When Delta Air Lines announced plans to retire its 777-200 fleet, one unanswered question was the status of its longest flight, Atlanta to Johannesburg. But Delta has come up with a creative “triangle route” solution that puts immediate pressure on United Airlines.
Delta Will Fly Atlanta – Johannesburg – Cape Town – Atlanta Triangle Route
With the 777-200 fleet on the chopping fleet, Delta is not left with a reliable aircraft that can fly nonstop from Johannesburg to Atlanta. The 8,439 flight alone is not a problem, but strong headwinds traveling west plus the high altitude of Johannesburg make this a very difficult route on the A350-900ULR, Delta’s new (and still undelivered) longest range aircraft.
In a smart solution, Delta has announced that it will continue nonstop service to Johannesburg, but the return flight to Atlanta will make a stop in Cape Town. That allows Delta to offer service to both cities and eliminates and concerns about the return, since Cape Town to Atlanta is 8,130 miles and Cape Town is at a much lower altitude than Johannesburg.
Delta has not announced a start date for the new service, but my guess is early 2021. Wintertime in North America is summertime in South Africa, a period of typically high demand. Furthermore, Delta’s 777 retirement was not immediate, but will take by the end of 2020.
Will United’s Cape Town – Newark Service Return?
United launched Newark to Cape Town service for the first time this winter and the flight was a success. With so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, United has not confirmed if Cape Town service will return again (though the flight is in the schedule), but Delta’s move puts further pressure on United to make a decision.
With the future of South African Airways uncertain, United may be left as the sole nonstop operator between New York and South Africa. It would seem silly, as long as borders do re-open, not to bring this flight back.
In fact, perhaps United should consider its own triangle flight from Newark to Johannesburg to Cape Town to Newark. Whether United chooses to stick to Cape Town, serve both cities with a triangle flight, or serve both cities separately, this will be an early indication of new CEO Scott Kirby’s aggressiveness to battle Delta head-on.
Delta’s new route announcement is exciting (and a great use of Virgin Atlantic miles). We’re still waiting on more details, but expect the service to begin this winter. Now United must decide if it wants to compete head-on or cede the route to its competitor.
(H/T: Edward Russell // image: Delta)
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