Air New Zealand's inaugural flight to Chicago welcomed with haka

Air New Zealand's inaugural flight to Chicago touched down over the weekend and before being officially welcomed by a kapa haka group.

Flight NZ26 departed Auckland International Airport at 4:55pm on Friday, and landed at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport 14 hours and 10 minutes later - almost an hour ahead of schedule.

A traditional Māori greeting started the subsequent ceremony in Chicago, which saw speeches from dignitaries including tourism minister Kelvin Davis, before the kapa haka group performed a version of the 'Ka Mate' haka.

The new Air New Zealand route has been made possible via breakthroughs in aircraft fuel efficiency.

"The latest fuel technology and the improvements we've had with engines has to do with the efficiency. These engines are burning somewhere in the vicinity of just over five tonnes an hour," First Officer Al Hanley told Newshub on the flight.

"Previous aircraft had a 15 percent greater fuel burn. So when you multiply that out over a 15-hour flight, you get significant savings and therefore an increase in range."

Air New Zealand's chief executive Christopher Luxon travelled on the flight before saying he was "really, really pleased" to be in Chicago.

He called the 15-hour flight a "remarkable first" for the airline and, like all Air New Zealand staff, was excited about the extra destinations the Chicago route unlocks.

"We've already got the West Coast - San Francisco, Los Angeles - and we've got Houston, too. But Chicago is a fantastic spot that basically opens up the Eastern seaboard of the Unites States," said Hanley.

"Another significant part of that is it's the main hub of United Airlines. When we connect in with them, we have a significant number of flights we can offer our customers. It gives them really good coverage all over America."

The Auckland-Chicago service will operate three times a week - departing Auckland on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Air NZ is flying the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft on the route.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: