United Launching Washington To Cape Town Flight

United Launching Washington To Cape Town Flight

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Earlier this year, United Airlines requested permission to launch a route between Washington and Cape Town, complementing the carrier’s Newark to Cape Town service. This route is now official, and flights are on sale.

United’s Washington to Cape Town route plans

As of November 17, 2022, United will launch 3x weekly year-round flights between Washington (IAD) and Cape Town (CPT). The flight will operate with the following schedule:

UA2222 Washington to Cape Town departing 6:40PM arriving 4:10PM (+1 day)
UA2223 Cape Town to Washington departing 8:50PM arriving 5:50AM (+1 day)

The flight will cover a distance of 7,924 miles in each direction. The eastbound flight is blocked at 14hr30min, and will operate on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and the westbound flight is blocked at 16hr, and will operate on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.

United will use a Boeing 787-9 for the route, featuring a total of 257 seats. This includes 48 Polaris seats (business class), 21 Premium Plus seats (premium economy), 39 Economy Plus seats (extra legroom economy), and 149 economy class seats.

This will be United’s fifth route to Africa, complementing the carrier’s routes from Newark to Cape Town, Newark to Johannesburg, Washington to Accra, and Washington to Lagos. United claims that Washington to Cape Town is the most in-demand route between the United States and South Africa without nonstop service.

While this flight is already bookable, it doesn’t appear that there’s much in the way of saver level award space.

United will launch a second route to Cape Town

Why launching this route was a challenge

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, United expressed interest in operating this route earlier in this year. So why did it take United so long to put this flight on sale? Well, it’s because United didn’t have permission to operate this route:

  • In February 2022, Delta Air Lines announced plans to launch a new 3x weekly service between Atlanta and Cape Town as of November 18, 2022; shortly thereafter United announced plans for its new Washington to Cape Town service, also 3x weekly
  • The catch is that the bilateral aviation agreement between the United States and South Africa limits frequencies, and there were only four additional frequencies that could be awarded
  • It was up to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to decide which airline should get those slots, and both airlines made compelling cases
  • The great news is that the DOT worked behind the scenes to increase frequencies between the two countries, and managed to negotiate an additional two frequencies with counterparts in South Africa
  • This means that both Delta and United can operate 3x weekly flights to Cape Town, as desired
There was initially competition for Cape Town slots

Bottom line

United Airlines will be launching 3x weekly year-round flights between Washington and Cape Town as of November 2022, complementing the carrier’s Newark to Cape Town route. While United expressed its desire to operate this route earlier this year, getting regulatory approval for this route took quite some time.

It’s really exciting to see more nonstop air service from the United States to Cape Town, as it’s a fantastic city. It’s particularly good to see this service when you consider how tough connectivity within South Africa has become, given the financial issues airlines there have had.

What do you make of United’s new Washington to Cape Town route?

Conversations (44)
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  1. Steven E Guest

    Whatever… it’s United ..

  2. Tim Dunn Diamond

    I'm not sure why this article popped up again; not sure if someone's comment to a weeks old article puts it back at the top.
    Is there any update from the DOT which is handling the route case between DL and UA?
    UA's argument about providing balance in the US to Africa market is meaningless. While it is true that DL started Africa a decade or more ago, this route case is only...

    I'm not sure why this article popped up again; not sure if someone's comment to a weeks old article puts it back at the top.
    Is there any update from the DOT which is handling the route case between DL and UA?
    UA's argument about providing balance in the US to Africa market is meaningless. While it is true that DL started Africa a decade or more ago, this route case is only about S. Africa.
    UA added daily JNB service during the pandemic to counter DL's JNB service- which I believe is still only operating 5X/week.
    The route case is essentially about Cape Town, a lovely city and a great market.
    UA was not interested in daily year round service and neither is Delta.
    Given that DL's A350s hold 50-60 more passengers than UA's 787-9s, a "fair" resolution would be for DL to get 3 CPT flights and for UA to get 4.
    If UA can make 2 gateways (EWR and IAD) work to S. Africa with the limited amount of frequencies in the US-S. Africa treaty, more power to them but the best balance is splitting the 21 available flights between 2 carriers with UA getting the larger "half" given that they use smaller planes.

    1. Leigh Guest

      I agree that the route consideration should only factor South Africa, and not include DL’s history in other African markets; those other routes are irrelevant in consideration of the DL proposal.

      @Lucky, would have been great if you had/could put the proposed UA and DL’s competitive benefits side-by-side in a comparison.

      Without having that available at the moment, I do think UA’s onward connections via Airlink are important.

      Cape Town is lovely, I went...

      I agree that the route consideration should only factor South Africa, and not include DL’s history in other African markets; those other routes are irrelevant in consideration of the DL proposal.

      @Lucky, would have been great if you had/could put the proposed UA and DL’s competitive benefits side-by-side in a comparison.

      Without having that available at the moment, I do think UA’s onward connections via Airlink are important.

      Cape Town is lovely, I went at least once a year prior to the pandemic, and in fact I just flew from CPT to Greece yesterday. But despite how lovely CPT is, it’s not a significant commercial center, so the Airlink connectivity increases the value of the UA proposal.

      Maybe that supports your point, Tim.

  3. usmanahmad Guest

    You mean that Delta is actually taking delivery of airplanes while United waits for Boeing to fix yet another problem. And you really need to figure out where large parts of the 787 are built. You probably don’t want to know that large portions come from, wait, wait.

  4. TravelinWilly Diamond

    United needs to learn how to use apostrophes or hire a copy editor for their press releases.

    It’d be nice if a carrier offered FC on any SA route.

    Also, it’s surprising that there is so much demand for a CPT route, considering that JNB is the business hub. Perhaps there’s more tourist demand for SA flights than business demand(?).

  5. typo Guest

    Typo in article:

    Bottom line
    United Airlines is hoping to launch 3x weekly flights between Washington and Cape Town as of November 2022, complementing the carrier’s Washington to Cape Town route.

  6. Bryant C Guest

    Just flew United Polaris and the product and service was pretty good. Sorry, but Delta’s bland Delta One cabins leaves some room for improvement. My seat in Polaris was pretty private and the cabin just looks much better! I don’t have statistics to compare aircraft since that’s not in my wheel house and wouldn’t even try. I can only compare my experience with the on board product.

    Delta’s service is not bad but again,...

    Just flew United Polaris and the product and service was pretty good. Sorry, but Delta’s bland Delta One cabins leaves some room for improvement. My seat in Polaris was pretty private and the cabin just looks much better! I don’t have statistics to compare aircraft since that’s not in my wheel house and wouldn’t even try. I can only compare my experience with the on board product.

    Delta’s service is not bad but again, United’s Polaris cabin looks and feels better to me. To each his/her own I guess.

    1. Rob K. Guest

      I disagree, DeltaOne on a A350 beats UA’s Polaris any day. Private suite with a door…hardly bland. Plus Delta’s inflight service is only something UA dreams they could deliver consistently.

    2. Steven E Guest

      I just flew “Polaris” SYD LAX SYD it was the worst “business” class I’ve ever flown with rude and woeful cabin crew - filthy food (if you could even call it that ) crew actually “hid” pj’s and told pax there weren’t any loaded, meal served before we reached cruise ex Sydney and window shades locked for the 11hr flight, NEVER EVER AGAIN, does this carrier have a uniform standard ? Hello Walmart

  7. Richard Brown Guest

    Obviously, since UA is supporting Boeing and America jobs they should get the rights to fly. Delta is buying Airbus planes and sending billions of $ out of the country.

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      You mean that Delta is actually taking delivery of airplanes while United waits for Boeing to fix yet another problem.
      And you really need to figure out where large parts of the 787 are built. You probably don’t want to know that large portions come from, wait, wait. Europe

      And United has both A350s and A321s on order while Delta is the world’s largest operator of both the 757 and 767 and one of...

      You mean that Delta is actually taking delivery of airplanes while United waits for Boeing to fix yet another problem.
      And you really need to figure out where large parts of the 787 are built. You probably don’t want to know that large portions come from, wait, wait. Europe

      And United has both A350s and A321s on order while Delta is the world’s largest operator of both the 757 and 767 and one of the largest 737 operators. Delta has been a strong proponent of Boeing’s Middle of the Market future aircraft

      Delta and United both know that aviation is a global business

    2. tipsyinmadras Diamond

      "Obviously" you have a really simplistic view aircraft supply chain and manufacturing. Both Airbus and Boeing use a massive network of global suppliers. Airbus is building aircraft in the US - and unlike Boeing - hasn't prioritized profits/cost-cutting above all else, undermining their American employees by union-busting

  8. shoeguy Guest

    Isn't the issue with Delta's service that the A350 can't fly nonstop on the return from CPT or JNB due to range issues? In any case, the high interest in South Africa stems from two distinct factors. SAA doesn't fly long haul to the US any longer so there is a gap and premium leisure demand exists, but to a point. The high level of interest in US-South Africa, which otherwise is a small market...

    Isn't the issue with Delta's service that the A350 can't fly nonstop on the return from CPT or JNB due to range issues? In any case, the high interest in South Africa stems from two distinct factors. SAA doesn't fly long haul to the US any longer so there is a gap and premium leisure demand exists, but to a point. The high level of interest in US-South Africa, which otherwise is a small market is due to the fact that the major US carriers, and notably UA, need somewhere to put long haul planes as TPAC service will remain muted for at least another year if not longer and US-China in particular, is likely to never return to 2019 levels.

    1. TM Gold

      It's not exactly the range that is the issue, as CPT-ATL would be no problem for DL's A350s. JNB is the issues because it is a hot and high airport. CPT is nearly at sea level, while JNB is at 5500', so it's take off performance is restricted. Ultimately, DL has figured out how to make it work though, as they've been using A350's on JNB-ATL for months now. It's not clear, or I'm not...

      It's not exactly the range that is the issue, as CPT-ATL would be no problem for DL's A350s. JNB is the issues because it is a hot and high airport. CPT is nearly at sea level, while JNB is at 5500', so it's take off performance is restricted. Ultimately, DL has figured out how to make it work though, as they've been using A350's on JNB-ATL for months now. It's not clear, or I'm not sure at least, whether DL restricts payload for this route, or if they were able to get the necessary performance enhancements for their A350's to make it work. UA made some changes a couple of years ago to their existing 787-9s that made the JNB-EWR route possible for them.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      Airbus is set to deliver some new A350s to Delta that will be better able to take off w/ a full load during the summer at JNB and at high altitude. CPT has a short runway (10k feet which is short for an ultra long haul airport) but it is at sea level.
      UA incorporated performance enhancements to some of its 787-9s that give it better performance at airports like JNB but also more...

      Airbus is set to deliver some new A350s to Delta that will be better able to take off w/ a full load during the summer at JNB and at high altitude. CPT has a short runway (10k feet which is short for an ultra long haul airport) but it is at sea level.
      UA incorporated performance enhancements to some of its 787-9s that give it better performance at airports like JNB but also more range which is part of what allowed it to operate its DEL to ORD flight while avoiding Russian airspace, stretching the trip to over 17 hours.
      It is also important to note that Delta's A350-900s are configured to hold 50 more passengers than United's B787-9s; the A350 is a bigger aircraft.
      Delta got special permission from GE to use the higher thrust levels of the 777-300ER on its 777-200LRs when it used the latter type on its JNB departures and they still had to divert at times during the summer. ATL is about 500 miles further than NYC from S. Africa but DL apparently believes there is more money to be had because of the connections at ATL than they would save by moving the flight to JFK. With summer temps at night slow fading at JNB, DL likely will have more capable aircraft at JNB by next summer in S. Africa.
      The larger capacity of DL's A350s compared to UA's B787s might factor in how the route is awarded, potentially giving UA 4 CPT flights while DL gets 3.

  9. Caroline Guest

    Fly Qatar business class once and you will avoid any of the poor service US airlines even if it takes much longer! Worth every penny for these long-haul flights.

    1. TM Gold

      Sounds great. Spend twice as much time flying and continue to support an autocratic regime notorious for it's human rights abuses. It's a win-win for everybody.

    2. ANTIFA Guest

      Those "autocratic regimes" is the one who gives the citizen free high quality healthcare and free education, when your "land of the free" is exporting civil war and insurgency globally

    3. Mick Guest

      Have to agree. 6509 immigrant workers died building the World Cup stadiums. Not acceptable.

    4. Max Guest

      autocratic regime vs 'democratic' regime both notorious for their human rights abuses

      pick your poison i guess?

  10. Sam Guest

    What idiocy that the South African government isn't allowing unlimited frequencies by US carriers. Since SAA restructured and eliminated inter-continental flying, who are they trying to protect exactly?

    1. Janet Guest

      Please check your facts, it’s the US DOT whom is only allowing limited flights

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      It is a treaty so both sides are limiting flights.

    3. Sean M. Diamond

      It is a less a case of protecting anyone than it is the legacy socialist mindset of a bureaucracy which wants to regulate everything rather than allow market forces to dictate winners and losers. Aviation is hardly unique in the South African economy in that sense, even though this kind of policymaking often hurts their own stakeholders rather than protects them.

      For example, if a South African airline wants to open a new international route...

      It is a less a case of protecting anyone than it is the legacy socialist mindset of a bureaucracy which wants to regulate everything rather than allow market forces to dictate winners and losers. Aviation is hardly unique in the South African economy in that sense, even though this kind of policymaking often hurts their own stakeholders rather than protects them.

      For example, if a South African airline wants to open a new international route they have to apply to the International Air Service Council for a license. Unfortunately, the term of the last council expired during COVID and the Minister of Transport has failed to appoint a new council, nor extend the term of the previous council. As a result, there is no IASC in place at present and therefore no South African carrier (not SAA, not Airlink, not Safair, not Comair, nobody) can apply for traffic rights to open up a new route. Foreign carriers are able to open up new routes to SA, but not the other way around.

      You can have a look at some of my comments on this issue to CGTN recently : https://youtu.be/uX6-9MrRtaI

    4. Ralph4878 Guest

      Right! Because Capitalism worked out really well for American airlines once Reagan freed them from the shackles of regulation - just ask Northwest, USAirways, Continental...oh, and once we hit an international health crisis, the airlines did great, too, right? lol

    5. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Guest

      Maybe it’s got something to do with the USA branding their President Mandela (democratically elected in 1994, Nobel Peace Prize winner, hugely popular in most parts of the world) as a terrorist… right up until 2008…? Perhaps that was “idiocy” also

    6. Ralph4878 Guest

      Now, now, Sir, don't confuse folks with facts about America! ;)

  11. Sam Guest

    Really hope UA gets the spot, though I concede it's unlikely. DL has become unworkable. No award availability, no upgrade availability, crap business class lounges, and a pretty conservative international route network.

    Sure, UA leaves a *lot* to be desired, but at least the PlusPoints upgrades are good, the polaris lounges excellent, and the route network by far the most expansive (internationally) of the US3

    1. TM Gold

      The Delta One A350 seat is leaps and bounds better than the 787 Polaris seat though. And for the majority of pax stuck in Y, the A350 is a better plane.

  12. Terence Guest

    Just waiting for AWE to file for PHX-CPT. Best in class!

  13. Ghostrider5408 Guest

    I would welcome additional services to Cape Town, coming from the mountain states its much better than the other way around. United is one of the least carriers one wants to fly international however given what is going on around us has caused one to lower expectations United being one. And it will be just in time for safari season!

    1. OneLove Guest

      One does love one’s safari season

    2. Leigh Guest

      An FYI, the wildlife live there year-round, they don’t hibernate until the tourists arrive. The only difference is that it’s easier to see them in dry season, when they tend to congregate closer to watering holes. November starts to get wetter, and South African national parks like Kruger are of the “bush” variety, which makes the animal spotting relatively hard…that’s why I prefer Botswana or Zambia in Southern Africa for better viewing experiences.

  14. TravelinWilly Diamond

    Considering UA’s crappy service, I’ll continue to fly any competitor through Europe, the Middle East, or Asia for my trips to/from South Africa.

    1. Watson Gold

      You'd prefer good service over shaving 12 hours off your trip? OK, more award space for me.

    2. reddargon Diamond

      UA's service, while not great, hardly seems bad enough to justify all the extra time flying through Europe would take, let alone the Middle East (!) or Asia (!!). Especially considering I'm asleep for at least half the flight anyway. I'd much rather have more time in South Africa than better service for a few waking hours, but to each his own I guess.

  15. Tim Dunn Diamond

    There is absolutely NO chance that the DOT would award a second route to one carrier to the same city it already serves when another carrier is wanting to add new service.
    The DOT has always favored increased competition over blocking access and protecting incumbents which is what UA is in the CPT market.

  16. mario Guest

    Why are frequencies between SA and US limited?

    1. Hammer Guest

      I don’t think the US and SA have an open skies agreement. If they did, that would eliminate the cap on flights between the two countries

  17. mrl New Member

    I understand why back when SAA operated longhaul flights, the South African government would want to limit frequencies operated by U.S. carriers, but now that SAA is a tiny regional airline, shouldn't it be fairly easy to convince the South African government to expand flight allocations or potentially just adopt open skies? (tbh I still don't understand what arguments there are against open skies beyond protectionist arguments I'd describe as illegitimate - if airlines can't...

    I understand why back when SAA operated longhaul flights, the South African government would want to limit frequencies operated by U.S. carriers, but now that SAA is a tiny regional airline, shouldn't it be fairly easy to convince the South African government to expand flight allocations or potentially just adopt open skies? (tbh I still don't understand what arguments there are against open skies beyond protectionist arguments I'd describe as illegitimate - if airlines can't compete on either price, service, or connectivity, I see no reason that they should be protected).

    1. Sean M. Diamond

      You might be surprised to know that SAA was one of the groups lobbying their own Government to negotiate an open skies agreement with the USA, mainly because the existing BASA put a lot of restrictions on SA carriers with regards to codeshares, etc.. However, the SA Government as a matter of policy was opposed to open skies agreements and it went nowhere. As a result, both sides are stuck trying to apply the terms of a 1990s agreement to a 2020s world.

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Sean M. Diamond

It is a less a case of protecting anyone than it is the legacy socialist mindset of a bureaucracy which wants to regulate everything rather than allow market forces to dictate winners and losers. Aviation is hardly unique in the South African economy in that sense, even though this kind of policymaking often hurts their own stakeholders rather than protects them. For example, if a South African airline wants to open a new international route they have to apply to the International Air Service Council for a license. Unfortunately, the term of the last council expired during COVID and the Minister of Transport has failed to appoint a new council, nor extend the term of the previous council. As a result, there is no IASC in place at present and therefore no South African carrier (not SAA, not Airlink, not Safair, not Comair, nobody) can apply for traffic rights to open up a new route. Foreign carriers are able to open up new routes to SA, but not the other way around. You can have a look at some of my comments on this issue to CGTN recently : https://youtu.be/uX6-9MrRtaI

4
Sean M. Diamond

You might be surprised to know that SAA was one of the groups lobbying their own Government to negotiate an open skies agreement with the USA, mainly because the existing BASA put a lot of restrictions on SA carriers with regards to codeshares, etc.. However, the SA Government as a matter of policy was opposed to open skies agreements and it went nowhere. As a result, both sides are stuck trying to apply the terms of a 1990s agreement to a 2020s world.

4
Tim Dunn Diamond

You mean that Delta is actually taking delivery of airplanes while United waits for Boeing to fix yet another problem. And you really need to figure out where large parts of the 787 are built. You probably don’t want to know that large portions come from, wait, wait. Europe And United has both A350s and A321s on order while Delta is the world’s largest operator of both the 757 and 767 and one of the largest 737 operators. Delta has been a strong proponent of Boeing’s Middle of the Market future aircraft Delta and United both know that aviation is a global business

3
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