Nothing about this day would be anything less than extraordinary. As we 17 cabin crew strode in a pack the evening of December 31, we heard the upbeat musical patter of a six-piece jazz band and saw 300 VIPs mingling with 6-foot tall penguins. A 747-jumbo jet was being stocked in Melbourne, Australia with chilled French champagne. The pilots had put the finishing touches to the route – choosing from 19 possible options to see the most spectacular scenery hour-by-hour. Destination: Antarctica. New Years Eve. Aircruise.
My day had begun – for the second time in 24 hours; all with a 1400 wakeup. I proudly put on my work suit, heels, and scarf for this bucket list opportunity. We cabin crew buzzed around the hotel lobby, the excitement bubbling to the surface as reality hit.Once at the airport, we had some raucous group photos and an intense pilot briefing and a charter manger spoke with us about what to expect – basically nothing like a normal day.
Once at the airport, we had some raucous group photos and an intense pilot briefing. A charter manager spoke with about what to expect— basically, this would be nothing like a normal day. (We all had a few major concerns after hearing some dramatic colleague stories— alcohol issues, the odd seat turf-war, balancing our ingrained safety priorities with the unique requirements of the event and sky-high VIP expectations; not to mention the fact it would be 12 hours of back-of-the-clock (overnight) daylight! Of the 17 crew, only three were returnees. Us newbies could only conjecture. It would remain to be seen if the first-timers would ever go back for more after this notoriously demanding day!)
There were seven grades of tickets ranging from AU$1200 to AU$8000 per person depending on cabin, window/centre seats, and over-wing visibility. Each passenger received a colour-coded lanyard. Window seats allocations rotated half-way through the tour so, where applicable, two boarding passes were issued.
I started the party in economy around dinner time, with a bar service— spirits, sparkling wine and beer— and we followed with evening meal with three choices. Tea and coffee requests abounded around 10pm for the flagging energy levels but we soon hit landfall, or should I say icefall, and the buzz was palpable. The crossover galley, at doors 4, turned into a hub with an unending stream of requests for the hot and alcoholic drinks. We started sharing stories and mingling with passengers. The jazz band filled each cabin with singalongs, and the crowd grew more loose.
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The 12 door windows were prime photography and viewing real estate for 150 standing passengers so you can imagine the queue and the egress issues, but it was overall quite civilized. The thing that hit me the most about my first sight of Antarctica was the purity. Sure it was glarey, and it was hard to gain perspective on the vicious mountain peaks. Although we were low enough to see buildings (10, 000ft), there was no visible penguin parade. However, it was amazing to see (what was for me) the last continent to witness/’tour’. We glided for four hours around the coastline, seeing ice floes, glaciers, and mountains. The colours were amazing, and we did lazy leisurely figure-of-eights patterns to ensure each window saw an incredible view. Despite feeling seasick— with this carrying on for four hours and bottles sliding on the galley benches—we didn’t care as it meant that we all had our fill.
Half of us were told to take 20 minutes break at 11pm. I spent time taking snaps of the Rolls Royce branded engines out of doors 2, visiting the flight deck and chugging electrolytes like my life depended on it. It could have been a downer being stone-cold-sober whilst hosting a party for 300 strangers. Also, most crew had only met each other minutes prior to the shift…however, cabin crew have a way of bonding in the moment, and at the end of a shift anywhere in the world, saying the warmest goodbyes. At midnight, what we had in common was stronger than our different ages, genders, and cities. We shared galley kisses and took selfies, and in business, there were even reports of a conga line. The jazz band played Auld Lang Sine and we peeled off 2016 from history.
There was a strong contingent of solo travelers too – the steep price meant that for many families it was a splurge. But these people were inspiring and proved that travel transcends boundaries and dreams are stronger than obstacles. There was also a handful (that I learned of, anyway) of people with terminal illnesses, and it was a privilege to be part of their stories.
We had perfect weather the entire time – crystal clear visibility for our four hours of exploration, zero turbulence, and a beautiful textbook takeoff and landing. We were accompanied by an award-winning Research Professor with 45 years of experience who has lead 25 research expeditions, and a videographer who has hunkered down multiple times to live seasonally on Antarctica over the past 30 years. Antarctica separated from Australia 55 million years ago, and it is still big enough to cover Europe!
As a cabin crew member, it was a spectacular way to make my first roster the most memorable it could be. Put your hand up for the hard days, the challenging opportunities, the days that seniors may gently scoff at you for snapping up… this job is what you make it, and you get what you give! My unique NYE made up for the sacrifices and loneliness and frustrations of this crazy life and made me appreciate the magic of aviation afresh.