Delta Air Lines Will Fly To Cape Town As Of October 2020

Filed Under: Delta

Several weeks ago we learned that Delta Air Lines would be adding Cape Town to its route map. We now know the schedule for this flight as it was recently added to the schedule, so I wanted to recap why Delta is adding Cape Town service (this seems like an odd time to do so, on the surface), and also share the full details of this flight.

The problem created by Delta’s 777 retirement

Delta will be retiring its 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

Delta has a creative solution for maintaining Johannesburg service while also retiring the 777, as Delta plans to modify its South Africa service.

With this change, 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 its 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

This new Cape Town flight is now on sale

Delta will be launching its modified daily South Africa flight as of October 24, 2020. This flight will operate with the following schedule, as noted by Routes Online:

DL204 Atlanta to Johannesburg departing 5:45PM arriving 3:45PM (+1 day)
DL204 Johannesburg to Cape Town departing 5:15PM arriving 7:30PM
DL204 Cape Town to Atlanta departing 9:30PM arriving 6:45AM (+1 day)

These flights are blocked at 15hr, 2hr15min, and 16hr15min, respectively.

This also reflects the fact that Delta is retiring 777s earlier than initially expected. All Delta 777s will be retired by the end of October, which is presumably part of the motivation for the Cape Town service launching when it does.

I’d note that while the schedule reflects this as of now, I wouldn’t necessarily count on the current schedule sticking. We still don’t know when South Africa will open to tourists — it may not be until 2021 — in which case I have to assume this route could be delayed.

Beautiful Cape Town, South Africa

Bottom line

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?

  1. Oh dear, I bet VS are not too happy as they are planning a daily LHR-CPT and I would have thought would like the feeder traffic from DL.

  2. Who wants to go to Atlanta to catch a flight to South Africa? Especially when JFK and MIA are closer to the destination. I suppose they’ll get some transit traffic from Texas and California.

  3. This reminds me of the short hop GIG-GRU flights that UA had some time ago. Those flights ran empty most of the time and were eventually discontinued. JNB is a business heavy destination and business travelers will pick whatever routing they consider to be most optimal. Let’s see if Delta can make a go of it.

  4. I don’t understand why do they continue to fly to Johannesburg?

    Why don’t they just switch this service totally to Cape Town, a much higher demand destination.

  5. I don’t know how you can write this, Ben: “While it’s kind of sad to see that, it also makes sense.”

    Delta just spent millions of dollars renovating their 777s. I’m not sure retiring them makes sense, especially when they have to spin what is clearly a required refueling stop as the addition of a destination. Delta would have been off just eliminating South Africa and relying upon its partners KLM or Virgin Atlantic since many people, especially those in economy, would rather have two 7-8 hour fights than one super long flight.

  6. @Sharon: My guess is Delta may have a contract for freight or even mail, which explains why they fly to Johannesburg.

  7. So, let me get this right:

    Delta will fly Atlanta to Johannesburg. Everyone gets off the plane. Some passengers depart and others re-board for Johannesburg to Cape Town, but there will be no new passengers for the Johannesburg–Cape Town segment. Then, Delta flies an empty plane BACK to Johannesburg, picks up new passengers and crew and flies back to Cape Town, picks up some new passengers, and flies back to Atlanta? Is this right?

  8. @ FNT Delta Diamond — Not quite. The plane flies from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Cape Town to Atlanta. Passengers will get on in both Johannesburg and Cape Town. The plane doesn’t go back to Johannesburg a second time.

  9. @ Sharon — While Cape Town is the more popular leisure destination, Johannesburg is the business center, and also a popular jumping off point for safaris. Delta isn’t alone here. Look at the service for virtually all global airlines to South Africa, as Johannesburg is almost always the airport that gets more service.

  10. @ FNT Delta Diamond — Regarding your first comment, call me crazy, but I personally have a lot of faith in Delta management, and think they’ve probably done the math on their decision.

    A lot of people do value the convenience of a nonstop flight to South Africa. While some people may prefer two 7-8 hour flights than one super long flight, it’s not the price sensitive economy passengers this flight is targeting, but rather those willing to pay a premium for a nonstop.

    Delta is an extremely conservative airline when it comes to the routes they try, and I can bet you that they would have cut this flight a long time ago if it wasn’t making money (and making money on ultra long haul flights is extremely difficult).

  11. @Sharon – Johannesburg is a much much larger market overall than Cape Town, by a factor of over 200%. It isn’t even close.

  12. Incredibly smart move on DL’s part. The ATL-JNB is extremely popular with hunters and those going on safari. By continuing to CPT, this flight will undoubtedly have very high load factors. Even if you are flying JNB-CPT-ATL, its likely still a faster connection than transiting in Europe. I can’t wait!

  13. For those asking, I assume my experience is similar to others, but I needed to go to Joburg for business, but went to Cape Town first to see it before starting business. I imagine many people do that, they add Cape Town on to a trip they have to take to Joburg anyways, so that’s why they keep Joburg, it’s where everyone has to go, Cape Town is just where everyone wants to go.

  14. This is a great solution. I am a regular on LAX-ATL-JNB. I used to be able to take a 777 the whole way. I’d then connect on SAA to Cape Town that night or the next morning.

    This was always my optimal route as it avoided back to back red eyes. LAX-AMS-CPT/JNB was the only exception but didn’t usually work depending on time of year. AMS-CPT/JNB are day flights.

    The ATL-JNB leg lands pretty late, depending on the time of year, and I’d guess half of the plane is usually headed to CPT, in my experience. Lots do stay in JNB to catch connecting flights to safaris the next day, however. But this will get into Cape Town mid-late evening unless the flight times change significantly from what they once where.

    SQ does/did something similar between CPT and JNB, I believe.

    So will all passengers have to clear immigration in JNB? This can be slow and horribly unorganized unfortunately. That’s definitely the benefit of landing in CPT direct.

  15. This news marks a return for DL to CPT. They flew ATL/JFK-DKR-CPT in 2008 and 2009 using a 767-300ER/400ER seasonally.

  16. i wonder how security will be handled in the covid area on flights like this. its an international flight but i would assume south africans can book it as a short hop between JNB and CPT making it a domestic flight. what security measures do you think they will be required to follow and i wonder how strict it will actually be enforced.

  17. Sorry if this was addressed and i missed it but will this be a 5th Freedom route? Can you book just the JNB to CPT route as a one way?

  18. @Ross – The difference isn’t much. JFK is closer (than ATL) to JNB only by about 470 miles – that’s less than an hour’s flying time, negligible for such a long flight and esp. if you’re connecting from elsewhere.

  19. I don’t fly Delta but this makes perfect sense. Both times I traveled to South Africa it was to JNB and out of Cape Town, so on the return I had to connect in JNB.

  20. I assume you can’t fly just between Johannesburg and Cape Town. That would make the logistics of clearing immigration quite difficult since passengers are both embarking and disembarking international flights at both points. Plus, I’d assume if this is a popular route, then selling JNB-CPT would limit the amount of people who fly from JNB-CPT-ATL the whole way. And it’s a one-way flight, so I’m doubtful of them selling the domestic leg.

    On the other hand, when will they clean the plane on this flight? Will some passengers stay on? Perhaps with COVID they would do it at both airports, but make people get off.

  21. I wonder why Delta didn’t opt to fly ATL-CPT-JNB-CPT-ATL. In that way it is possible to do a roundtrip ATL-CPT nonstop and fully clean the plane in JNB for the turnaround.

  22. I thought I was pretty familiar with traffic rights rules but I’m apparently at a loss here. How can people flying Delta from ATL ever actually get to CPT on DL metal? You fly to JNB, but DL doesn’t have traffic rights solely between JNB and CPT (for now) from what I read. I see that you can pick up pax from CPT on the way out but how will anyone actually get into CPT? I’m assuming this would be fixed before they actually make this change? Thanks

  23. “How can people flying Delta from ATL ever actually get to CPT on DL metal? ”
    By not getting off the plane in JNB and continuing on to CPT? Or am I missing something?

  24. The JNB-CPT portion of the flight I assume will operate similar to how QR and TK handle their JNB-DUR (Durban) tags, where the flights stay “international” the entire time and don’t have local traffic rights between JNB-DUR. (Yes, I realize these two airlines turn around at DUR and fly DUR-JNB-hub, but the concept is similar)

    1) Fly ATL-JNB
    2) JNB passengers disembark, CPT passengers stay onboard
    3) Onboard security check in JNB after JNB passengers disembark. This involves taking your carry-on bag out of the overhead bin and holding on to it. FAs comes down the aisle to ensure all overhead bags are claimed. Any overhead bags that are not claimed, well…I’m not sure what happens… Only after the onboard security check is cleared can CPT-bound passengers use the lavatory, move around the cabin, etc.
    4) ATL-bound passengers board flight
    5) Fly JNB-CPT
    6) CPT passengers disembark, ATL passengers stay on board
    7) Onboard security check in CPT after CPT passengers disembark.
    8) Fly CPT-ATL

  25. I get that DL logistically needs to add CPT in order to make the JNB route work. However, I don’t get why this route will be attractive anymore. All of the major metro markets that have any demand to JNB (NYC, BOS, IAD, ORD, LAX, SFO) will now have a double connect/stop when they could easily fly KL or VS one stop JNB-AMS/LHR-BOS etc.

    Unless it was the price sensitive cheap traveler looking for the cheapest price why would any premium passenger willingly fly JNB-CPT-ATL-LAX?

  26. Yeah I used to take one of these type of flights frequently when I was trying to get home from one of my company’s major HQs. I’m not sure if it’s super common only in Africa, but I’ve been on a number of flights that stop in one place for 45 minutes and basically run the process @Passive Poster describes.

    Sort of annoying since you almost never get credit for the segment, despite being on the ground but oh well. Those were problems from the before times.

  27. If I’m flying to Cape Town, I don’t want to spend 90 minutes on the ground at JNB — especially in economy. I might as well fly through London. Probably works out to the same or less flying time with more comfort.

  28. What a dumb idea for this airline #1) to put the 777 out of service and #2) to fly to South Africa! Can’t imagine huge amounts of travel back and forth.

  29. One point being missed is the a350 can not fly the same routes as a b777. It can only do so with a reduced pax/cargo load. DL’s 777 leaves atl and jnb heavily loaded with both. Be prepared to be left behind. This is true of NRT which carries a reduced load and HND DL’s new hub in Japan the a350 can’t make it there unless nearly empty. We may see DL keep the 777 if travel recovers quicker than expected as their retirement is DL’s way of playing hardball with the pilots union which is refusing to take a pay cut or hours reduction during this downturn.

  30. My daughter is in Cape Town. Between her and my wife they have taken almost every airline possible from South Florida to CPT. BA, KL, EK, AF, UA, DL/KL, DL/AF, and QA. She’ll take LH in August. KL and UA are the best. MIA-AMS-CPT or FLL-EWR-CPT. She’s also flown CPT to HKG and SIN and both CX and SQ do the triangle thing serving both JNB and CPT with the same equipment. I’m happy to see Delta enter the market as we have a ton of their miles.

  31. I live in Atlanta and live/work in Johannesburg and around South Africa. I have been traveling back and forth to South Africa for more than 20 years.

    I work in public health and communications. I am not alone, by any stretch. I was personally happy when, after divorcing the SkyTeam and joining StarAlliance, South African Airways moved to Dulles, Delta put a route online within a year and a half after the separation.

    I do not like trips to Africa through Europe. I prefer the most direct, fastest way to get to my destination when flying. Most of the flights I take directly from Atlanta are at least one-third filled with folks in my field for various reasons and various destinations across the Continent. What you all are missing, is that a significant portion of travelers from the US to Johannesburg are going to other countries in the region. There are fewer direct flights from the US to other countries, and OR Tambo Airport in Joburg is the biggest transit hub in Southern and Eastern Africa, if not the

    I have no doubt that Delta will partner up with one of the Domestic Airlines (we have many) that will be an easy transition for those who need to travel on to Capetown.

    Security with regard to the novel coronavirus is of greater concern for European and US airlines, airports and immigration than most African and Asian airports. Nearly all the African governments and people took early measures that uniquely managed the pandemic in each of their countries, they have had more stringent quarantine, testing, contact tracing, mobilization of resources, and clear prevention and containment messages than the EU, UK, S. America and USA. In South Africa, all international flights at all ports of entry have been using no-contact infrared scanners at Immigration since the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. They were more ready for COVID19 than any country in the West.

    I am not interested in flights to CapeTown. Those who are interested for holidays and hunting, travel less to South Africa than those like me, who travel to South Africa 6-8 times a year or those who are traveling through Joburg to other destinations. There are more of me and other transits than there are of those who only come to play for a little while. You are most welcome, of course, it is quite beautiful and fun in the Western Cape.

    I don’t know Delta’s management history, I know I have appreciated their service my entire career. And I have flown too many airlines to not know what I value. Until someone can do better with my flight from my hometown to my working hometown, I’ll take the new route.

  32. Given the large market between the US and SA , I think they will go 10 times per week within one year of that triangular route and some how they won’t need it to be triangular by then

  33. Semi-related question: I wonder if Delta will swap any of their A350-900s on order for -1000s? Those have a longer range, which might allow the flexibility to fly JNB direct again if needed. Also opens up some new markets once travel normalizes.

  34. Delta should keep their 777-200lr’s for this purpose. They aren’t that old and paid for and they will need this jet for the routes to Australia also.

  35. Trying to think… what was the last “successful” triangle route by any US Carrier (even including carrying tulips, business travel, salmon, or mail from JNB)?
    I can’t really think of what it would be. They all fail. Feels like Delta is trying to do too much. if you’re a business traveler, why would you only one a 1 way connection via ATL one direction when there are many one-stops in Europe, Middle East, and even GRU? IF you just want to travel to CPT, why would you want to stop in JNB on the way?

  36. @ Ben

    Is this an official statement from Delta on all the 777’s being retired by October ? Just because the 777 won’t be operating to SA as of October doesn’t necessarily mean it’s done for good

    I only ask because I have a 777 lax-Hnd in mid December

    Ben is this definitely the case then I want to switch from 4A to 5A so I am in the true window seat

    As of now my plane is still showing a 777. However as of Jan 1 it switches to A350 which would go along w the original announcement.

    So Ben just wondering if you know for sure they are done in October and I will switch to 5A so I am in 5A when the plane switches (unless you think the system is smart enough to know what’s up and keep me in an aisle close to 4 such that it would put me in 3A or 5A)

  37. @Emily- looks like you have had a productive day trolling.

    Anyway, super nice to have DL metal in CPT. I used to often do LAX-ATL-JNB-CPT and would typically tag on JNB-CPT the next day. I haven’t yet had the chance to take the EWR-CPT flight (hoping it returns!) but to me this seems much nicer and more reliable than SAA and having to deal with the often slow passport control at JNB.

    I for one am glad about the upgrade from 777-350. Worth the extra stop for me. Better cabin and better air circulation and humidity for the very long flight.

  38. It will be interesting to see whether this works. I realize for people coming from the US and wanting to go to Cape Town and JNB its a plus but JNB is the major airport for most of southern Africa lots of flights come in in the early afternoon to link up with evening flights to Europe, the Middle East and the US, by moving the flight up to 4:30 PM a lot of those connections won’t work anymore. Plus, at least going back, this cuts down on the non-stop advantage over Europe and the Middle East.

  39. If I’m flying premium economy or economy, I’m flying to London-Heathrow and taking two 7-8 hour flights instead of one super long flight with uncomfortable layovers in premium economy or economy.

  40. No one has mentioned that the SA border is not yet open, and will open within the Southern African region before intercontinental, so the JNB/CPT routes are speculative.

    FNT Delta Daimond, you also get an almost full day connection at LHR when doing that route. How enjoyable is that with the jet-lag coming from the US? Because I’m oneworld, I’ve done it many times and it’s miserable, even being elite with the lounges.

    JNB is the commercial center for Southern Africa, and that’s why they even fly to the country. CPT is a necessity due to the equipment capability, but it’s still primarily leisure segment. CPT is of course lovely, but just look at the number of airlines that service JNB versus CPT…the numbers are obvious, and for a reason.

    JNB connections can be tricky if you want to direct connect to a leisure destination, and most would not work at the hour of the DL arrival, which actually highlights why DL has the schedule as the route is commercial/corporate focused. That said, even as a frequent leisure traveler to SA I quite enjoy JNB, it’s overlooked, many meaningful cultural experiences to be had.

    @EddieB United Airlines LAX-SYD-MEL-SYD-LAX operated many many years, called a tag flight, not a triangular flight, which should actually be worse financially, but was always profitable. Of course, now they fly MEL nonstop (well, before COVID). But true, not many cases of triangular flights.

    @Richard, DL has already announced that they will switch to the A350 for Australia. Current equipment has range issues on the Southbound leg, but advise that will have a new A350 variant by end of the year which will provide the range.

  41. It’s going to cost DL an awful lot for crewing these flights.

    One crew from ATL-JNB. They will get a day off there.

    Another that is already in JNB for JNB-CPT. They will get a day off there.

    A third crew from CPT-ATL.

    Good utilization of the aircraft. Not a good crew utilization.

  42. @FNT Delta Diamond

    What second leg is going to be 7-8 hours from LHR?? Maybe LHR to LOS or ABV. LHR-JNB is 11+ hours and LHR-CPT comes in right around 12 hours usually.

    This flight would suck in economy- esp. all the way to CPT. But at least you avoid back to back red eyes, and depending on connections and where you’re coming from, it’s a good use of time.

    Obviously overnighting and connecting in Europe would be ideal when coming from the US, but if you’re flying economy you might not have the budget for this anyway.

    I think if you have to do this trip in coach, just power through it and get the best seat you can.

  43. I’ve only done this route in biz (condolences for anyone having to do flights of this length in coach), but I think this is a good solution.

    Yes, it’ll add some extra time to people on the return leg (not sure how they’ll account for cleaning the plane in the age of COVID), but with the altitude differences, the flight times should be somewhat similar. (On my last flight to JNB at the beginning of the year, the return leg was 16:45, showing one minute early. It was 14:34 on the inbound, 42m early.)

    Honestly, if I’d had the option of flying out of Cape Town on DL metal, I would have eagerly taken a few days that weekend to spend there (flying on some domestic route from JNB to CPT) as a way to double-dip my SA time, though I understand that frequent biz travelers will have different needs.

    I’m sad to see the 777 go so soon after the refresh was finished (my Jan/Feb flights were my first and only chance to fly on the DL777 post refresh), but if they can do more with the A350s so be it.

  44. I wish that Delta and AS were still friends.

    Just think – a OW flight ATL-JNB-CPT with the free stopover in JNB. I am assuming that a stopover does not violate the 5th freedom rules (ie – is not a 5th freedom route, just a stopover).

  45. I feel sorry for those passengers who would be getting on at Johannesburg, especially after the plane has been flown for 16 hours and hasn’t been cleaned yet!

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