Qantas' Dallas/Fort-Worth flight fuel problems - again! - this time diverting to Houston

By John Walton, May 25 2011
Qantas' Dallas/Fort-Worth flight fuel problems - again! - this time diverting to Houston

Houston, we had a problem. After having to leave passenger bags behind when departing Dallas/Fort Worth because its Boeing 747-400ER aircraft didn't have the fuel range to reach Australia with a full load, a separate Qantas flight, QF7, diverted to Houston yesterday. That's over 400 km to the southeast of DFW airport.

The problem this time was thunderstorms in the Dallas/Fort Worth area -- which, given that Dallas is at the foot of the notorious Tornado Alley, aren't uncommon. 

The map above from the US weather association NOAA shows Dallas in the second most tornado-prone zone. For a good part of the year, the north Texas area is hit by severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

The storms meant that Qantas' 747, at the end of its range and without enough fuel to circle Dallas for long enough for the thunderstorms to pass by, had to divert to Houston.

A Qantas spokesperson admitted to Australian Business Traveller that the flight eventually arrived two hours and twenty minutes late. With a planned arrival time of 1350, that means the plane wasn't on the tarmac until 1610. And as any US-bound traveller knows, there's usually over an hour of customs, immigration and baggage pleasantries to go once you're off the plane.

So how many passengers missed their onward connections -- the same ones Qantas was trumpeting as the reason to fly through oneworld partner American Airlines' Dallas hub -- and had to stay overnight in Dallas? Qantas didn't answer that question.

(We do hope they had our guide to interesting things to do in Dallas to hand, though.)

The Dallas Disaster

So why are Qantas' new Dallas/Fort Worth flights turning into such a fiasco after only one week of operation?

Qantas uses its longest-range planes on the route: the ER model of the usual 747-400. Qantas is the only airline that ordered these special aircraft from Boeing. With an extra fuel tank, its maximum range fully loaded is 14,205 km. 

That leaves only 401 km of extra fuel over the shortest possible distance between Sydney and Dallas: 13,804 km. Aviation insiders tell us that Qantas is flying the plane deliberately light -- to increase range -- but clearly the balance hasn't been struck yet.

Other airlines who made better decisions on their aircraft purchases could make that flight, or similar flights, of course. 

Qantas might protest that it was expecting Boeing 787 aircraft -- which have been continually delayed by Boeing's construction problems -- but existing aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus could easily make the route.

Boeing 777-200LR aircraft -- LR for long-range -- flown by US airline Delta would have nearly 3000 km of fuel left on the Sydney-Dallas run. 

Of course, Delta would try to run the flight out of its home hub in Atlanta, which is 14,942 km from Sydney. With the 777-200LR having a full range of 17,370 km, it's still well within the aircraft's capabilities.

Similarly, the longest-range Airbus, the A340-500 that Australians will see used by Thai, Etihad and (outside Australia) Emirates, Singapore Airlines, has a maximum range of 16,060 km. Airlines with those planes could reach Dallas easily.

Other airlines with large 787 orders -- including Japan Air Lines, ANA and British Airways -- have quietly received planes from Boeing while they wait for the 787. 

Business travellers -- especially people whose bags followed on via the LAX flight on the more comfortable Airbus A380 -- will be wondering why Qantas hasn't pushed Boeing for interim discounts on 777-200LRs so they can fly the Dallas route properly. 

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

13 Feb 2011

Total posts 30

The only positive with this delay is that with a departure time for the return journey to Australia of 10:00PM the 4:10PM arrival did not cause further delays for onward flights flown by this jet.

I am booked on this flight in September - by then I trust that they will have the issues sorted!



15 Apr 2011

Total posts 580

This is something that affected all flights in an out of DFW... Not just Qantas...

I agree that this is an inconvenience, it costs Qantas money to stop for fuel and they would rather not have to do it... But if there are storms then there are storms and Qantas can't help that... A plane with a longer range wouldn't have helped -- they probably wouldn't have been carrying any extra fuel because what they carry is the right amount for the route, regardless of the aircraft. A 77L or A345 would have also likely diverted to collect extra fuel...

I'm starting to think you guys have something against this service?? I was delayed on BA15 for hours last week after diverting into MEL, yet that wasn't reported on. Nor was the fact that BA don't have the 'right' aircraft or enough fuel to allow them to circles for hours waiting for weather... This is almost sensationalistic - report on the dozens of other flights that weren't able to get into DFW because the airport was closed and all the connections that were missed on those flights if you're going to report on this lone flight... Sorry, just getting a bit sick of the Qantas slamming - used to think it was limited to the mass media sites...

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Hi am, and thanks for your comment.

We don't have anything against Qantas or any other airline. But we do bring things that go wrong -- and right -- to the attention of our audience when it's relevant.

I think our thoughts on this service from a traveller perspective are mixed: SFO is an excellent airport to connect through, while DFW isn't. And San Francisco is clearly a more significant business destination for Australians in itself than Dallas. But more flights are offered through Dallas (which we've covered), for many US destinations it's a convenient connection (which we've covered), and the new Qantas flight also offers a greater percentage of the total flight to eastern US destinations in a relatively comfortable bed (which we've also covered). 

One could simply say that it's unfortunate for Qantas that its brand new service has suffered some serious teething problems. But surely the airline's focus on what's been going wrong its new and much-publicised service over the past week should have been more proactive. 

Would you prefer that we not report on what's happening -- and why -- because the Dallas route already had a problem this week? I don't think reporting on two separate problems casued by Qantas' route and aircraft decisions (each of which fairly significantly inconvenience passengers) happening on subsequent flights on the same route constitutes "Qantas slamming".

But I do appreciate your perspective, the time you took to let us know what you think and your thoughts -- thank you.

26 May 2011

Total posts 62

I'm surprised at how negatively you are reporting on his service, AusBT. Should QF not be congratulated for attempting to establish a new route and offer better connections to it's customers, via it's OneWorld partner? You seem incensed at the dropping of SFO. Why? QF are a business and they deploy their assets where they make the best return. Is SFO was profitable, I'm sure they would have continued their service. Does this not make business sense to you? No airline can service every port, and the DFW route allows QF customers to remain in the comfort of a QF plane for longer, shortening the connecting flights on AA. I would have thought this would be applauded? It's a new route. There are going to be teething problems, and I'm sure the pilots are being particularly cautious, as they should be. Does a weather diversion really necessitate you criticising the service?

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Hi Daniell, and welcome to Australian Business Traveller. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

I've left a more in-depth comment to am on some of the general points you raise above, but I'll also address a couple of the specific points you raised here.

You'll see if you read back over our coverage of the new DFW service that -- while we miss SFO, which is a really important destination for many business travellers, including ourselves -- we've reported the interesting new one-stop connections available from Dallas, and the fact that a greater proportion of the total flight time to those destinations will now be on Qantas-level service rather than AA-level service.

What we -- and many other knowledgeable aviation publications -- are rapidly coming to realise is that Qantas seems to have launched this route with the wrong aircraft and not enough management focus during the inevitable teething problems.

Surely the perfunctory "yeah, we left your bags in Dallas, sorry, we'll only reimburse reasonable expenses" apology passengers received could and should have contained more explanation ("we always take passenger bags off last, cargo is always offloaded first, it was a very heavy flight, unusually heavy winds, etc") and a proper apology noting the newness of the service ("this is a new flight, we appreciate your patience and your choice of airline") and an attempt at service recovery ("please let us know if we can be of any help, and please have some QFF points for your inconvenience"). 

I can assure you -- and all our readers -- that we're all regular Qantas flyers here at Australian Business Traveller, and we report widely on the good and the bad things relevant to business travellers that happen with the airline. We've no beef with the Red Roo.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2011

Total posts 362

I thought AusBT provided unbiased travel news?? Shame on you AusBT. I am sick of the QF SYD-DFW bashing and unrelenting talk of the SYD-SFO route. They are having teething problems which they will overcome from experience but you need to cut them some slack! It will smooth itself out eventually. Also, as much as they'd like to, Qantas don't control the weather! Unbiased my ass... this article and the one before it sounds pretty biased to me!

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Hi aklrunway and thanks for your comment. We're always grateful to hear your thoughts.

I don't really have much to add this far down the comment trail to what I've said above to am and Daniell, to be honest -- other than to reiterate that we have no particular beef with Qantas as an airline, and to point you to our wide range of coverage of what the airline's up to.

I'll also highlight that we really do understand that new routes have teething problems, and that Qantas can't control the weather in Dallas. But where's the focus from Qantas on making those teething problems and the frankly inevitable thunderstorms in Dallas less inconvenient for travellers?

Surely management should be all over this new route -- which is to a key market, which abandoned a popular (in strength of feeling, if not perhaps in numbers) route for a new airport, which is to an area renowned for weather problems this time of year, which involves a oneworld partner, and which is at the technical limits of the aircraft it uses? If not, why not, and if so, why has it still gone so wrong in its first week?

We ask these questions because we know business travellers want to hear some answers from Qantas -- and that the answers haven't been forthcoming.

01 Jun 2011

Total posts 2

Can't Qantas swap the A380's flown to LAX with the 747-400ER for the four days (currently) that they fly to DFW?

According to Qantas' fleet statistics the A380 flies further and carries more fuel than the 747-400ER.

I am booked to fly on QF7 and QF8 in Aug/Sept and I too hope they have the issues sorted.

03 Jan 2011

Total posts 665

Interesting question, especially with the plane involved in the QF32 engine incident (VH-OQA "Nancy-Bird Walton") in repairs at Singapore for the near future.

In theory, the A380 could indeed make that run. But in terms of passenger demand, especially in the business cabins (where airline margins are better), an A380 is complete overkill for the Dallas route.

Fingers crossed for your trip -- let us know how it goes?

(PS: One of the Airbus A380 demonstrators visited Dallas in 2007...but I don't think the superjumbo has been back since. I'm not certain whether it has upgraded gates, for a start...) 

01 Jun 2011

Total posts 2

Of course I am assuming that an airport the size of DFW has the capability of taking the A380.

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