New Air New Zealand Route To Chicago – Here’s What You Need To Know

Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission which helps contribute to the running of the site – I’m very grateful to anyone who uses these links but their use is entirely optional. The compensation does not impact how and where products appear on this site and does not impact reviews that are published. For more details please see the advertising disclosure found at the bottom of every page

Air New Zealand is the latest airline to announce that it will be launching an ultra haul flight using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner as the airline schedules service between Auckland and Chicago. Ultra long-haul routes are now slowly becoming more common but the aircraft that operate them vary significantly and it’s worth taking a closer look at what Air New Zealand offers before you think about trying this route out.

At a little over 8,100 miles in length the route is still almost 1,000 miles short of the current longest route (Auckland – Doha operated by Qatar Airways) but this still a significant distance to fly.

Here’s the schedule Air New Zealand will be operating between Auckland and Chicago O’Hare (HT: RoutesOnline):

NZ026 AKL 20:10 – 16:15 ORD (Wed, Fri & Sun)
NZ027 ORD 19:10 – 06:30+2 days AKL (Wed, Fri & Sun)

That puts the estimated flying times down at 15hrs 5mins from Auckland to Chicago and an impressive 16hrs 20mins from Chicago to Auckland.

With flight times of that kind of length it’s always good to know about the aircraft an airline is offering before you book.

Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner

Air New Zealand offers two different configurations in its 787-9 Dreamliners and the aircraft the airline is employing on the Auckland – Chicago route is the variant that offers the larger Business Class and Premium Economy cabins.

The Cabin configurations are as follows:

  • Business Premier – 27 seats
  • Premium Economy – 33 seats
  • Economy – 215 seats

Business Class

The Business Class cabin offers seats in a 1-1-1 layout just like you’ll find on Virgin Atlantic’s Dreamliners.

I have to admit that I’ve never flown in this Air New Zealand Business Class cabin but I didn’t enjoy my experience with a similar (not identical) seat layout in the Virgin A330.

In the images supplied by Air New Zealand the seats themselves look comfortable enough….

Air New Zealand 787-9 Business Class

…but I still feel that the cabin layout reminds me of the horse stalls you see at the Kentucky Derby.

Air New Zealand 787-9 Business Class

Solo travelers should be advised to book the seats on the left side of the aircraft (as you look from back to front) as these don’t have any seats facing back in their general direction – they face the back of the centre seats:

Air New Zealand 787-9 Business Class

The centre seats and the seats on the right side of the aircraft are angled towards each other meaning that they offer considerably less privacy.

Air New Zealand 787-9 Business Class

The Business Class seats turn into true lie-flat beds of ~79″ in length (6ft 7″) – that’s a very good size for a business Class bed but it’s worth pointing out that, because the seats have high walls on either side, the 22″ of seat width can feel narrower than similarly sized seats that have been designed differently (like the Qatar Airways 787 Business Class seat).

Qatar Airways 787 Business Class

Passengers booking Business Class seats on Air new Zealand get the following included in the fare:

  • Free standard seat selection
  • Lounge access
  • Premium check-in
  • Priority baggage
  • Two pieces of carry on (up to 7kg each)
  • Three pieces of checked luggage (up to 23kg each)
  • Amenity kit
  • Inflight entertainment
  • Complimentary meal and drinks from our Business Premier menu

Nothing particularly amazing there although the 3 checked bag allowance is generous.

Premium Economy

The Dreamliner’s Premium Economy Class cabin is set out in a 2-3-2 formation so it’s ideal for couples traveling together.

The seats in the Premium Economy class cabin compare favourably to other airlines’ Dreamliner Premium Economy cabins with Air NZ offers more leg room than Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and American Airlines while on Virgin Atlantic offers seats that are wider.

For the record, Air New Zealand’s premium Economy seats are offer ~40″ of seat pitch and ~19″ of seat width.

Passengers booking Premium Economy seats on Air new Zealand get the following included in the fare:

  • Free standard seat selection
  • Premium check-in
  • Two pieces of carry on (up to 7kg each)
  • Two pieces of checked luggage (up to 23kg each)
  • Amenity kit
  • Inflight entertainment
  • Complimentary meal and drinks from our Premium Economy menu

That all seems pretty standard but its the extra legroom the Air New Zealand Premium Economy seat offers that is the true selling point here.

Economy Class

The Economy Class seating is divided into two cabins on the Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner but both cabins offer the same 3-3-3 seat layout.

The front most of the Economy Class cabins is where you’ll find the Skycouch seats (shown in green)…

…while the only seats of true note in the rearmost Economy Class cabin are the exit row seats in row 46 (extra leg room).

The Skycouch seats are important because, according to the information from Air New Zealand, they offer 33″ of seat pitch (leg room) and that’s significantly more than the other seats in the Economy Class cabin.

Here’s what Air New Zealand has to say about its Skycouch:

The seats are the same as an Economy seat, except you have an additional footrest that folds to form a couch. Each person can choose if they want their footrest up or down. These adjust to 60 and 90 degrees.

The arm rest on the window side goes all the way up to create a comfortable lounge space. All the armrests in the middle seats also disappear in the back of the seat.

When it’s time to rest, we’ll help you get your Skycouch set up. We even have an extension seat belt for when you want to lie down.

With the side wall armrest up the length of the Skycouch is 1.55m (5ft 1”). And when the cushion and leg rest are combined the approximate depth of the Skycouch is 74cm (29”).

With the exception of the exit row seats all the other Economy Class seats offer just 31″ of leg room…..and that is incredibly tight. It’s exactly the same amount of leg room that you’ll find on Air France, BA, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines (amongst others) but those airlines aren’t offering flights that take over 16 hours.

It’s bad enough when passengers are expected to put up with 31″ of seat pitch on transatlantic flights but to offer such little leg room on an ultra long-haul flight is shameful. – Qantas offers 32″ on their ultra long-haul route between Perth and London.

I’d like to be able to say that there’s better news when you look at the seat width…but there isn’t.

The Economy Class seats in the Air NZ Dreamliner are just over 17″ wide and that’s about as narrow as most long-haul seats get.

Passengers booking Economy Class seats on Air new Zealand get the following included in the fare:

  • A standard seat (no seat selection included)
  • A carry-on bag of up to 7kg
  • Checked-in bag of up to 23kg
  • Inflight meal
  • Inflight Entertainment

That’s basically what you get with most regular Economy Class fares nowadays.


I don’t like the Business Class cabin layout on the Air New Zealand Dreamliner so I cannot imagine myself paying the hefty premium that this cabin commands – I couldn’t justify it to myself.

The regular Economy Class seats are an abomination. You’d have to pay me a serious amount of money to sit in a 17″ wide seat with 31″ of leg room for 15 – 16 hours.

The Premium Economy Class cabin looks good and is definitely a cabin I’d consider booking. The seats offer good leg room, the seat width isn’t bad so, combined with the reputation Air New Zealand has for good service, I expect this would be a good experience.

To sum up: I wouldn’t pay for the Business Class cabin, you’d have to pay me to sit in a regular Economy Class seat leaving Premium Economy as clearly the best option on the aircraft.

Featured image Masakatsu Ukon via Flickr and all interior images of the Air New Zealand Dreamliner are courtesy of Air New Zealand