Air New Zealand has arrived in Chicago for the first time.

“We’re excited to offer our customers a direct link between New Zealand and Chicago. With our alliance partner United operating more flights out of its hub of O’Hare International Airport than any other airline, the new service to Chicago will provide customers with convenient one-stop codeshare connections to around 100 destinations across the US,” said Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand CEO.

Air New Zealand operates a Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Auckland and Chicago. The flight takes 15 hours northbound and close to 16 hours southbound. It is both Air New Zealand’s longest flight and the longest flight out of Chicago O’Hare.

Air New Zealand held an inaugural event in Chicago after the arrival of its first flight. Luxon and Davis were both in attendance, as was Tony Carter, the head of Air New Zealand’s Board, and Corey Jobe, the Director of the Illinois Board of Tourism.

Air New Zealand currently offers the route three times per week, but, according to Air New Zealand Chief Revenue Officer Cam Wallace, this may increase. Bookings are ahead of schedule, and the carrier is considering boosting the service to a daily offering.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on that, but our aspiration is to get to daily as quickly as possible and the initial bookings are better than we anticipated,’’ Wallace said. “Our expectation when we did the modeling is that we’d have more about 50 percent so we’re really encouraged by the bookings. We want to get to more service, more quickly because clearly, that makes it a more efficient operation with crew and things like that.”

“What we’re finding, even more so than we thought, is there’s actually very strong point-to-point traffic between Chicago and Auckland starting to build already,” said Luxon. “So the good news is it’s going really well. We’re off to a great start and we’re ahead of our business case from the get-go, which is fantastic.”

Chicago is Air New Zealand’s sixth North American destination after Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hawai’i, Vancouver, and Houston. The new route can be vital to driving tourism between the United States and New Zealand.

“The more links we have with each other, the more opportunities there are for business travel and for people-to-people connections,’’ said Kelvin Davis, New Zealand’s Tourism Minister.

“Last year we had about 341,000 that actually came [to New Zealand] – it grew about 7 percent – so it’s probably our third or fourth biggest market,’’ Luxon said. “But the upshot is there still a lot of opportunity sitting there with 34 million people who do research on New Zealand, understand what’s there and have it on their wish list. The biggest problem they have is their perception of distance and when we actually research them, many of them tell us they think it’s 41 hours to get here. So they obviously have a very poor sense of geography but that perceived barrier of actually coming is what gets in the way.”

An Air New Zealand 777. Passengers can connect from Auckland to Sydney, Australia onboard the 777, an essential link that makes travel from Chicago to Australia seamless.
Image by Zaref Anderson/Aeronautics Online

“We are thrilled with this major new opportunity and direct service that will further open the door to welcome visitors to Chicago aboard Air New Zealand,” said David Whitaker, President and CEO of Choose Chicago, in a statement from the Chicago Department of Aviation. “Visitors from this region are some of the most coveted any destination could welcome as it is also one of the fastest growing markets in terms of visitor arrivals. We look forward to our partnership with Air New Zealand to ensure that we maximize the potential.”

“Welcome to amazing. Chicago is a world-class city. With 77 neighborhoods, it’s the melting pot of the United States right here in the heart of America,” said Jobe. “Chicago is the gateway to the Great Lakes, and we’re the home of Route 66, and you are going to have an amazing time here in our city. On behalf of the Illinois Office of Tourism, choose Chicago.”

The Auckland-Chicago service is expected to generate $75 million in annual revenue for the Chicagoland region.

Air New Zealand’s new service might also be good for Australian travelers. At the time of writing, no direct connection between Australia and Chicago exists. Connections from Auckland to Sydney are seamless; connection time is no more than two hours between the two cities.

“We think the access works not just for Sydney but for South Australia, Perth and Victoria as well,’’ Wallace said. “We believe this is the most convenient way for Australians to get there and we also in think in terms of the stage length of the journey, [Auckland] works quite well in terms of the connecting point.”

Air New Zealand’s 787-9 has 275 seats in a three-class configuration. It features 27 Business Class seats and 33 Premium Economy seats.

The event included a performance of music and dance. It featured stories of the Earth’s creation, and a number of informative videos on Air New Zealand were presented.

Featured image by Boeing

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