Speculation has been rife for the last few years that that Air New Zealand has been considering non-stop flights from Auckland to Chicago to expand its presence in the North American market. This speculation may well be about to come true, with reports in the New Zealand media today that former United States President (and Chicago native) Barack Obama will be visiting New Zealand next month - on a trip reportedly sponsored by Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon indicated in October 2017 that non-stop flights to Chicago and New York were on the cards "once the airline had the right planes". Non-stop flights from Auckland to New York are not currently possible with any aircraft in the Air New Zealand fleet, but will be possible once a new long range replacement for the existing Boeing 777 fleet is announced this year. Air New Zealand are currently weighting up their options between the new Boeing 777X and Airbus A350ULR.
Non-stop flights deeper into North America is seen as a key growth strategy for Air New Zealand, with the goal of making it easier for American tourists to make the trip to New Zealand without a stopover. Air New Zealand added Houston to its destinations in December 2015, and currently has services to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. Flying into Star Alliance partner United's Chicago O'Hare hub will also offer passengers significantly more options for onward travel.
Air New Zealand have their final two remaining planned Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner's due for delivery this year. Both of these aircraft will be delivered in the lower density V2 "North American" seating configuration and would mean a service to Chicago could launch in November. The 7,112nm flight would be Air New Zealand's longest route yet, with the return flight to Auckland expected to be upwards of 17 1/2 hours depending on winds.