions until your flight can depart. Occasionally, your flight may depart a day early to avoid predicted weather on the scheduled day.

The view from Mirador Cerro de la Cruz in Punta Arenas
The view from Mirador Cerro de la Cruz in Punta Arenas

If you are delayed in Antarctica prior to your flight back to Patagonia, then you will continue to stay aboard your ship. You will be well taken care of and the crew will organise excursions around the Antarctica Peninsula until your flight can depart. In my opinion, this is actually a bonus as you get extra time exploring Antarctica free of charge. It is worth keeping in mind, however, that you will have to pay for any flight changes or cancellations in your journey beyond Punta Arenas, for example to Santiago.

Although it’s important to be aware of the risks, in reality, most flights are not delayed. When they are, it’s only by a few hours either way, which has no impact upon your Antarctic experience. 

Is there a cancellation policy?

As mentioned above, I only know of one trip that has ever been cancelled. No one wants their trip cancelled and operators will do their very best to get you to Antarctica, even if it’s for a slightly shorter period.

Cancellation policies on Fly & Cruise voyages are only enacted when a trip has not departed by 2pm on day four of the itinerary. If this happens the trip will be deemed ‘interrupted’ and you’ll be able to request a full refund for the price of the cruise.

For trips where the departure or return journey is delayed by a day or two, compensation is generally not offered given that inclement weather is beyond any parties’ control.

What are the other options?

A man on board an expedition ship gazes out at the ocean
Crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica by boat

If you think the risk outweighs the benefits of a Fly & Cruise voyage then another option to consider is flying one way and sailing the other. This reduces the risk of flight delays and also gives you the chance to experience sailing across the Drake Passage, which many Antarctic travellers see as a rite of passage.

Alternatively, you may prefer to sail both to and from the 7th continent, the more typical Antarctic experience that usually departs from Ushuaia. Sailing to Antarctica reduces the risk of delays, but it does mean you will have four days at sea at each end of your time spent in Antarctica, which will increase your time away, not forgetting motion sickness.

So, what is my parting advice?

If you don’t have the time or inclination to spend four extra days at sea, or if you think motion sickness may be a significant problem for you, then I would advise booking a Fly & Cruise voyage to Antarctica. The chances of a serious delay are so minimal that it shouldn’t be a major contributing factor in your decision. Most trips depart on time and the ones that don’t are usually only delayed by mere hours.

Antarctic cruise passengers exploring on land in the snow
Antarctic cruise passengers up close with a gentoo penguin

It all comes down to personal preference, although to tell you the truth, most people have long forgotten the logistics by the time they are exploring the frozen continent surrounded by piercing-blue icebergs and curious penguins, and I was no exception.

Alex Mudd

Head of Swoop Antarctica

Head of Swoop Antarctica, Alex, returned from his first trip to the 7th continent 16 years ago firmly bitten by 'polar fever' and obsessed with icebergs. Further forays into the Polar regions have included following muskoxen in Greenland and dog sledding across Spitsbergen.

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