Qantas is gearing up for the launch of its newest international route: a non-stop service between Brisbane and Chicago which will begin in April 15, 2020.
Update [March 10, 2020]: due to sweeping capacity cuts connected with the coronavirus, Qantas has suspended the launch of the Brisbane-Chicago flights, with a restart date yet to be advised.
This will be one of Qantas' longest flights, clocking in at a whopping 14,326km and taking 16-17 hours depending on which leg of the journey you're on (Chicago-Brisbane is the longer trip, at 17h20m). It's only a whisker shy of Qantas' Perth-London marathon: in fact, the difference between them is less than the distance between Sydney and Canberra.
Like its Perth-London sibling, the Brisbane-Chicago flights are a precursor to Project Sunrise, which will take passengers all the way from Sydney and Melbourne to New York in a single globe-striding leap.
From seats to lounges, fares to WiFi and everything in between, here's what you need to know about the newest route in Qantas' network.
Qantas' Brisbane-Chicago flight schedule
From April 15 2020, Qantas flight QF85 will depart from Brisbane at 3:30pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, reaching Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Terminal 5 at 4.40pm on the same calendar day, local time.
The return QF86 leg from Chicago O'Hare Terminal 3 is scheduled for push-back at 9:50pm on those same four days and due in Brisbane 6:10am two calendar days later, a travel time of 17hr 20min – over an hour longer than the 16hr 10min journey on the outbound leg.
Note that the departure terminal differs from the arrivals terminal. This helps facilitate immigration processing after arriving from Brisbane, but positions the departing flight at American Airlines' Chicago hub, where the airline's lounges are located.
Qantas will use its tried-and-tested Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners for the Brisbane-Chicago route. It's an aircraft particularly suited to these ultra-long flights, with a range of technologies – such as a lower effective cabin altitude, higher humidity, improved air filtration and LED lighting – to help reduce the impact of jetlag.
Qantas Brisbane-Chicago business class
Brisbane-Chicago business class passengers can settle into one of 42 Business Suites, which are arranged in a 1-2-1 layout with direct aisle access.
The seats are well-appointed and sport a premium finish in colour and material, with a wrap-around shell offering a degree of individual privacy.
Each seat gets a side shelf where you can keep books, magazines, laptops, tablets, smartphones, amenity kits and other travel gear close at-hand.
Centre seats share a privacy divider which can be raised or lowered depending on how inclined you are to chat to your seatmate.
With flights of this length, there are two factors that business travellers care about the most: how well the seat lets you settle in to work and/or relax, and the quality of your rest.
The Qantas Business Suite ticks both those boxes for the vast majority of passengers, although some find that when the seat converts into a fully-flat bed, the 'cubbyhole' where you tuck your feet can be a bit small.
If you've got larger-than-average feet, or simply like a bit of extra space, try to select a seat in the front row of each of the two business class cabins (aisles 1A and, 1K, middles 2E and 2F, and any seat in row 10), where there's a larger recess pushing into the bulkhead wall.
Qantas will adopt a similar meal service and schedule for its Brisbane-Chicago flights as for the Perth-London service, to better help travellers cope with the long flying time and the timezone-skipping jetlag.
This means the menu will also include healthy bowls plus 'tailored hydration' offerings such as kombucha and coconut water.
Qantas Brisbane-Chicago premium economy class
Premium economy passengers may not fare so well, despite the Dreamliner boasting 28 of Qantas' self-proclaimed "revolutionary" recliner seats.
The specs look good on paper: 38-inch pitch, 22.8-inch width in most seats, and a relatively generous 9.5 inches of recline, plus handy features like a shelf to hold your tablet and a small nook for oddments such as your smartphone, reading glasses and what-not.
That's ample space for your legs when everyone is sitting upright, but it becomes increasingly tight when the seat in front reclines.
So while Qantas' designer David Caon has delivered what is in most other respects a superb premium economy seat, the design has been short-changed by the implementation. Our take is that 38 inches of pitch simply isn't enough: at least 40 inches would be more appropriate, as this would deliver upwards of an extra two inches (5cm) at the knees.
Add to that a rather complicated system for cradling your calves and feet, and we'd suggest that on ultra-long flights such as Brisbane-Chicago – where a large amount of everybody's time will be spent with their seat reclined and trying to sleep – it's really worth getting yourself into the pointy end of the plane.
You can avoid the shortcomings of the premium economy seat by pre-selecting a spot in the first row (row 20) of the cabin, but there's not as much room as you may expect, and even a passenger of average height will find their feet propped uncomfortably against the bulkhead wall.
Qantas Brisbane-Chicago economy class
Economy passengers will make do with a 3-3-3 seating arrangement, with pitch is decent at 32 inches; the seat reclines by six inches, and measures 17.2 inches between the armrests.
If you've got to fly for upwards of 17 hours in economy, you can make the ordeal a littlr less arduous by grabbing a seat in the front or bulkhead row of each of the Boeing 787's economy class cabins: those are rows 40 and 46.
Apart from that, the best advice we can give is to use Qantas frequent flyer points to upgrade yourself out of economy. It'll cost 21,800 or 68,100 Qantas Points each way (depending on if you've purchased a standard or flexible economy ticket) to step forward into premium economy, with a bump up into business class going for 60,000 to 109,000 Qantas Points.
If you're looking to boost your Qantas Points balance to upgrade-levels, consider one of our recommended Qantas credit cards, which can typically land you around 100,000 Qantas Points as a sign-up bonus. Read more: Australia's best Qantas Frequent Flyer credit card sign-up offers
Qantas lounges access at Brisbane and Chicago
Eligible passengers will find their journey begins at the Qantas Brisbane International Business Lounge, which is one of the newer lounges in the airline's Australian network.
There's pre-flight lounge access for business class, Qantas Gold- and Platinum-grade frequent flyers, Qantas Club members and Qantas lounge passholders.
Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers from other airlines are also welcome – such as American Airlines' AAdvantage Platinum, Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum and ConciergeKey cardholders – along with American Airlines Admirals Club members flying on a Qantas (QF) or AA flight number.
With a 3:30pm departure from Brisbane, many passengers will reach the lounge in time for a light lunch. The buffet offers a variety of fresh salads and fruits throughout the day, followed by a selection of heartier hot dishes.
In Chicago, passengers depart on QF86 from Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport, where American Airlines operates both an Admirals Club and a Flagship Lounge.
Qantas Club and Admirals Club members travelling in economy or premium economy have access to the Admirals Club lounge, which offers complimentary buffet dining, house drinks and shower facilities.
Business class passengers, Qantas Gold members and higher – plus those with Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald status – are instead welcome at the more exclusive American Airlines Flagship Lounge, featuring better meals and premium drinks compared to the Admirals Club.
How much do Qantas' Brisbane-Chicago fares cost?
Fares will always vary depending on the season and other factors, but at the time of writing, economy sale fares averaged A$1,300 return, premium economy sale fares were A$4,190 return and business class sale fares were at least A$6,990 return.
When booking with Qantas Points, you would need between 51,200 and 126,500 points per person one-way, plus taxes, fees and Qantas surcharges, which increase the closer you get to the front of the aircraft.
Will there be WiFi on Qantas' Brisbane-Chicago flights?
Not yet. While there's fast and free WiFi on most domestic Qantas flights, the airline doesn't expect to add international inflight Internet access until the launch of the worldwide ViaSat-3 constellation of high-speed satellites in 2021-2022.
"You can't have everybody in the aircraft (online at once) and you certainly can't have everybody streaming (video),” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says of the limitations of current satellite technology.
Once all three ViaSat-3 satellites are in orbit, Qantas will add international WiFi to its Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A380 fleets, as well as the Project Sunrise Airbus A350 jets.
Until then, Brisbane-Chicago travellers will need to work offline or just switch off and relax.
What are the benefits of Qantas' non-stop Brisbane-Chicago flights?
This is the first time that Chicago has been reachable via a non-stop service from Australia. Until now, Qantas' Chicago-bound passengers would normally fly to Los Angeles, Dallas or San Francisco before connecting onwards to Chicago.
The new non-stop route will saving up to six hours on a return trip and, as a bonus, overfly the eternally-busy Los Angeles International Airport: skipping not just LAX but the need to wait in immigration lines, collect and then re-check your luggage, and schlep between terminals for your connecting flight.
Having a longer unbroken flight time of 16-17 hours also means being able to fit in more uninterrupted blocks of sleep, work and relaxation, especially if you're flying business class.
(For reference, Brisbane will be 15 hours ahead of Chicago during the US summer daylight savings period, starting early April 2020).
The flight timings are fairly passenger-friendly too. The mid-afternoon departure from Brisbane means there's no rushing to the airport in the morning, and as mentioned earlier, you can enjoy lunch in the Qantas lounge.
Landing in Chicago at 4:40pm sees you reach your hotel in time to enjoy dinner and cocktails, and then you'll be ready to hit the hay for a solid night's sleep, with your bodyclock reset to Chicago time by the next morning.
The flight back to Brisbane can be harder to adjust to, despite the late-night departure tempting you with sleep. We suggest having a light supper after take-off (assuming you already ate in the airport or lounge beforehand), staying up for a few hours with a movie or a boxed set TV series, then try get a good chunk of sleep in before (hopefully) waking up just before breakfast around 4-5am Brisbane time.