Earlier this month, Qantas operated an ultra-long-haul repatriation flight from Buenos Aires to Darwin. The flight was one of the hundreds of charter and repatriation flights Qantas has operated on behalf of the Australian Government. In operating the flight from South America, Darwin joined a small group of airports that have hosted nonstop flights from all six habitable continents.
What are the six habitable continents?
Before we address the main question of the day, we should first lay down some definitions and ground rules.
Firstly, the six habitable continents are North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. The one continent not considered habitable is Antarctica (even if it does host a contingent of researchers year-round).
The list in itself can be controversial, depending on your interpretation of what constitutes a continent (geologists and sociologists may have differing views). However, since this is the most widely adopted way of categorizing large parts of the world, this is what we will stick with.
Secondly, we will need to make the distinction between currently flying to all six habitable continents versus having had flights to all the continents regardless of time.
What parts of the world can we rule out?
Constantly in flux, especially during the global health crisis, it could be challenging to pin down the airports operating regular commercial flights to the six continents. However, we can rule out many airports just because of their geographic position in the world.
Airports in Asia (excluding the Middle East) don’t operate flights to South America due to the distance. The closest to this is Aeromexico operating a flight to Tokyo, although its hub and home country are technically part of North America. Historically, some airlines have operated flights from Japan to Brazil via a stop in the United States.
Larger airports in the southeastern portion of Oceania (mainly consisting of Australia and New Zealand) may have had special repatriation flights or maintenance flights to Europe but lack regular nonstop service. As mentioned in this article’s introduction, the recent arrival of QF14 in Darwin saw it join a small club of airports that have hosted nonstop flights from all six settled continents.
An amazing view of Antarctica from the cockpit. pic.twitter.com/7iJranqH3v
— Qantas (@Qantas) October 7, 2021
Airports operating regular services
To find airports operating regular services to all six habitable continents, we only have to look at the Middle East, which has a favorable geographic position to suit the range of modern-day airliners operating with profitable payloads.
Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways operate regular passenger services through their respective hubs in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha. While destinations in Africa, Asia, and North America aren’t a problem, the airlines also manage to reach as far (south)west as Sao Paolo in Brazil and as far east as Auckland in New Zealand.
One-offs and historical services
Creating an exhaustive list of airports that are part of the “six continent club” would take quite some time, especially when considering decades of long-distance flight combined with numerous special repatriation flights, VIP flights, and cargo flights.
According to a post on an Infinite Flight thread, the following airports have joined the six continent club due to a combination of regular and special flights:
- London Heathrow (LHR)
- Johannesburg (JNB)
- Doha (DOH)
- Dubai (DXB)
- Chicago (ORD)
- Houston (IAH)
- Newark (EWR)
Of course, Darwin and its recent repatriation flight from South America now joins this list, as well as Istanbul Airport, which saw a repatriation flight to Darwin. Sydney also joins the list with Qantas having operated special flights to Europe and hosting regular flights to South America in the past.
It’s a fairly interesting topic, and certainly a list that will keep changing and growing as more special and ultra-long-range flights take place in the years to come. Did we miss any airports? Let us know by leaving a comment.