Will Air New Zealand gazump Qantas with direct flights to Chicago?

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Is Air New Zealand about to beat Qantas to the punch by announcing non-stop flights to Chicago?

That’s the current buzz, based on a forthcoming visit to the land of the long white cloud by former US President and son of Chicago Barack Obama.

The New Zealand Herald reports the visit, set for “about March 21”, has been arranged by Air New Zealand via the close relationship between former NZ Prime Minister and current AirNZ board member Sir John Key, and will be used to announce the start of direct flights between Auckland and Chicago.

This would be Obama’s first trip to New Zealand and come with a reported $400,000 price tag, although Air New Zealand would bet that the extensive publicity generated by Obama’s visit would be priceless.

Air New Zealand has long tapped Australian travellers for its international services to the USA and South America, with Auckland as a sole stopover; from stateside, Chicago is also a hub for Star Alliance partner United Airlines.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has previously tipped Chicago as one of three potential routes for its own Boeing 787-9 fleet – the other candidates include Seattle and Dallas/Forth Worth.

However, as this would rely on one of the Boeing 787s based in Brisbane, Qantas travellers from Sydney and Melbourne would first need to fly north to Brisbane and be bussed from the domestic to international terminal before hopping onto the Chicago-bound Dreamliner.

There’s also been speculation that additional US services out of Brisbane could run only a handful of days each week, rather than the daily frequency prized by travellers and especially corporate flyers, due to Qantas planning for 11 Brisbane-Los Angeles Boeing 787s by the end of 2018.

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