By Lindsey Olander
December 11, 2015
commercial flights to antarctica
Credit: Adam Ungar/ALE

Reaching Antarctica is a feat unto itself: runway landings have historically been limited to heavy cargo and military research jets, while those who prefer to arrive in comfort are slowed by 10-day to three-week journeys aboard cruise ships like the Seabourne Quest in order to reach its icy shores. But change is on the way.

After seven months of preparation in partnership with Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), Icelandic airline Loftleidir has landed the first Boeing 757 passenger airliner on Union Glacier’s blue-ice runway—formed when fallen snow on a glacier gets compacted and recrystallizes—in a successful test to prove that a commercial airliner can land in such conditions.

ALE already transports up to 500 visitors a season to Antarctica during small group trips aboard cargo jets—but development this holds promise that travelers will see increased visitation numbers, upgrades in comfort (the 757 had 62 business class seats aboard), and reduced transit times in the near future.