When Astrid took the elevator down to the lobby, she found Paige already waiting for her. Taking her by the hand, the woman led her out to a private car, introducing her driver as Jake. Over the next two hours, they saw as much of the city of Melbourne as was humanly possible. They had breakfast in the vibrant suburb of St. Kilda, and visited the Shrine of Remembrance. Astrid would have loved to spend more time at the Royal Botanical Gardens, but Paige insisted that no young lady could stop in the city without browsing the shops on Swan Street. They returned to the hotel with barely enough time to pick up Christopher and make it to the airport on time.
“Are you sure this is the right plane?” asked Christopher when they reached their gate.
“This is it,” said Astrid.
The plane awaiting them was not another huge 747, but a medium-sized corporate jet. Astrid had expected this. Though commercial flights left Australia for Antarctica once or twice a month during the summer, it was winter here in the southern hemisphere. Besides, they weren’t headed to Australian territory, but France’s Adelie Land.
“Will this plane be able to make it all the way to Antarctica?” asked Christopher.
“No problem,” Astrid assured him. “You can recognize the Dassault Falcon 900 by its distinctive tri-jet configuration. The 900LX which we have here— you see the blended winglets— has a range of 5,520 miles.”
They walked down the boarding ramp to the plane’s open hatch, where a smiling young flight attendant awaited them.
“What about the weather?”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” said Astrid.
“We have an excellent radar system,” said the flight attendant. “We also keep in contact with Dumont du’Urville, the station in Adelie Land. If the weather is bad, particularly if there are high winds, we just have to turn around and come back.”
“How often does that happen?” asked Christopher.
“About one out of three trips,” she replied. “You two find a couple of seats and we’ll get started shortly. If you need anything after we get started, let me know. We can have lunch whenever you get hungry. I’ve got sandwiches and hot cocoa in the galley.”
“Are we the only passengers?” Christopher peered into the plane’s cabin.
“The only ones,” she confirmed. “It’s a charter flight. Not many people want to visit the bottom of the world in winter. Summer’s bad enough.”