Aviation: United Airlines wants to fly to South Africa
United Airlines today announced that it would like to fly nonstop between New York-Newark and Cape Town, South Africa beginning in December 2019.
The carrier says that it would like to serve the nonstop route three times weekly using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jet, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This would be the only nonstop flight between the U.S. and Cape Town. From the U.S., Delta and South African Airways (Star Alliance) fly nonstop to Johannesburg only.
The flight time between Newark and Cape Town is about 16 hours, which would likely make it one of United’s longest nonstops in terms of hours flying. It’s about 8,000 miles from New York to Cape Town (as the crow flies). By comparison, Singapore is about 8,450 miles from San Francisco, one of United’s longest flights.
United says that removing that stop in Johannesburg will cut travel time between New York and Cape Town by about four hours. Flight time between Cape Town and Johannesburg is about two hours.
If approved by the government, United would begin service between Newark and South Africa on December 15. The flight would depart Newark at 8:30 pm and arrive in Cape Town at 6 pm the following day. On the return, the flight would depart CPT at 8:50 pm and arrive in New York/Newark at 5:45 am.
To get to Cape Town from San Francisco now, it’s easiest to fly over Europe or Dubai, where one-stop roundtrips in May are going for $800-$1,000 in economy class. Business class is relatively cheap, too at about $4,300 round trip.
United has not announced any fare information, and likely will not until governmental approvals for the flights are secured. What’s really interesting for frequent fliers though, is how many miles United will charge to fly nonstop to Cape Town. By December, the United’s award chart will have vaporized, and awards will be priced on what the market will bear.
Cape Town and the Bay Area have a lot in common, with similar topography, climate, food & wine as well as a shared focus on tech. Greater Cape Town (with 3.75 million residents) is known as “The Silicon Cape,” and home to nearly 500 tech companies employing 40,000 to 50,000 workers. It is now considered Africa’s tech capital, according to Wesgro, the area’s tourism, trade, and investment promotions agency. Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, has about 4.5 million inhabitants, and is considered its primary business center.
There’s no getting around the fact that Cape Town is far away from San Francisco– currently total minimum travel time is about 24 hours no matter how you slice and dice it. A United nonstop to Newark, then a change of planes to Cape Town could help reduce that to maybe 20-22 hours.
If approved, flights could go on sale, or be available for award travel by May.