Dubai deal shakes up Qantas network

The Qantas-Emirates partnership may not work for travellers.
The Qantas-Emirates partnership may not work for travellers.

Flyers who think Qantas has suddenly extended its reach in Europe are going to be disappointed. The idea that, from next year, you’ll be able to fly to Dubai with Qantas and change to an Emirates jet to access 33 European destinations just isn’t going to happen – unless you’re prepared to stop over in Dubai in either or both direction.

Qantas's new services to London via Dubai from Melbourne and Sydney from April 2013 will simply be existing services transferred away from Singapore, arriving in London at 5.40am London time (from Melbourne) and 6.35am (from Sydney) – timings which are geared to the crucial business market.

But their transit through Dubai around midnight (Dubai time) means they will provide relatively poor connections, with a only handful of continental European destinations flown by Emirates and requiring a stopover of three to five hours.

The vast majority of travellers heading for continental Europe will catch later Emirates flights from Australia, which arrive in Dubai at breakfast time. Those flights may or may not have Qantas flight numbers under the new Qantas-Emirates joint venture, but you will fly on them end to end in both directions - probably without seeing the insides of a Qantas airliner.

That's because the dominant "wave" of aircraft arrivals at Dubai is between 5am and 7am to catch onward flights to Europe, Middle East and Africa between 7am and 10am.

There's no way Qantas will give up its business-friendly early morning arrival "slots" at London's Heathrow airport, which it uses for its premium A380 services.

In the return direction, the 9.30pm (Sydney) and 10.30pm (Melbourne) departures from Heathrow are timed for the corporates to arrive in Australia in the early morning two days later local time.

Those transits will be in Dubai mid-morning, connecting with more of the Emirates European network than the westbound Qantas flights from Australia.

However, Qantas's abandonment of its daily service to the German business capital Frankfurt means most business travellers from Australia to continental Europe will now travel on Qantas's Asian competitors to arrive at the start of the business day.

Most of Emirates' services to Europe do not arrive until the afternoon.

Instead of the current 3.50pm departure from Sydney to Frankfurt via Singapore, arriving at 6.15am, Qantas passengers from next year wouldn’t arrive until 8.50am, with a stopover of three to four hours in Dubai, if they opt to take the Qantas-Emirates option.

It's possible Emirates may re-time that connection, but it may not be possible because Frankfurt, like Heathrow, is "slot-constrained", meaning there are few, if any, new peak hour arrival times available.

It's a far simpler option for most business travellers from Australia to fly via Asia, with generally better total journey times at transit cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Hong Kong with Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says the deal with Emirates is designed to bolster Qantas's presence in continental Europe, which is a stretch considering the airline is retreating.

The Australian national carrier has just one European destination left after withdrawing from Athens, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and Manchester progressively over the past two decades.

The withdrawal from Frankfurt will make three of the airline’s remaining 25 Boeing 747-400s redundant, but, according to Joyce, that doesn’t necessarily mean Qantas will be doing less flying. He says that those aircraft will be freed up to boost the airline’s Asian network, which, from next year, will be dedicated to flying point to point between Australia and Asia, instead of hosting up to five daily European services via Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong that have been progressively axed over the past year.

With former Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon at the helm as its chairman, Tourism Australia has given the Qantas-Emirates deal less than a glowing endorsement.

Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy said that, even though the deal "had the potential to bolster international visitation", it "would need to be judged fully over time".

Today’s Australian Financial Review also notes that the deal has received a damning review from Dixon’s business partner John Singleton.

"There is nothing good about Qantas anymore," says the flamboyant advertising guru. "The marketing is wrong, its advertising is wrong and the persona of the company is wrong.

"When they start announcing record losses (last week) instead of record profits (under Dixon) and the solution is no new planes, you know they haven’t got a clue."

If you are already a Qantas customer, are you sold on the deal with Emirates? Will it make a difference to your choices when it comes to travelling to Europe? Does it enhance the Qantas frequent flyer program for you?

This story Dubai deal shakes up Qantas network first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.