Qantas’ New Chicago Route Now On Sale

Filed Under: Qantas

In mid-June Qantas formally announced that they’d launch flights from Brisbane to both Chicago and San Francisco in 2020.

This didn’t come as a surprise — this came after the US Department of Transportation tentatively approved the joint venture between American and Qantas, and as part of that the two airlines promised new routes.

While they announced these flights in mid-June, Qantas said they’d start selling seats on the routes once the joint venture received final approval, and that has finally happened.

Qantas’ Brisbane to Chicago flight

Qantas will launch 4x weekly Boeing 787-9 flights between Brisbane and Chicago as of April 20, 2020 (hey, that’s my 30th birthday!). The route will operate with the following schedule on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays:

QF85 Brisbane to Chicago departing 3:30PM arriving 4:40PM
QF86 Chicago to Brisbane 9:50PM arriving 6:10AM (+2 days)

The flight will cover a distance of 8,916 miles in each direction, and is blocked at 16h10min eastbound and 17hr20min westbound.

This is just about 100 miles shorter than Qantas’ Perth to London flight, and will be the world’s fourth longest flight. It will be Qantas’ first flight to Chicago, though they’ll be joining Air New Zealand, which operates flights from Chicago to Auckland, also using the 787-9.

Qantas’ Brisbane to San Francisco flight

Qantas will launch 3x weekly Boeing 787-9 flights between Brisbane and San Francisco as of February 9, 2020. The route will operate with the following schedule on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays:

QF59 Brisbane to San Francisco departing 8:35PM arriving 4:15PM
QF60 San Francisco to Brisbane 10:05PM arriving 5:00AM (+2 days)

The flight will cover a distance of 7,153 miles in each direction, and is blocked at 12h40min eastbound and 13hr55min westbound.

This flight will complement Qantas’ existing flights to San Francisco, as the airline already operates flights from both Melbourne and Sydney to San Francisco.

Qantas flies daily from Sydney and 4x weekly from Melbourne, so they’ll have a total of 14x weekly flights to San Francisco.

However, this flight won’t actually be adding any capacity to the US, as Qantas will be reducing frequencies on their Brisbane to Los Angeles flight from 10x weekly to daily. In other words, Qantas is simply shifting capacity from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Qantas’ 787-9

Qantas has a total of eight 787-9s in their fleet, and they have a further six on order.

Qantas will be using their Boeing 787-9s for both of these routes, which feature 236 seats. That’s a pretty sparse configuration (Air Canada has 298 seats on those planes, for example).

Qantas has 42 Vantage XL staggered business class seats on the 787-9, which are pretty good seats. While Qantas has great crews, I don’t otherwise find their soft product to be very good, though.

Then the 787-9s have 28 premium economy seats, in a 2-3-2 configuration.

Lastly in economy there are 166 seats, in a 3-3-3 configuration.

Qantas is stingy with awards (as always)

As always, Qantas is stingy as can be with award availability. As of now I don’t see a single business class award seat available on the new Brisbane to Chicago flight.

I understand that they’re trying to sell seats on these routes, but there has to be some balance between making something available to frequent flyer program members and just being endlessly stingy.

Bottom line

It’s great to see these new Qantas routes finally on sale, including the new ultra long haul flight from Chicago to Brisbane.

While the new joint venture is resulting in new routes, it’s not exactly resulting in a huge capacity increase. At least the Brisbane to San Francisco route is coming at the expense of Brisbane to Los Angeles frequencies. Meanwhile on the Chicago route, I’m not sure if the plane for that is coming from one of the newly delivered Dreamliners, or if they’re cutting capacity on another US route to make this happen.

What do you make of Qantas’ new routes from Brisbane to Chicago & San Francisco?

  1. Hey Ben, your post states “By April 2019, Qantas will launch 4x weekly flights between Brisbane and Chicago”

    Should probably be 2020…

  2. Why would they move from LA to SFO? With the AA codeshare figured AA with LAX would make more sense

  3. @ DN — Keep in mind that the airlines have codeshared even without a joint venture. On some level it still is a bit odd, though. Generally a joint venture would result in a more interconnected route network, so it’s logical to see Qantas expanding to American hubs with a joint venture. What’s interesting here is that San Francisco is a market where they have more connectivity with Alaska than with American.

    My guess is that San Francisco has just performed really well for them as a market. They just decided to wait to announce this so that it would appear as if the joint venture is causing this, rather than announcing it before, because it could have hindered their joint venture approval.

  4. I’m constantly amazed by how much hype Qantas’ PR generates for such a “meh” product.

  5. @ oliver — Yeah, totally agree. Qantas sure knows how to generate hype, and a lot of sites are onboard with it. They have more updates about non-news than I do about Air Belgium, Air Tanzania, and Hi Fly’s A380 combined. :p

  6. @Ben
    JAL has 195 seats in their Apex J config, and 203 seats in their dense J configuration. Is the Air Canada configuration not just a terrible sardine cam and Qantas survivable?

  7. Please, since when did publicly-owned airlines ever do anything “in the best interest of the public”?

  8. And our national airline safety record is one of the best in the world. Don’t knock it till you try it . All aussies love Qantas as much as you guys love Delta and American

  9. Recently, my wife and I flew SFO/SYD on a UA 789 in Business and it was great even exceeding our expectations. Decent food, a good seat, really good bedding, a great crew, more than adequate IFE and importantly, after a (nearly) 15 hour flight, barely any jet lag.

    A few weeks later we flew BNE/HKG on a QF 789 and while the flight was less than half the duration (about 7 hours) it was probably better than the very good UA flight. The main reason being the QF seat is wider because of the 1-2-1 layout – UAs 789 is 2-2-2. The QF crew was a bit better than UAs but that’s because I find Aussies have a better sense of humor.

    We flew home HKG/SFO in a UA 777 also in Business and while the crew, food IFE etc., were fine, and the flight departed on time and arrived early we ended up with dreadful jet-lag. We have crossed the Pacific dozens of times and I put it down to the better air/humidity in the 789.

    I have had some really good flights (and not so good ones) on UA but generally, I think QF offers a better product and especially on cross-Pacific flights I have found little to complain about.

  10. Not sure how they can honestly promote this as a “new route”. Qantas have had non-stop SFO/BNE flights in the past. They just discontinued and now reinstating. QANTAS have come and gone from SFO over the past 30 years. Wonder how long this stay one will last. As mentioned above – just PR hype.

  11. I’m in SFO and will use this route a lot to go see family in BNE. So one person in the public benefits (and my Aussie wife). Plus LAX is the worst Airport in the world, so any flights diverted from there is a public benefit.

  12. SFO is all about Tech and finance O&D, increasingly Aussie financial institutions concentrate their US presence in San Francisco rather than New York. The planes are full every time I’ve been and judging by the fares yields are pretty good too. I’m not sure how many are transferring, some up to portland and Seattle with Alaska and some continuing to New York with AA, there’s still a codeshare relationship with United, but most people seem to be stopping in the Bay Area .

  13. @Discrete Pete, it’s more likely due to the fact that jet lag is always worse going East than going West.

  14. I am still curious as to which traveler the benefit of this ORD – BNE non-stop is. I realize they might be trying to capture some smaller east coast/upper midwest/Canada flights that are only served via ORD. Also they might just defending ORD against NZ (and UA). However, aren’t most Australia bound travelers (especially business ones) headed to SYD or to a lesser extent MEL? Most major east coast and midwest cities have flights over the west coast gateways LAX, SFO, and even YVR. Thus, connecting over ORD requires a double connection and no real time savings vs over the west coast gateways. Will QF (and AA) be able to command a premium presumably needed to operate this ultra longhaul flight?

  15. “As always, Qantas is stingy as can be with award availability.”

    @Lucky – you demonstrably have questionable awareness here and need to correct your commentary here.

    Qantas availability is there for elites and Australian customers, with Platinum and Platinum One members having regular success in requesting awards.

    I really enjoy your blog, however your rhetoric really needs to be dialed down and give way to more analysis from multiple parties – I’m happy to help in that regard if you’re interested.

  16. BNE was added to make up for the capacity loss ex SYD eff Dec 4 when the 744 is switched to 789.

  17. @Lucky – You definitely should take the Chicago inaguaral on your Birthday! If you take the flight on the Brisbane to Chicago leg, then your birthday will last 40 hours! That would be unforgettable, and the inaguaral part would be the icing on the cake which they hopefully give you 🙂

    Me and my family just flew Qatar Airways from Doha to JFK on Sunday which also happened to be my mom’s birthday. That made her day 31 hours (which we all loved to celebrate in the quad Qsuite).

  18. As an Aussie living in Ord I LOVE the Ord auckland flight as we have tons of family there. For most of our family living in Sydney and Melbourne doing a tiny hop to brissie then getting non stop to Chicago is almost like a direct flight. Otherwise you land in lax jet lagged and still have a 4hr flight to chi. So I’m all for it :). Obv would prefer direct to Sydney but such is life. Won’t be long.

    @UA. It’s not rhetoric. Qantas is stingy with availability and has a TERRIBLE rewards program. They are in a unique situation because Aussies don’t know know better and blindly plow their points into qantas.

    Saying that. Availability has improved quite a lot recently. My whole family of five is flying qf first back to oz for Christmas on the week before Christmas (be it on successive nights). Of course I didn’t spend the 82838397272 qantas points and $388484 in fees to fly this flight. I used Alaska miles 🙂

  19. No, no, no: there is no limit to Qantas stinginess when it comes to award seats in premium cabins. It has been that way forever, is set in stone and will not change.
    The odious goblin in charge will never see real benefit in greater access to awards; his view is that they have a captive audience that should be milked for all they’re worth.

  20. @Mick its not that ‘Aussies blindly plow their points in Qantas’ as you put it. If you live in Australia it is very easy to accumulate lots of Qantas points quickly with all the ways you can earn them here. I can understand why Americans may not get a lot of value out of the QFFP, but for us living in Australia it is the best option we have. There aren’t many ways to earn Alaskan miles in Australia unless you fly a lot.

  21. @ivan. Understood! But I’ve never earned a single Alaska or avianca mile either. I buy them in the sales! I’d join aeroplan and keep my Amex points in Australia and transfer them to them. So much more availability on star alliance and considerably less fees. I can use 165k qantas points and ~$400 in taxes to fly first from chi to Aus or buy 70k Alaska miles for 1.97c each and ~$60 taxes. That’s the value proposition.

    My parents in law (and loads of others) keep paying a premium to fly qantas to accumulate points they can never spend. Stick them in aa. Same availability and way less points and taxes.

  22. Eg I’m flying from Auckland back to Chicago on nye. 90k miles to fly air nz to Tokyo biz then first class to Ord on Ana. 1.35c a mile using avianca lifemiles.

    $49 taxes.

    Ends up being about 1300$

  23. If god forbid I find a redemption on qantas from Sydney it’s chinq eastern on qantas $3-400 in taxes plus 140k miles. Netting me 0.005 value from my qantas points.

  24. I thought my flight from LAX to KIX on the JAL 787-9 with 8 abreast in economy was pretty bad. How do airlines have 9 abreast economy on the 787 on ultra long haul flights?!

  25. I can’t believe it has taken Lucky this long to tell us that he shares a birthday with Hitler.

  26. @EthaninSF. . SYD is the preferred option but is out of range of the 789. . We will need to wait to get the project sunrise ULR aircraft to enable SYD/ORD services.

  27. Ben- just a slight correction.
    This is not the first time Qantas flies to Chicago.
    They did fly there, for a pretty short period of time some 12-15 years ago.
    I vividly remember that because they promoted the flight with a Chicago based menu that was absolutely shocking.
    They doscontinued the route some 6 months after, then started flying to Dallas.

  28. @Mike – Qantas started Dallas flights in 2011 and they dropped San Francisco to start Dallas. They then relaunched San Fran in late 2015.

  29. @QFCrew – I completely understand and agree that equipment/geography limits them to BNE rather than SYD. I just don’t know what utility ORD – BNE provides, except for a small subset of passengers and QF being able to say they serve ORD directly. But for ORD passengers and those who are connecting from other destinations, if flying QF/AA to SYD, they already have a single stop option via DFW or the West Coast. Wouldn’t it make more sense for QF to deploy the 787 from MEL to DFW (presumably the second biggest destination for Australia bound passengers)? Or even now with the JV, SYD – PHX? Yes, markets like ADL and PER can now be served as single stop from ORD (and QF can compete against NZ). But if BNE – DFW didn’t work, what makes ORD different? The vast majority of USA/Canada – Australia itineraries still require two stops going via ORD and BNE. I guess there must be a lot of Australia – Chicago business these days and this is just another one stop alternative. One sliver lining is that BNE flights are the most likely flights to have open award space, which is nice.

  30. Which lounge will QF use at SFO?

    Apparently they can use the Cathay lounge, but that is in the A gates and I thought that QF uses the G gates.

  31. As noted above, Qantas has the best, if that’s the word, spin machine in corporate Australia. It is industrial strength. Regretably truth more often than not gets shredded or grossly distorted when it’s turned up to the ‘High’ setting as it mostly is.
    On the topic of award stinginess, this has been the case for a long time, and as pointed out elsewhere, is heavily skewed towards the top-tier QFF, not lowly Bronze peasants or, worse still, non-members.
    Cash is king with Qantas, and the more you spend, the more you are feted and considered an ‘elite’. Every flying American would be familiar with that concept I guess.

  32. UA, Lucky is spot on.

    The majority of QF members are not Platinum as you would know, and they do not offer that availability to other Australian members. Hence for most QF members, the program is ridiculously stingy. You don’t assess an overall outcome on the result for a tiny (probably 1%) subset.

  33. @EthaninSF,
    The attractiveness for Brisbane to Chicago direct is that Australian passengers bound for the US don’t have to go through all the fancy security theater in the US. Since most associate US security and immigration as the most stressful part of getting to the US, those based in Sydney and Melbourne will find this more attractive and more flexible for them compared to transiting in LAX or DFW.

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