Trouble in Texas

Headwinds have tested the limits of Qantas's new long-haul flights from Dallas to Sydney, writes Clive Dorman.

Qantas has given an undertaking that passengers won't have their bags removed from flights as it irons out teething problems on its longest air route from Sydney to Dallas, Texas, which it launched in mid May.

At least one of the return flights was forced to set down in Noumea, New Caledonia, for extra fuel about two hours short of the scheduled refuelling stop in Brisbane. (The journey from Dallas to Sydney is against prevailing westerly headwinds and requires a fuel stop in Brisbane.)

Another flight was forced to offload two luggage containers at Dallas "because of a late increase in the forecast headwind", according to the head of Qantas's integrated operations centre, Alan Milne.

Qantas launched the new four-times-a-week service on May 16, replacing its service to San Francisco at the beginning of what it admits will be the worst months of the year for westerly winter headwinds in the south Pacific.

The service is being operated with a four-class layout for just 307 passengers, compared with up to 412 passengers in two classes on other routes.

On the return flight, capacity is restricted to 280 passengers to allow the service to operate the 13,360 kilometres from Dallas to Brisbane non-stop in the scheduled 16 hours.

Qantas is confident the early bugs are being ironed out.

"We are now in a position to assure passengers that their bags will not be offloaded if additional fuel is required," Milne says.

"The adverse winds are most prevalent during the months of May, June and July. We believe we will be able to operate non-stop in the vast majority of cases."


Qantas is flying to Dallas on ultra-long-range versions of the jumbo - the 747-400ER - specially built for the airline by Boeing in 2002 and 2003.

On the eastbound flight, the new service, scheduled at 15 hours 25 minutes, cuts hours off the journey from Australia to the US east coast, with a minimum connecting time of just 70 minutes in Dallas to a raft of domestic services operated by Qantas's US partner, American Airlines.

The union that represents Qantas pilots has attempted to use the Dallas route in an increasingly bitter pay and conditions dispute.

The president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, Barry Jackson, who flies Qantas A380s, has been reported as saying the airline is using the wrong aircraft for the Dallas route and should have bought Boeing 777s, which Qantas has rejected in favour of a much-delayed order for Boeing 787 Dreamliners.