AUSTRALIAN travellers flying to Europe as part of the new Qantas/Emirates alliance, due to start on March 31, could face extended waits for connections at Dubai's International Airport.
In a worst-case scenario some passengers flying with the new alliance, which has Qantas abandoning its traditional route to Europe via Singapore in favour of the Middle East hub, could be left waiting for a connection in Dubai for up to 10 hours.
A dilemma for Qantas is that its flights from Sydney and Melbourne arrive in Dubai about midnight, but most Emirates flights from Dubai to Europe depart between 7am and 10am.
Except for those passengers originating in Melbourne and Sydney and travelling through to London on the same Qantas aircraft, it becomes almost obvious to choose to travel all the way aboard Emirates.
Passengers to other European destinations will face a stark choice: either fly on a Qantas aircraft and wait in Dubai for several hours, or take the Emirates flights that depart Melbourne and Sydney in the evening and arrive in Dubai around 5am, with a shorter layover time before connecting.
This second proposition, which seems to make more sense, threatens to erode Qantas's slice of the Australia-Dubai pie. Qantas did not respond to requests for an interview about the timings of its new Dubai services.
In order to soften the blow for its passengers who face long delays between connecting flights, Qantas is introducing "Dubai Connect", a service already offered by Emirates.
If an economy or premium economy passenger faces a delay of eight to 24 hours in Dubai, Qantas will provide complimentary hotel accommodation, transfers, meals and visa fees. In the case of business- and first-class passengers, the figures are six to 24 hours.
A source from a rival carrier said that while more and more travellers were switching to Gulf airlines because of the convenience of transiting through Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar it would be a concern if passengers were sitting around airports too long.
"Connectivity is a key issue and it should be taken into account in schedule planning," the source said. "We aim for sub-three-hour connections."
Qantas has also re-jigged some other aspects of its service to match Emirates after March 31.
With the exception of its US flights, Qantas economy passengers will have a minimum baggage allowance of 30 kilograms, up from the present 23 kilograms. Qantas Club, Gold, Silver and Platinum members flying economy all get extra kilos.
Qantas will also match another Emirates perk with Chauffeur Drive, a limo transfer to and from the airport for its first- and business-class travellers on services between Australia, Dubai and London.
Qantas Frequent Flyers will earn points/miles when they fly aboard Emirates, and vice versa, although the earn rate will differ depending on the fare purchased and the airline flight number on the ticket. Qantas Frequent Flyers will be able to use their points to redeem a Qantas Classic Award flight on Emirates services.
The Qantas and Emirates partnership, and Qantas flights to Dubai, are still subject to regulatory approvals.
A Flight Centre spokesman, Colin Bowman, said the Qantas/Emirates alliance seemed to be a positive move for passengers.
Mr Bowman said an advantage was that each airlines used Dubai's terminal three and passengers did not need to worry about transferring to different terminals. Connection times were generally short and overall travel time to London, via Singapore or Dubai, was almost the same at about 24 hours, he said.
"But the challenge is that the Qantas flights land relatively late [into Dubai], around midnight, and some connections are at 4am," he said.
"When you look at the clock that's pretty ugly …"