Delta Air Lines recently announced plans to launch flights to Cape Town, South Africa. Not so fast, says United Airlines, which has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to award the slots to itself so it can launch new service to Cape Town from Washington Dulles. Who should receive these slots?
Delta Air Lines And United Airlines Both Want The Same Slots To Cape Town, South Africa
In a regulatory filing released on Friday, United Airlines proposes year-round, 3x-weekly, new service between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Cape Town (CPT) starting on November 17, 2022. The flight would operate according to the following schedule:
- Washington (IAD) – Cape Town (CPT), 6:30PM – 4:15PM+1
- Cape Town (CPT) – Washington Dulles (IAD), 9:00PM – 6:00AM+1
The problem for United? Only four unused slots remain and Delta has already requested three of them for its Atlanta (ATL) to Cape Town service.
The USA and South Africa do not have an Open Skies agreement. Instead, a bilateral agreement governs air service between the two nations and currently limits the number of flights per week (a limit to protect entrenched flag carrier South Africa Airways, which is not even currently operating to the United States).
United figures it won’t get 3/4 open slots, and has suggested that DOT split the baby and award two slots to Delta and two to United. It further argues that the new route would facilitate government-to-government connections and provide more competition against Delta, which has offered more service than any other U.S. carrier to Africa for many years. Finally, United points out that (unlike Delta) it has partnered with Airlink to provide onward connections to over a dozen cities.
Arguably, this makes sense because if Delta was awarded all three slots, United would be unlikely to operate the flight once per week. Second, United is proposing to fly to Cape Town year-round from Dulles, while the Delta service would be seasonal.
The ideal solution for consumers—and frankly for South Africa—is that more slots be allocated. It would be great to see both Delta and United add three flights per week, especially as South African Airways no longer serves Washington Dulles or New York JFK.
United wants to fly nonstop from Washington to Cape Town, arguing its route should have precedence over Delta’s proposed route from Atlanta to Cape Town. The DOT must now decide whether to award the remaining slots to Delta, United, or award each carrier two slots. Delta has not responded to United’s latest new route request.