Ten Years After: How The World Has Changed
Saturday 31 July 1999
These days, anyone hoping to travel between the Middle East and Australia will have to opt for another airline. The Gulf is no longer an essential pitstop for flights on the Australian airline, Qantas. But in the Eighties, Qantas was a regular visitor at Bahrain airport. The airline tried to make a virtue of necessity by advertising its flights in the riveting publication This is Bahrain (incorporating What's On in Bahrain).
Neither then nor now could the oil-rich island be said to be on the travel mainstream; the regulations restricting alcohol meant that Bahrain's annual Oktoberfest event was never going to have the oomph it might enjoy in Munich: "The Gaudi Sextet will bring back the true spirit of a Bavarian festival of food, music and fun." Not a lot of beer, then.
When the first generation of jumbos began flying in the 1970s, Qantas's "Kangaroo Route" from London to Sydney journey took 24 hours, with stops at Singapore and Bahrain. No longer: it is technologically quite possible to fly a commercial aircraft non-stop between London and Sydney, and one of Qantas's 747s carries a plaque certifying that it performed exactly that task on a proving flight.
The problem is that this achievement is possible only if no passengers are carried, so instead a stop is made at one of two Qantas hubs in the Far East: Bangkok or Singapore. Cutting out the Gulf touchdown reduces the journey time to 21 hours, and curtails profits at Bahrain's duty-free shop.
The first non-stop scheduled flight between the UK and Australia will reduce the journey time to 16 hours - but it will link London with Perth in Western Australia, the only substantial city that could sensibly be reached on an Airbus A340 or new generation Boeing 777.
Neither Qantas nor British Airways intends to offer such a flight until a sufficient market for it exists. But when it finally takes off, the aircraft will route over Moscow, Siberia and southern China, thousands of miles away from Bahrain.
The good news is that the options from the Gulf to Australia have multiplied: Emirates and Gulf Air offer flights to Melbourne via Dubai and Sydney via Bahrain respectively. And the fares are much lower than those charged by Qantas a decade ago.
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