Delta Air Lines has just revealed plans to add Cape Town to their route map. This isn’t a time that you’d be expecting an airline to announce new international destinations, but Delta has a strategic reason for this.
The problem created by Delta’s 777 retirement
Last week we learned that Delta will be retiring their fleet of 18 Boeing 777s by the end of 2020. Delta will become the first major US airline to retire all 777s. While it’s kind of sad to see that, it also makes sense — international demand will be down for quite a while, and Delta has a lot of A350-900s and A330-900neos on order.
Delta’s A350-900 business class
All of Delta’s existing 777 routes can be flown by A350-900s, with one exception — the Johannesburg to Atlanta route. This is Delta’s longest flight, and is “only” the 10th longest flight in the world, as it covers a distance of ~8,440 miles.
Delta can easily fly nonstop from Atlanta to Johannesburg, but it’s the return flight that poses a problem for the A350-900:
- There are significant headwinds on the westbound flight
- Johannesburg Airport is at an altitude of 5,500 feet, and higher altitude airports greatly impact takeoff performance
What this means is that Delta can’t fly the Johannesburg to Atlanta route nonstop with a full load on the A350-900.
Delta’s solution is a Cape Town triangle route
It looks like Delta has a creative solution for maintaining Johannesburg service while also retiring the 777. Edward Russell reports that Delta will be modifying their South Africa service.
Going forward, Delta will operate the South Africa flight as a triangle route, flying from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Cape Town to Atlanta. This seems like a brilliant solution:
- It allows Delta to add Cape Town to their route network, which is an incredibly popular leisure destination
- It means Delta can easily fly the westbound flight with an A350-900, as the westbound flight is not only 300+ miles shorter, but Cape Town Airport is also close to sea level, improving the aircraft’s performance
- Note that Delta won’t be able to sell tickets exclusively between Johannesburg and Cape Town, since that’s a domestic flight within another country
When will Delta start flying to Cape Town?
We don’t yet know when Delta will launch the Cape Town flight:
- Most international routes are suspended right now, and we don’t know when Johannesburg service will resume
- Delta is still flying 777s through the end of 2020
My best guess would be that the year-round triangle route will launch sometime in late 2020 or early 2021, assuming South Africa’s borders stay open.
Beautiful Cape Town, South Africa
How cool to see Delta turn South Africa service into a triangle route, as the airline will fly to both Johannesburg and Cape Town. While this was ultimately prompted by the 777 being retired, in many ways this route makes a lot of sense in general, with Cape Town being a premium leisure destination (as it’s often the city people visit in conjunction with safaris).
Delta will be the second US airline flying to Cape Town, as United Airlines launched seasonal nonstop Newark to Cape Town flights this past winter.
What do you make of Delta’s new Cape Town service?