On board the longest flight out of the Midwest

What it’s like to fly non-stop Chicago to New Zealand


Johanna Kaplan

View from a boat in Milford Sound, New Zealand. Going from the Midwest to New Zealand is now possible to travel in just one flight.

Johanna Kaplan

Out of all 61 international destinations Chicago’s O’Hare Airport flies to, Auckland, New Zealand is the longest haul. I recently flew this exact flight twice, both going out and returning. It took 17 hours to arrive in Auckland after stepping foot on the aircraft, but only 15 hours on the return flight.

I flew with New Zealand Air, which impressed me with its reliability. I’ve always heard all these horror stories about traveling internationally — like an airline losing luggage or leaving customers stranded after canceling a flight. I am eternally grateful that I didn’t wind up in one of these nightmare situations. There are definitely going to be people out there that are complaining about New Zealand Air, but there will be fewer of them than what I’d expect for other airlines.

If you look at the route to New Zealand, most of it is over a seemingly endless ocean. We flew over only one actual piece of land after leaving North America. Normally, I like turbulence, but this was one of the first times that I’ve experienced turbulence and genuinely been scared. There is nothing quite like flying over the deepest, darkest depths of our planet.


On the way to Auckland, I was lucky to have an empty seat in my row. This allowed for an unexpectedly roomy seating situation — one that would’ve otherwise been beyond cramped. The flight crew immediately adjusted to New Zealand time, which is 19 hours ahead of Central Standard Time (CST). Essentially what that means is that they’re passing out meals according to the time in New Zealand and they are adjusting the lights in order to acclimate passengers to the new time zone. That helped a lot because when I actually did get to Auckland, I was fully adjusted to the time. I couldn’t have imagined a better situation in economy seating on a long-haul flight. Admittedly, my expectations were so low that just about any experience that wasn’t downright miserable would have blown me away.

Food and drink:

New Zealand Air’s french toast breakfast option. This option was served with berry compote, fruit and muesli.

The food was also a good deal better than what I had in mind. We had two options for every meal and each one I picked pleasantly surprised me. For dinner, they had options like chicken and rice or beef and veggies. For breakfast, the options included french toast or an omelet. None of the food blew me away, but it was definitely better than I’d expected. It felt like an elevated version of the food in Park’s cafeteria.

As far as drinks go, they offered the usual selection of sodas, teas and coffees — but that was nothing notable. What was unusual about the flight was the unlimited alcohol included. My best guess is that the airline offers this because they know that most people aren’t going to get drunk on the plane. Most everybody there is on their way to go home, see family or travel for work. Unless you’re a die-hard alcoholic, these aren’t ideal occasions to get hammered. When they were passing around the alcohol, few people went for it. I can’t imagine they’re losing that much money on it, but people appreciate the gesture. All in all, it seemed like a smart decision for the airline to offer unlimited drinks because they know few customers will take them up on it.


One of the more disappointing aspects of my flight would be the movie options onboard. There were around 20 films available, but I’d already seen most of them. To be honest, few of the film options were ones that I ever liked much in the first place, so rewatching them wasn’t in the cards for me. If I needed a sign to cut down on my Netflix screen time, this would be it. 

There were a few smaller-budget films from New Zealand, but nothing that stood out to me.

The most entertaining part of my flight was watching “Captain Underpants” on the six-year-old kid’s screen in front of me. I’ve never seen anyone’s eyes light up so quickly before. His mother fell asleep early on — little did she know that her son spent upwards of five hours binging this show.