United Airlines Returns To Africa With Seasonal Cape Town Flights (Now Bookable)

Filed Under: United

United Airlines has been investing a lot in ultra long haul flying lately, as the airline has launched routes like Houston to Sydney and San Francisco to Singapore.

In mid-April the airline announced yet another ultra long haul flight, which sees the airline returning to Africa (United last flew to Africa via their Houston to Lagos route, which was discontinued a few years back).

United plans to operate 3x weekly seasonal nonstop flights between Newark and Cape Town between December 15, 2019, and March 25, 2020. A couple of weeks ago United Airlines had only applied for the authority to operate the route, though the new flight is bookable as of today.

United plans to use a Boeing 787-9 for the route, featuring 48 business class seats and 204 economy seats. Unfortunately no 787-9s feature United’s new Polaris seats yet, so you can expect this flight will feature United’s old business class seats.

United’s current 787-9 business class

The flight will operate with the following schedule:

Newark to Cape Town departing 8:30PM arriving 6:00PM (+1 day) [Wed, Fri, Sun]
Cape Town to Newark departing 8:50PM arriving 5:45AM (+1 day) [Mon, Thu, Sat]

This flight will cover a distance of 7,817 miles, making it one of United’s longest flights.

United’s VP of International Network had the following to say regarding the route:

“We are always looking at ways to expand our industry-leading international route network to offer our customers more convenient options. We’re thrilled to announce the addition of Africa to our global route offering. This new flight will provide customers with the only nonstop service between the United States and Cape Town.”

What a fascinating route this is. While Johannesburg is the business hub of South Africa, Cape Town is most popular with tourists, so clearly this is targeted at leisure travelers. There are tons of New Yorkers looking to go to South Africa, and I could see this route working very well for United.

United Airlines partners with both South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, which offer one-stop service from the US to Cape Town on various routes. However, this is much more convenient for New Yorkers. For reference, the only other US airline flying nonstop to South Africa is Delta, as they operate a year-round Atlanta to Johannesburg route (as of 2021 Delta will also fly to Cape Town).

It’s so great to see United actually try some new ultra long haul flights, rather than just sticking with safe bets. Their strategy seems to be working, or else they wouldn’t keep adding more flights of this length.

Now that United’s flight to Cape Town is bookable, the bad news is that award seats are priced quite high. One-way economy awards start at 70,000 miles, while business class award start at 207,000 miles. Hopefully the prices drop over time, though I wouldn’t count on it.

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

  1. Perfect seasonal opportunity. Cape Town in the Northern Hemisphere winter/ Southern hemisphere summer, more seasonal Europe flying in the Northern summer

  2. So long as UA does not offer F or a good C product on that route, I’d rather fly LH thru FRA.

  3. @Kevin – honestly I’d rather fly United’s old C seat than LH’s new C seat… Between the limited and awkward foot well on the seats that angle towards eachother and the fact that LH keeps their cabins at 80 degrees… I can’t get any good sleep on their flights. F is another story but not something I regularly fly.

  4. The route looks pleasing to the eye on a map, slicing the Atlantic into two halves 🙂

  5. @jetset …. long story short …. I’m fortunate that I can flyLH F. I’d take a shorter flight if C were a good product. But I’ll triple the flight time (requires a 12-hour stop in FRA) so long as UA offers the crappy product.

  6. @Kevin – in that case I would most certainly fly the longer routing for LH F 🙂 That’s a significant difference in product (not to mention service…).

  7. @Aaron – I was talking about business class not economy (was referring to C as in the business fare class though realize typically J is used in that case vs. Y for economy)

  8. Saw over the weekend that UA plans to start upgrading the 787-9 & 787-8 fleet with the new Polaris seats in Q4 2019…..

  9. @Matt C – If I recall correctly, Ethiopian has stops only from Addis Ababa to its US destinations, not on the way back.

  10. As a regular on the ATL-JNB route (en route for business in CPT), this is most-welcome. Cape Town has been lobbying for a while for a direct flight to the states.

    I think the last non-stop from the US-CPT (in the 90s) was from MIA on AA? Correct me if I’m wrong, please!

    However, once the new suites hit the 77L on the DL ATL-JNB route, I will stick with that.

    When UA upgrades these seats, I may be keen to try it!

  11. I think those little gauze flaps that some airline seats have look so cheap and dirty. Like, who came up with that?

  12. @Robert Schrader

    The idea is that they get replaced between flights (attached by velcro) and are therefore much cleaner than a regular headrest.

  13. @peter brown- so are you saying united shouldn’t take advantage of what will be a profitable opportunity? Sorry, that’s not how this works.

    @jetset @kevin- while Lufthansa does fly to Cape Town from Munich and Frankfurt, it doesn’t use / offer F. Only J. I’d rather fly nonstop.

  14. The UA product really looks so outdated by 15 years. What the heck were the executives thinking. The seats themselves maybe comfortable but to choose that blue color and ugly headrest is terrible.

    LH is definitely a preferable product. People complain about the open foot wells but they actually give you more room and are not confined like you are in the Reverse herringbone seats. And too the eye the seat color doesn’t put me off.

  15. Would love to fly this route (especially love the timing… leaving NYC after work on a Friday).
    The time saved is enough for me to justify United J vs a European peer (at least for one leg)… would likely try for Turkish, Qatar, or Etihad on the return.

    Problem is I’m assuming low saver availability like most United routes, although maybe there is a chance at J space given its a leisure route.

  16. @SBS

    I’m guessing it would but would also be curious about this.

    What would their diversion point be otherwise? Wind can definitely be a variable in CPT and can delay flights certain times of year.

    I would be curious to know what their plan would be in that sense… Windhoek? Ouch for logistics.

  17. @B The same diversion airports that everyone else uses ;-). Crew are updated before departure and throughout the flight up to the last minute and they still have reserve fuel to take them elsewhere for up to 1-2 hours depending upon when they abandon the CPT approach.

    flightradar24.com is your friend.

  18. For those of us who live in DC area, still more convenient to take the daily Ethiopian flight via Addis.

  19. @Jordan-

    Totally understand what you’re saying- I guess I said that thinking equally in terms of IRROPS. Most of the European carriers and obviously SAA fly to both CPT and JNB so they have crews, fleets, and outstations regularly there. I guess for United if they got diverted anywhere else it could seem like a more major issue?

    Of course emergency landings happen- but I guess I was thinking for example if the plane had to go on to JNB, for instance, it would suck for IRROPS.

  20. For those of us living on the west coast, I guess I’ll stick with Emirates F to dbx then to cpt or BA F to lhr then to cpt. Although once United uses the real Polaris seat, I may give it a go via EWR.

  21. @Aaron

    I’m sure there are people on here flying international coach.

    As far as *this* UA hard product vs Lufthansa’s long haul business class product? Normally I would choose Lufthansa, but a direct flight could give UA the edge.

  22. SAA still operates the daily between JFK – JNB. Did that in Y 8 years back, wasn’t too terrible on their A346. For the hop to/from Cape Town, the transit at JNB wasn’t too bad. Flew the IAD-JNB route as well but the stopover at Dakar was irritating.

    Not sure I’d want to squeeze in Y for that long on United though……and I’m not sure how Newark is more convenient for New Yorkers versus JFK.

  23. @ Erik: LOLLOLLOLLOL #agree

    @ Matt: Every friend of mine who lives IN NYC says that EWR is more convenient then JFK, but if you want to experience [almost] anything other then CAL/UA you have to make the trek out to JFK…

    @ Johnny ampton: Who made most of those decisions, old, notoriously cheap Continental Airlines executives…Remember, they kept the United name, but almost all of the EVP’s and Sr VP’s were brought on from Continental…They brought that cheap mentality with them…

  24. Again, this kind of route on a crappy F/J product is pointless for me, the key is getting low economy fares. If that’s what happens then I’ll fly econ on this route. Otherwise, waste of points imo I’ll pay extra for premium economy.

  25. No mention of the new CX route via Hong Kong. That would be my first choice from the West Coast.

    The other option is SAA from JFK or IAD to JNB with a short stop connection to CPT. Have taken these flights and, although long, have been very enjoyable. No promise that SAA will be flying in a year but assume that they will. In the recent past one of my best meals in J was on SAA, even more tasty than a recent CX F flight from HKG to YVR.

  26. @Azamaraal – interesting about the HKG route, but that’s still 30 hours of flying (without connecting time), vs about 20 hours on United. CX is way better than United, of course, but unless I’m already going to Asia, even from the west coast I’d rather have the shorter flying time.

  27. @ Azamaraal, LAX-ATL-JNB-CPT is the best I’ve found for jet lag and use of time. Will be great when the DL 77LRs are reconfigured to suites.

    Flew through HKG one time this year on the new flight (LAX-HKG-CPT) and it was obviously very comfortable but the jet lag was significantly worse with the timing of things. Great to stop over in HKG for a day though. Makes for a diverse trip!

  28. Also, connecting LAX-AMS-CPT is okay, but I personally hate that none of the flights have wifi for now. Makes for an unproductive and boring few days of flying.

    Sometimes too, the LAX / SFO- AMS segment forces an overnight in AMS due to AMS-CPT and AMS-JNB being a day flight. If you take this routing at the right time of year though, you have a few hours on the ground in AMS and it certainly is well-timed and relatively easy for jet lag.

  29. @Reed – if they didnt think it would, they wouldnt schedule it. what kind of question is that? United uses a 787 from SFO to SIN, which is longer, and also over the ocean. Was that a seriousl question?

  30. Nice! I don’t want to hub in JNB if I don’t have to… we had some things stolen from our luggage while transiting there and talked to South Africans who said that is not unusual. Cape Town has long been a hot international tourist destination with decent connectivity to Europe so nice to see a non-stop option to the U.S. now. More international non-stops to Cape Town and Durban are always welcome!

  31. Each to his own, but I agree with Matt. I’ve flown up front quite a bit (most recently three long-haul flights in Q-Suites) and often feel it is a waste of points on US domestic carriers. If I can get a deal in the back (just returned from Tahiti for 28K miles each way booked during a United special), I am happy. In some respects, I know exactly what I am going to get in E+, and I am rarely surprised either way. I remember flying “real Polaris” shortly after it came out from EWR to NRT, and wondering how United could have screwed up the soft product so badly compared with the four flights I had just taken in J between EWR and HKG on CX.

    So, if I can get a good deal in the back, I’ll be OK. If I can get in the front on points on a decent airline, I will be happy. Unfortunately, 70K miles in economy from EWR to CPT on United is far from a good deal.

  32. I am a regular flyer Cape Town to Aspen. LH has been very disappointing with business class comfort and meal service. I travel UA which is much better in these categories. The Dreamliner is the most amazi g plane too, which I use across the pacific by choice.
    Can’ t wait to try the dirct flight. I never use miles. But a few class seats for the Long flight would be nice.

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