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Do Flight paths go over Antarctica?? TRUTH Revealed!

Explore the truth about flight paths over Antarctica! Find out why commercial flights avoid the icy continent and the challenges of polar aviation.

Tobi Miles
July 1, 2022
Do Flight paths go over Antarctica?? TRUTH Revealed!

Antarctica and the North Pole at polar opposites of the earth, but with a few things in common! They are both inhospitable freezing cold places, with alot of conspiracy surrounding them from the flat earth theory to Aliens crashes! But What is the truth about Antarctica and North Pole Flights?  Do flight paths fly over Antarctica or the North! Here is the quick answer!

There is no scheduled commercial flight route which fly's over Antarctica's "Polar Routes" Flights from New Zealand to South Africa could fly over the Antartica route, but currently no airline has confirmed regular scheduled flights over this route.

However, there are a few flights which fly over the north pole regularly. Routes from the East Coast and Midwest to Southeast Asia and China typically fly this route for the time and fuel savings For example, New York to Hong Kong, Shanghai or Seoul  now fly this route over the north pole or "Santa's Shortcut" !

WATCH OUT FOR THAT ICE BERG! -Antarctica can be a treacherous place. Why many Flight Paths over Antarctica are restricted. 

Why do airlines not fly over Antarctica?

No Fly Zone in Antarctica.

The technical answer is varied, one theory is that historically when planes used a compass as their primary navigation source and approached one of the magnetic poles, the compass would go wild and unpredictable! We have all seen the movies, where the compass starts to spin! Such unpredictability of compass would make it very difficult to maintain the correct flight route to your destination.

A similar theory is present for the infamous Bermuda triangle, where many planes were lost! Today with the global positioning system (G.P.S) in theory there should be no major affects as GPS uses Satellites to navigate. So what other reasons are there which planes don't fly over the polar routes.

One is the inhospitable and unpredictable nature of the area and of course the freezing temperatures!

A ship compass | By Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

How cold is Antarctica?

According to NIWA, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica was -89.6°C at Vostok station in 1983. With an average winter temperature of around  -49°C. Your freezer at home is like the Caribbean in comparison at approximately -15°C. Adding the wind chill factor to the mix can make it feel even colder!

Why are there no planned polar flight routes?

Apart from the historic navigation issues due to the magnetic poles, there is also the deadly temperatures and inhospitable climate! The FAA released guidance for planned "Polar Operations" . This includes being equip with two cold-weather suits, special communication capability, designation of Arctic diversion airports, a firm recovery plans for stranded passengers.  Another vitally important preparation is fuel freeze strategy and monitoring method.

Jet Fuel Freezing on Antarctica Flights?

Flights over Antarctica can be treacherous for many reasons, one major one is the Jet Fuel can actually freeze!

According the FAA,  Jet fuel freezes at temperatures ranging between −40 and −50 °C (−40 and −58 °F). The interesting part is  these temperatures are regularly encountered while at cruise altitude during standard international flights.

This causes no issue, as the fuel retains heat from take off and lower elevations.  However, a polar route flight where intense cold for a long duration is experienced may cause fuel temperatures to freeze! The freezing point of various jet fuels ranges depending upon type.

Jet being refueled | By Unknown via Wikimedia Commons

Jet Fuel Types:

Jet Fuel of grade A is widely used in the U.S and has a maximum freeze point of −40 °C (−40 °F). While in other countries Jet fuel of grade A1 is used with a maximum freeze point of −47 °C (−53 °F) . A series of alerts are setup to alert the pilot when the fuel temperatures reach a safety factor of 3 °C (5.4 °F)  above these freezing levels.

This can commonly occur on long distance flights, where the high altitude is sustained for longer periods. Upon receiving an alert the flight crew plans an altitude change. Due to the unique nature of the polar regions, it can actually sometimes be warmer at higher altitudes thus the flight crew retreats to the lower stratosphere!

Safety Margin to prevent Jet Fuel Freezing:

Fuels produced at refineries commonly have even lower freezing points! For example, below the standard  −40 °C (−40 °F). So then you will have a greater safety factor! However, accuracy of temperature measurement can be another factor for example, it is likely that the temperature measurement probe will not be located to the coldest part of the fuel tank!

Thus the safety margin is prudent to assure safety and account for inconsistent readings.  For polar flight plans, under certain conditions the FAA allows the measured freezing point of the fuel be utilised instead of the standard. Which can the airlines more flexibility in flight planning.

Emergency Procedures when flying over Antartica.

Aircraft's must be within an hour of an airport to land case of an emergency.

Leo Moran, offered the reason behind this via online forum Quora.

He stated: “During the Reagan Administration, the Administrator of the FAA, J. Lynn Helms, decided that no twin-engine aircraft should be permitted to be beyond 60 minutes from an airfield to which they could divert in case of emergency, making them little better than flying versions of boats before the advent of navigation.

In laymen terms, this means an aircraft must be within an hour of an airport to land in in the event of an emergency.

The rule this is called the Extended Range Operation with Two-Engine Airplanes (ETOPS)

While some planes can be three or four-engine planes, it limits which commercial airlines can fly over it.

Flight Disasters In Antartica. (Mt Erebus)

According to a New Zealand press report:

"On the 28 November 1979, Air New Zealand Flight TE901 left Mangere airport, Auckland, for an 11-hour return sightseeing flight to Antarctica. At 12.49 p.m. (NZST), the aircraft crashed into the lower slopes of Mt Erebus killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board. It was the worst civil disaster in New Zealand's history!

Search and rescue operations and aircraft in Antarctica were activated but it wasn't until midnight (NZST) that wreckage was sighted on the lower slopes of Mt Erebus. Final confirmation that there were no survivors came later the next day. Professionals and volunteers from Antarctica and New Zealand took part in difficult and often harrowing investigative, recovery and identification operations."

Fokker Universal Byrd wreck in Antarctica | By Byrd Antarctic Expedition via Wikimedia Commons

Debate was fierce over who's fault was the disaster. The chief inspector of air accidents attributed the incident to pilot error. Justice Peter Mahon’s Royal Commission of Inquiry disagreed, placing the blame on Air New Zealand and its systems. The controversy continues!

However, the fact remains that even with all precautions taken, flying through extreme environments increases your chance of a fault or disaster. In addition, to the long period of time it takes for emergency crews or help to arrive in the event of an incident. Apart from the safety aspect, it is a PR nightmare for any airline involved in an Antarctic flight due to shave a few hours of a flight time!

Have there been flights to Antartica Before?

There have been many flights over the geographic South Pole, the first documented one being in 1935 by Lincoln Ellsworth and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon.

According to the Royal aviation museum:

In early December 1935, two men flew over the last unexplored area on earth the great Antarctic. One of them was the American world-famous explorer Lincoln Ellsworth and the other was Herbert Hollick-Kenyon, a Canadian Airways Ltd. pilot based in Winnipeg. Among his qualifications, Hollick-Kenyon had experience in the ‘specialized art’ of starting airplane engines in cold weather and had played a leading role in search for the marooned 1929 MacAlpine expedition.

It was Ellsworth’s third attempt to fly across the Antarctic. The plane was the Northrop Gamma, the first plane to be built by the newly formed Northup Corporation of California. It was an all-metal, low-wing monoplane powered by a Pratt & Whitney 600 hp radial engine. Its top speed was rated at 230 mph with a cruising radius of 7,000 miles fully fuelled.

Ellsworth and his team sailed to Dundee Island opposite the tip of South America in late 1935. By November 18, the Polar Star was re-assembled, test-flown and ready.

This was not a smooth flight with many issues, causing forced landings throughout the attempts . First attempt, on the 21st of November, when Hollick-Kenyon first lifted the Polar Star’s 7,600 pounds into the air. Ninety minutes later, they aborted the flight because the glass fuel flow gauge was cracked and likely to burst.

Iceberg in Antarctica | By W. Bulach via Wikimedia Commons

The Next Day - Flight to Antarctica:

They took off the next day, and again aborted the flight, this time due to bad weather. On November 23, Ellsworth and Hollick- Kenyon took off for the third time. After several hours they lost radio contact with their base and landed after flying 13 hours. On November 24th, they resumed their journey, but only for another 30 minutes when the weather forced them to land, stranding them for the next three days.

In the afternoon of November 27, Ellsworth and Hollick-Kenyon took off but weather forced them to land after 50 minutes. Another blizzard grounded them a further three days. They were, however, able to determine that they were about 500 miles short of their goal.

When the storm ended, it took three days to dig out the Polar Star. The engine fired up in the afternoon of December 3, but they did not take off because still another storm moved in!

In the end they managed to get there and it was known as one of the greatest achievements in early aviation history!  A successful polar crossing was not repeated until 1956.

Why do flights from Asia to the USA not travel via the north pole?

Santa's Shortcut - North Pole Flights

They do! But historically they didn't!

Looking at a globe of the earth it's clear to see that a fast route to the U.S.A from Asia would be to head over the polar route or "Santa's shortcut". The historical reason for this previously not being commonplace is the airpace over the north pole was restricted up until 1998! However, as of 2011 the restrictions have been relaxed and there are now more routes been flown over the north pole.

Flight path via ""Santa's shortcut" or the polar route! Flights over the north pole.

Routes from the East Coast and Midwest to Southeast Asia and China typically fly this way for the time and fuel savings For example, New York to Hong Kong, Shanghai or Seoul  now fly this route!

Pan Am Flight 50 - How this flight flew from Pole to Pole?

Traveling the world from North Pole to the South Pole in an airliner is a feat accomplished only three times!  So it is a great feat, even within refuelling stops navigating across many continents, throughout out all weathers is not easy! Even with stops to refuel, the in hospitable polar opposites make it a great challenge!

Then their are the passengers, it takes a certain type of person who would wan't to take part in this trip a four-leg, 54-hour adventure! Hell for some, but heaven for others knowing they will be part of the exclusive pole-pole club.

CNN Travel on PanAm Flight 50:

The first pole-to-pole flight took place in 1965 by a modified Flying Tiger Line Boeing 707-349C carrying 40 scientists, guests, and crew. To make the trip possible, the plane -- nicknamed Pole Cat -- had to be modified with two additional fuel tanks installed in the main cabin.

Total time: 62 hours, 27 minutes.  - Wow now that's a long flight!

In 1968, a Modern Air Transport Convair 990 airliner with 78 passengers and crew flew over both poles. This plane didn't set a speed record, but by landing for fuel at Antarctica's McMurdo Station, it was the first aircraft to touch all seven continents.

Pan Am's Historic Flight 50 Characters:

Pan Am's flight 50, was a memorable character fulfilled experience with characters such as Brian Baum an 18-year-old aviation enthusiast who saved up $2,222 to buy a ticket to hippy guitarists, beauty queens and even gucci fashion models!

According to Brian Baum;

" While over the North Pole, one passenger put on a Santa hat and beard. Later, when the plane crossed the equator, the man reappeared with the same beard and a three-pronged toy trident,  paying tribute to Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea!  The hippy guitarist was aboard, singing custom songs about the North and South Poles. In true 1977 style,

international beauty queens were aboard, armed with Polaroid cameras,  for passengers who wanted a selfie.

Gucci Fashion Show on Pan Am Flight 50 - North Pole to South Pole.

There was the Gucci fashion show. Five models showed off 24 different outfits, using the 747's upstairs lounge as a changing area and the lower cabin aisles as their fashion runway.

"That was really well done," Baum said. "They played it up so well."

Pan Am Flight 50's broke a speed record stood for 31 years until 2008, when a Bombardier Global Express business jet broke it.

Polar Express (Flight Over both Poles!) (2018)

Yes that's right another pole to pole flight for this generation! Nicknamed the polar express, it was planned to take of from New York's JFK International Airport with about 150 passengers.

The route will take them from JFK to Río Gallegos airport in southern Argentina. Taking off from there, the Polar Express will fly over the South Pole and continue all the way to Perth, Australia. Next, it's on to Beijing. And the final leg of the trip takes the plane over the North Pole and back to JFK.

On Board:

The jet was planned to be  Airbus A340-300,  a large, long-range airliner with four reliable engines.

Economy tickets start at $11,900. Activities on board include, Cocktail mixers, lectures, an Antarctic expert to explain what passengers see through the windows and even inflight yoga classes!

Cancellation/Delay on Polar Flight:

According to unknown issues, the flight scheduled for October 26th 2018 has been delayed or temporarily cancelled for an unknown reason...check back soon to find out more!

Want to know the best best to sit on a plane to avoid turbulence, Check out this great article below by clicking the link below:

Best place to sit on a plane to avoid Tuburlence?

Interesting Antarctica Facts?

Is anyone living in Antarctica?

No humans live in Antarctica permanently. However, about 1,000 to 5,000 people live through the year at the science stations in Antarctica. Only plants and animals that can live in cold live there. The animals include penguins, seals, nematodes, tardigrades and mites. (Source:

Penguins in the Antarctic. "Are you cold?" , "Yep?"..."I really need a holiday?". Flights here would be better than the zoo.

Has anyone been born in Antarctica?

At least 11 children have been born in West Antarctica. The first was Emilio Marcos Palma, born on 7 January 1978 to Argentine parents at Esperanza, Hope Bay, near the tip of the Antarctic peninsula. ... In 2001, National Geographic reported that eight children had been born at Esperanza alone. (Source:

Who does Antartica Belong to?

Antarctica is technically defined as all land and ice bergs south of 60° S for the purposes of the Treaty System. The treaty was signed by twelve countries including the Russia, the United KingdomArgentinaChileAustralia, and the United States.

Is Antartica Protected?

Antartica is classed as the Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) which is protected by scientists and several different international bodies.

Is there a US military base in Antarctica?

There is! It's called the McMurdo Station and is a United States Antarctic "research center" on the south tip of Ross Island, a New Zealand-claimed Ross Dependency on the shore of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. It is operated by the United States through the United States Antarctic Program, a branch of the National Science Foundation. Source

Why is the Military in Antarctica?

According to the Antarctic Treaty. Which was created on June 23, 1961, military activity is BANNED in Antarcticamilitary personnel and equipment may only be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose (such as delivering supplies) on the continent. Some conspiracy theorists say the Military is there because it is protecting an Alien Spacecraft which landed...let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Did a UFO or Aliens Crash Land in Antarctica??

The official story is no...of course. However, there are multiple theories disputed that. One which is purely scientific and based on facts is the many "Alien" meteorites that have landed in Antartica and are well preserved due to the temperatures.  According to ESA .

"More than 50,000 meteorites have been recovered by different international research teams working in the Antarctic. Perhaps the most famous was Allan Hills 84001, which was found in 1984. Some scientists argued that structures within the rock, which is from Mars, indicated fossilization of a primitive life form. Others suggested that the rock had been contaminated on Earth...who knows for sure?

Another story which is popular found that on the South Georgia Island near Antarctica, an intriguing land mass can be spotted in the snow...using none other than Google maps! The island is very remote, miles from other destinations and home to just 20 locals. On google maps it looks as though the land mass appears to have dragged across the surface, leaving tracks of some kind. UFO theorists believe this was a crash landing of some sort, proving the possibility of aliens!

However, experts have disputed the claims,Dr Richard Waller, from Britains Keele University told the Daily Mail: "It looks to me as though this feature is related to a large avalanche from a nearby mountain.

"Part of a hanging glacier appears to have collapsed, you can see the avalanche debris at the foot of the slope, and this could be a large block of ice that has travelled further as a consequence.

“The track shows that it's sliding over a snow-covered glacier before it comes to a rest."


Who knows, but what is for sure is flights over there are not easy to come by!

If you found this article interesting, share on Facebook or excite your friends!

Tobi Miles
Article updated:
March 28, 2024
A nomadic wordsmith savoring the world's flavors and penning stories that turn every journey into an epic.
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