Air New Zealand plans Auckland-Chicago flights

Air New Zealand plans to fly Boing 787-9s between Auckland and Chicago. (Andrew Aley)
Air New Zealand plans to fly Boing 787-9s between Auckland and Chicago. (Andrew Aley)

Air New Zealand will join a select number of airlines in the 7,000 club from November 30 2018 when it commences nonstop flights between Auckland and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

The new route, announced on Wednesday, will be served three times weekly with Boeing 787-9s that feature Air New Zealand’s premium heavy configuration.

At 7,112nm, Auckland-Chicago will be the airline’s longest nonstop route measured by the Great Circle distance and its first of more than 7,000nm. It will sit 15th on the list of world’s longest routes by distance, just ahead of Emirates Airline’s Dubai-Houston flight (7,098nm) and behind Air Canada’s 7,119nm Melbourne-Vancouver operation.

Currently, there are 21 routes served by 12 airlines with a Great Circle distance of more than 7,000nm. Topping the charts is Doha-Auckland (7,848nm) by Qatar Airways, with Qantas’s Perth-London Heathrow at 7,829nm) in second spot.

Further, Chicago will be Air New Zealand’s fourth destination on the North American mainland alongside Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco in the United States and Vancouver in Canada. The airline also flies to Honolulu, Hawaii, and Buenos Aires, Argentina in South America.

In addition to being an attractive destination in its own right, Air New Zealand said Chicago would also offer travellers more convenient connections to destinations in North America, given the city was the largest hub of alliance partner United, which will add its UA airline code to the new flight.

“We expect the addition of Chicago to our network to be an attractive option for Kiwis wanting to explore the city or head on to other North American destinations,” Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon said in a statement.

“We’ll be working alongside our colleagues at United Airlines to grow the route and visitor numbers in both directions.”

Air New Zealand has taken delivery of the first of four Boeing 787-9 featuring a premium heavy configuration that offers more flexibility in how it deploys the fleet as markets develop.

The 787-9s to be used to Chicago are configured in what Air New Zealand has termed its “Code 2” cabin layout, comprising 27 seats in business, 33 in premium economy and 215 in economy for a total of 275.

The first of these “Code 2” aircraft arrived in October 2017. Air New Zealand has said previously it planned to take delivery of two 787-9s with the heavier premium configuration in 2017/18, with a further two to follow in 2018/19.

This represented a 20 per cent increase in premium seats compared with the other nine 787-9s already in the fleet, which have 302 seats spread across 18 business and 21 premium economy seats and 263 in economy.

Luxon has said previously the lower seat count of these “Code 2” 787-9s offered the airline more flexibility.

“What we’re identifying is as we grow and build these markets, we are going to put different aircraft on at different times as we see the mix of customers change and evolve and become more premium ultimately,” Luxon told analysts during the company’s full year results presentation on August 22 2017.

“So for the Code 2s, yes, we felt we wanted more premium seats and there’s some opportunities in the number of places around the world.

“It gives us an ability to extend range obviously with a lot less economy passengers on board.”

Luxon has spoken previously about having an aircraft capable of operating nonstop between Auckland and New York (7,642nm).

Air New Zealand's Americas network. (
Air New Zealand’s Americas network. (

Meanwhile, United said it would resume year-round service to Auckland from its San Francisco hub starting in April 2019. It will fly the route three times a week with Boeing 777-200ERs from April to October and the larger 777-300ER between November and March.

“By adding Chicago to the Air New Zealand route network, and with United’s increased service between San Francisco and Auckland, we are proud to offer our customers more ways to get between the United States and New Zealand and more connection opportunities in those cities than any other airline in the world,” United international network vice president Patrick Quayle said in a statement.

“Today’s announcements are great examples of the customer benefits that result from the strong, strategic alliance and partnership between United Airlines and Air New Zealand.”

United returned to Auckland in July 2016, ending a 13-year absence in New Zealand.

United flight UA971 arrives at Auckland. (Auckland Airport/Facebook)
United’s return to Auckland in July 2016. (Auckland Airport/Facebook)

Its return to the country kicked off an expanded partnership with Air New Zealand that involved a revenue-sharing joint-venture on New Zealand-US routes.

However, United switched its San Francisco-Auckland flights from a year-round to seasonal service in April 2017 saying at the time the move was designed “in order to better match capacity on the route with seasonal demand”.

It stopped Auckland-New Zealand flights between April 2017 and October 2017, leaving Air New Zealand as the only operator on the route until November 2017, when United’s seasonal flights resumed.


Flight Number/Routing
Days of operation
Time of departure
Time of arrival

NZ26 Auckland-Chicago

Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
(Nov 30 2018-Mar 08 2019)



NZ26 Auckland-Chicago

Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
(Mar 10 2019-Mar 29 2019)







NZ27 Chicago-Auckland

Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
(Nov 30 2018-Mar 08 2019)



NZ27 Chicago-Auckland

Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
(Mar 10 2019-Mar 29 2019)





  1. Lechuga says

    As much as Qantas is improving and expanding in recent times, it’s good to see Air NZ doing it too, and in fact are also beating Qantas to it some of the time.

    I think it’s great to have the 2 flag carriers battling each other the way they do.

  2. Jarden says

    HI AA,

    Actually Air NZ will have 5 code 2 Boeing 787s one more coming next year. So that the total 787 fleet will be 14 aircraft.
    Nine code 1 and five code 2

  3. k lane says

    Please paint one V2 in an ‘All Black ‘ livery – that will make a spectacular entrance

  4. Craigy says

    So where are the complaints that the seats are only 17.2” wide with a basic seat pitch of 31”? Oh that’s right, it’s not Qantas.

  5. David says

    Craigy, you will notice that those who criticise Qantas, are usually the same people. If they live in Australia, it is very sad. While, if a product lacks, they deserve criticism, if it is up to par, it is not warranted. You would think they would be supporting Australian airlines as much as they can.

  6. k lane says

    We should celebrate both national carriers – Qantas & Air New Zealand ( I am a NZer ) and proud of the service, customer delivery, commercial ( profitability ) and ongoing award winning performance in Skytrax / / Conde Nest that both airlines notch up time and time again..Well done Qantas / Well Air NZ

  7. ian says


    You’re getting confused about seat pitch. Seat pitch is not a measure of legroom. There is no measure of legroom.

    An airline can change seats & leave seat pitch the same, but increase legroom, by moving from a seat with thick seat back to a slimline seat with thinner seat backs.

    PS. surely an A345 or A346 could have flown nonstop PER/LHR 10 years ago, with a decent load ? All this hoopla about nonstop PER/LHR when it’s not that special mission wise.

  8. Craigy says

    @ Ian, I never mention legroom. A lot of commentators in this forum use seat pitch as their measure of comfort. I am completely aware that there is no current measure used to describe leg room. I am also aware the shape of the seat governs how much leg room the passenger behind enjoys.

    The A345 could have done it but I guess the Singapore Air experience is telling.

  9. tom says

    the really interesting thing now that the “marriage” of AIr NZ & Virgin has ended, is will Virgin fly beyond AKL to eg. LAX ?

    Etihad seem to be parking lots of aircraft & VA could surely “borrow” a few short term & then fly AKL/LAX/AKL seasonally when flights are expensive. They could probably use Etihad crew as well.