Frequent flyer clocks up 996th journey as Qantas Antarctic guest

Frequent flyer John Martin at his home. Picture: ROBERT PEETAt6pm on New Year’s Eve, John Martin, 82, will board a Qantas plane for the 996th time.

His destination? The South Pole.

At Sydney’s domestic terminal 3, the North Wollongong pensioner will follow the signs to the departure gate marked “Antarctica” and collect his return ticket. By the time he arrives back in Sydney at 6am on New Year’s Day after his flight over the ice continent, he will be just four flights short of the magic 1000.

“I never had the aim of doing 1000 Qantas flights, just like I never said I’d live to 82,” Mr Martin said. “It just happened.”

What makes Mr Martin’s story even more remarkable to modern travellers is that he was 32 before he took his first international flight.

“I’d flown down to Melbourne or Canberra before, but my first overseas flight was in 1964,” he said. “[Now] when I check in, and see kids with their thongs, boardshorts and backpacks going off to see the world, I think: ‘Good luck to them’.

“But in my day, air travel was very different, and very expensive. Basically, there was only one fare. Full economy, which allowed you multiple stopovers.

“Then, with the arrival of the larger planes in the early 1970s, everything changed. Suddenly where I had struggled to buy one flight a year at $700 return, I could do three trips at $200 return.”

On New Year’s Eve, Mr Martin will be on the privately chartered Qantas 747, the guest of Antarctica Flights which has been operating what it calls “the world’s most unique day tour” since 1994. As the jumbo heads south over the Southern Ocean towards the Australian Antarctic Territory, he’ll enjoy a glass of his favourite white wine with dinner in his seat in premium economy.

But most of his Qantas flights have been in economy, because he paid for them himself.

Surprisingly, given his love of theatre, Mr Martin is a reluctant celebrity. He’s been Qantas’s number one frequent flyer (0000101) since 1989, but it was only this year that the marketers swung into action, when he mentioned to the check-in crew that he’d been flying with Qantas for 50 years.

In July, Mr Martin was invited to be on board Qantas’s 75th anniversary flight – “a 737-800” – from Fiji to Sydney. The former news editor for WIN TV was then invited on the Antarctic trip.

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