Why we could see Qantas fly Sydney-Chicago on the Boeing 787

By David Flynn, December 2 2015
Why we could see Qantas fly Sydney-Chicago on the Boeing 787

Non-stop Qantas flights between Sydney and Chicago are firming up as a new route carved out by the airline's Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Although the first batch of red-tailed Boeing 787s due from late 2017 is intended to replace the older fuel-gUzzling Boeing 747 jumbo jets on current routes, the Dreamliner fleet will also be used to launch new international destinations.

Qantas has inked an initial order for eight of the next-generation jets, with deliveries split between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 financial years, but still has 15 purchase options and 30 purchase rights up its sleeve – which leaves plenty of room to grow the Flying Kangaroo's overseas network.

Here's why we're tipping Sydney-Chicago as a frontrunner.

1. Because Alan Joyce keeps hinting at it

Since first announcing the Boeing 787 purchase in August this year, alongside the airline's near-$1 billion profit, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has repeatedly name-checked the Sydney-Chicago route in speeches, presentations and media briefings.

It's right up there with "Melbourne to Dallas/Fort Worth" and "direct flights from Perth into Europe".

That doesn't mean that Sydney-Chicago is a lock, of course.

Having cut his teeth in the local airline industry planning routes and schedules at Qantas and Ansett, Joyce is keenly aware of the challenges in trying to see two years into the future through a cloudy crystal ball.

“The routes we have in mind today will probably be very different to the routes we end up having this aircraft on” cautioned the Qantas chief in a media Q&A following the August press conference.

“The actual network the aircraft will end up operating will depend on what we think the market considerations will be at the time.”

2. Because, Chicago 

Chicago is the third-largest city in the USA – and Qantas already flies to the first two, New York and Los Angeles. It's big in finance and commerce, as well as being a fascinating destination in its own right.

And non-stop from Sydney to the Windy City holds another allure: it'd be a route unique to Qantas.

With no other airlines currently flying the Sydney-Chicago corridor, Qantas would enjoy a 100% share of the market – an advantage it also holds on the Sydney-Dallas run.

And airlines love monopoly routes, provided the 'bums on seats' calculations add up.

(Of course, the Chicago-based United Airlines could always roster one of its own Boeing 787-9s onto the same path.)

3. American Airlines joint venture

Chicago is a primary hub for Qantas' partner American Airlines, although this doesn't only open up the possibility of onwards connections such as New York and the northeast.

Beyond that, the same Qantas-American Airlines joint venture which sees Qantas sharing the American's Sydney-Los Angeles and Auckland-Los Angeles flights could work in reverse, with AA tapping into Qantas' Chicago-Sydney flights.

“Another great example of the joint venture is that we have different fleets that have different planes that do different missions,” observed American Airlines CEO Doug Parker during a media briefing in Sydney last month.

“We can’t fly DFW to Sydney but Qantas can, and consumers get that benefit and we share in that. And we have the better airplane right now to fly LA-Auckland with the 787, so we serve that."

Speaking at the same briefing, Alan Joyce reiterated that the Boeing 787-9 "can do Sydney to Chicago, that’s another American hub as well, so there are lots of opportunities that this partnership opens up eventually." 

4. Sydney-Chicago is an ideal route for the Boeing 787

It's not only that Qantas' Boeing 787-9s will have the long legs to conquer this route, which at just shy of 15,000km would take some 15½ hours to fly.

The economics of what boffins call 'long thin routes' – routes which need long range but don't have the demand for the largest aircraft such as the Boeing 747 or Airbus A380 – work in the Boeing 787's favour.

Each Qantas Boeing 787-9 will carry around 250 passengers in business class, premium economy and economy compared to an average 360 on the Red Roo’s Boeing 747s.

Add the 787's fuel efficiency feeding and relatively low operating costs, and that Qantas could well be the only airline to fly this route, and the numbers are likely to stack up in Chicago's favour.

Also read: Qantas eyes non-stop Sydney-New York flights with Boeing 777-8X

That's our take: what's yours?

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


Air China - Phoenix Miles

20 Dec 2012

Total posts 105

If the yield is there, UA will definitely act first.

They have 787s and Chicago is one of their hubs.

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1257

United is pretty slow at doing anything... this is the airline that was flying planes over the pacific without AVOD until recently.

American Airlines - AAdvantage

13 Jul 2015

Total posts 265

Plus let's be fair.. Qantas is a much better experience through out over UA...

11 Feb 2016

Total posts 15

This may have been true once upon a time, but United has made huge strides recently in modernizing their aircraft and adding routes that customers ask for (see: Tel Aviv, Nashville and Fort Lauderdale from SFO, routes added specifically because of online petitions). It's a basic airline to be sure, but flying their 787 from SFO is far more pleasant than Qantas's 747—especially when Qantas flies one of the old birds that haven't been updated.

I absolutely agree that Chicago is possible and the factors listed above (AA hub, large and commercially-significant city) make it a very compelling route from Sydney. But even with a light load of only 250 passengers I really doubt the Dreamliner could make it... certainly the trip back to Australia against the prevailling winds will be a challenge to say the least.

The route seems more 777-8 territory to me.

Joyce's statements about the 787-9's range have always seemed a little exaggerated... sure, I can see it do Brisbane to DFW non-stop but from Melbourne? Let alone flights to Chicago... I'm aware that the jet's range with 250 passengers would certainly be substantial but I'm skeptical about the possibility of SYD - ORD unless there's some sort of 'secret sauce' PIPs in the works or QF is getting customized ER versions or something.  Plus, routes as long as this create demand for First Class and the 787-9 won't have any, whereas a 777-8 probably will.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 138

I agree with Studiodekadent (quite a moniker); to do anything like 15 hours +, I personally would want an option to upgrade to First from business using points.  I only jumped to the SYD-DFW route after the A380 came on that route with First class offering. I'm guessing a lot of Plats and Plat+ would be of a similar view. Especially if it was fairly regular business trip (e.g., 2, 3 or 4 times per year).  One-off flyers may be would accept only business offering.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

If CX, EK, EY and QR have no problems with filling their ULH 15-16 hour flights, then I don't see why QF would.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Dec 2014

Total posts 286

Would be nicer with a small F cabin

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 May 2013

Total posts 25

And the Zen Master said

"We'll see".

UA is more focused on sfo being their main 787 hub to the Pacific. Chasing Qantas on one sole route makes no business sense. It's possible, not likely. What I could see happening is the upcoming 789's being deployed on ORD-SYD or BNE. If the route proves to be lucrative and oil stays cheap, they could buy the 778 and deploy those babies on JFK-SYD and other Australian destinations. 

Air Canada - Aeroplan

02 Dec 2015

Total posts 1

I hope and pray, at least going by the illustrated map shown in this article, that QANTAS "will", one day, fly to my hometown of Seattle, WA in the USA.

I would be nice if they were to add Vancouver and Toronto in Canada as well ! :-)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jun 2014

Total posts 211

Qantas fliers to YVR seasonally.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jun 2014

Total posts 211

* Correction*: Flies

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Mar 2015

Total posts 90

Agree. Yyz or yul are my two fastasy destinations to canada. Mel/syd-hnl-yyz/yul. Perfect!

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

Australia/Canada air service agreement only allows 3000 seats/week for each nation between SYD and 1 other port in Australia and YVR and 1 other port in Canada. The "other ports" are currently filed as MEL and YYZ. MEL is being changed to BNE.

If QF opened a 2nd port in Canada, it would be YYZ and it would be a tag from YVR, SFO or HNL.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

QF has opened ORD before as a tag flight from LAX. Announced it and had everything in place, only to can it a few days before it was due to start.

QF has said a lot of things about 787s over the years, inculding flying to Italy, Greece and Korea. With the confirmed 8 789s set to replace the remaning non-ER 747s, I would expect to see them on LAX, JFK, HKG and TYO routes before anything new starts - ie, they'll start on existing 747 routes that don't require ETOPS over 180.

Why would QF operate the 787 into HKG? Hong Kong is, from what I know, slot-restricted for Qantas and the only way they can increase capacity into HKG is to use bigger planes.

At about 250 seats, the Dreamliners will be smaller than the A330s. Why would QF want to decrease capacity to HKG?

I guess they may want to fly the planes on other routes to convince CASA to be more liberal with the ETOPS? Because I think QF want to eventually use the 787-9s on the Santiago and Johannesburg routes.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

Until such time as CASA approves ETOPS of 240 or better (330 would be best), the routes between Australia and Southern Afica and southern half of South America are not viable with the large northern diversions required. This is a large part of why VAs MEL-JNB didn't work.

While CASA insists on no better then ETOPS 180, QF won't fly 2 engine aircraft on the southern routes, as much as they might like to.

The currently announced 747 routes (that will be in service when the first batch of 787s arrive) are SYD-JNB, SCL, HND, HKG, SFO, YVR, MEL-HKG, LAX and BNE-LAX-JFK. The first 8 787s are due to replace 5 747s, leaving the 6 ERs. Thus these are the routes that will be changed in some way. With the ETOPS issue, SCL and JNB won't be touched.

SYD-SFO and BNE-LAX-JFK are the most likely to see the 747s displaced. Assuming daily on each that's 4 747s (though SFO will only be 6 weekly by March 2016). There's a 5th to work out... YVR uses 1 aircraft, but that's seasonal. HKG is a single aircraft for daily flight route. HND could be, but current timetable requires 2.

The HND flight is popular and tends to be full. Australia has no more rights for HND flights (but has unlimited rights to NRT). There are 42 remaining weekly flight slots available to HKG for Australian airlines. SYD-HKG could feasibly become 3 or 4 daily with a mix of 330s and 787s. Thus 747s on SCL, JNB and HND routes and 787 and 332s on HKG and current 747 US routes.

Of course, CASA could come out and approve the needed ETOPS, or QF could not retire the 3 refit non ER 747s until a possible 2nd batch of 787s arrives in 2019/2020 (which would mean 3-4 787s to retire 2 747s and 4-5 787s for growth and then having 9 747s to replace between 2020 and 2023)

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 128

I think a tag flight from LAX-ORD is far more likely than a non-stop.  Do the timing right and you could have passengers from BNE and MEL connecting to it at LAX as well.

People complain (justifiably) about LAX, but that's mostly the domestic terminals.  If they operated ORD-LAX-Australia through the international terminals with the new lounges I doubt anyone would have an issue.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 136

That's a very long flight with 9 across in Y...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 684

Not in favour of ORD, just yet. I would be happy to see a BNE-DFW or a MEL-DFW on the -9, if the latter is doable. ORD can be reached from DFW, LAX and SFO by AA codeshares quite comfortably and enhances to AA partnership.

Given that the USA seems now to be QF's 'jewel in the crown' in terms of profitabiity, wouldn't it make more sense for them to consider some routes outside the US for the B787-9?

For a number of years QF operated SYD-PEK and I would think that the -9 would be an ideal aircraft to re-launch this route with.

Given the acceptance of Australians to Air India's SYD/MEL-DEL nonstops, this could mean another competitive QF route (SYD-BOM) could be resurrected with a vastly more efficient aircraft, where the A330's struggled.

For QF to focus on Asia, as promised, they need to enhance the variety of destinations in Asia, rather than just relying on SIN, HKG and PVG. I realise the value of codeshares with China Eastern and Southern, but PEK and BOM are two destinations that could easily benefit from new technology on an operational and profitability level.

I doubt QF will use 787-9s to Asia (or India for that matter). Those routes are well within the A330 range, so QF are more likely to use A330s. In addition, the 787-9s are there to replace the 747-400s, so we can expect QF will deploy them first on SYD - JNB, SYD - SCL and possibly SYD - SFO (with frequencies going up to daily on each route).

When QF get around to fleet replacement for the A330s, I suspect the 787-10 is what they'll go for (similar range and capacity, lower operating costs, and pretty close to perfect commonality with the 787-9 since the -10 is a simple stretch thereof).

I agree that BNE - DFW is on the cards for a 787-9, and possibly also BNE - DXB. When they replace the A330s, we can expect Indian routes to be looked at also.

But the 787-9s seem highly unlikely to be deployed to Asia. Asia doesn't need that range, and often it needs more capacity than 250 pax.

10 Nov 2014

Total posts 7

Qantas will be deploying 787 on the Dallas route, that route is still running at a loss.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

DFW needs an A380 because it is (apparently) getting large sales numbers given the easier/faster connection through DFW onto AA to the east coast compared to LAX. If SYD-DFW was not doing well enough to justify it, they would not have moved from 747 to 380 and then move to make it daily.

Unless they made it more then 7/weekly (eg, 10+ weekly from SYD and/or a new flight from BNE), I don't see DFW going from 380 to 787.

12 Feb 2014

Total posts 231

How do you know this TJ?

Qantas doesn't disaggregate profitability by route, at least not in public.

10 Nov 2014

Total posts 7

Spoke to a pilot on my way to Joburg last month. 

Dallas>Sydney still has 100 free seats that its not selling due to weight restrictions. That alone is at least $100,000 they miss out on every flight...

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

Blocked seating due to weight limits doesn't mean they are losing money on the route.

10 Nov 2014

Total posts 7

They cant load enough fuel for a full flight. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Aug 2014

Total posts 76

Will it be code share as Qantas do with 80% of the OS flights?

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

If QF were to do any sort of flight with it's own aircraft to ORD, it would have an AA codeshare on it - just like every other QF flight to the US and the starting soon AA flights from LAX to SYD and AKL having QF codes.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jul 2015

Total posts 221

Brilliant! Chicago is my favourite US city (even in winter). Fly there via DFW and works well with a quick stretch of the legs after 15.5 hours and then onwards. Happy to go directly also. As a loyal, like others long suffering, QFF the 787 cannot come soon enough and with that new routes also. QF are shaping up to be a force

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

01 Jul 2012

Total posts 8

Well it's gonna be a long wait if it ever happens given the first delivery isn't until late 2017. Iff anyone will fly this route first it will be Air NZ. They already have the 787-9 and with Chicago being Uniteds hub it will happen it's just a matter of when. They now fly to Houston and they are already dropping hints a new US destinations. Watch this space from an airline that is proactive and forward thinking to one that is reactive and slow to come up with anything new and exciting.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jun 2015

Total posts 46

Why does it have to be syd, what about mel to chicatgo, stop giving sydney all the flights there running out of space

11 Feb 2016

Total posts 15

Bizarre. Chicago isn't exactly a fresh or booming economy in the US and many Americans avoid connecting there whenever possible because it's infamously unpleasant to do so. I agree with other commenters that United would hop on it if it were that lucrative.

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