Air New Zealand and Qantas began offering sightseeing flights over the Antarctic in February 1977. They proved popular and Air New Zealand subsequently applied to the Civil Aviation Division of the Ministry of Transport for permission to hold further flights in the summer of 1978 and 1979.
The popularity of its earlier Antarctic flights, and positive reports from returning passengers, meant Air New Zealand needed to do little advertising to fill seats on those it announced for November 1979. But the airline still offered an appealing package which included meals, refreshments, a complimentary bar service, in-flight entertainment and commentary.
A survey conducted on Air New Zealand's first Antarctic flight revealed something of passengers’ motivations for making the trip. But still more would be known about the passengers of the ill-fated Flight TE901 - their lives were pored over by the media in the days and weeks after the crash on 28 November 1979.
By the time the airlines terminated the flights - Air New Zealand immediately after the Erebus disaster and Qantas in February 1980 - they had carried approximately 10,000 passengers to Antarctica.
Qantas resumed Antarctic sightseeing trips in 1994. At the time Air New Zealand ruled out a similar move, stating that this was ‘for obvious reasons’.