China makes its first commercial flight to Antarctica

Bad news, penguins

Penguins, we’ve got some bad news. Antarctica is now only plane trip away for Chinese tourists.

Chinese media is celebrating the country’s first-ever commercial flight to Antarctica, which landed in the frozen continent on Saturday, carrying 22 Chinese passengers, after taking off from Hong Kong and transferring over in Cape Town on a trip that took more than 20 hours — hailing the event as launching a “new era in tapping polar travel.”

While state media reports are trumpeting this as the first time mainland tourists can visit the southernmost continent through a Chinese travel operator, the BBC notes that the final leg of the trip, from Cape Town to Antarctica, is actually being organized by White Desert, a well-known tour operator which offers trips to both poles.

In recent years, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Antarctica has exploded — from fewer than 100 in 2008 to nearly 4,000 in 2016 — increasing more than any other nationality. Now, Chinese visitors to Antarctica rank only behind American ones.

Travel agencies have begun targeting wealthy Chinese tourists seeking an “extreme” getaway. Some visitors will fork out anywhere from 100,000 yuan to 500,000 yuan on a one- to two-week trip. Others come to take some sweet wedding shots.

Increased tourism has some environmentalists concerned about the potential impact to native wildlife as human visitors to Antarctica are known to leave behind trash and perturb penguins. However, the continent is only likely to see more and more Chinese tour groups in the coming years, arriving by boat and plane.

Run for your lives, little guys!

[Images via NetEase]