August 12, 2022

We can expect significantly more nonstop service between the United States and Cape Town as of later this year, thanks to some negotiating on the part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Delta & United have been fighting over Cape Town

Earlier this year, both Delta and United announced that they wanted to add flights to Cape Town as of November 2022:

  • Delta wanted to launch 3x weekly Airbus A350 flights between Atlanta and Cape Town, complementing the carrier’s Atlanta to Johannesburg route
  • United wanted to launch 3x weekly Boeing 787 flights between Washington and Cape Town, complementing the carrier’s Newark to Johannesburg and Newark to Cape Town routes

There was only one small issue — the bilateral agreement between the United States and South Africa limits the number of flights that can operate between the two countries, and there was only room for up to four additional weekly frequencies.

So both Delta and United had to plead their case with the Department of Transportation, as to why they should be granted permission to operate these flights. As is often the case, it got pretty nasty between the two airlines.

The DOT had to decide whether one airline should get all the slots, or whether the slots should be split between the airlines (though two weekly frequencies are probably hard for airlines to get excited about).

Delta wants to launch Atlanta to Cape Town flights

DOT comes through, gets enough slots for both airlines

The Department of Transportation has made its decision about Cape Town service, and the winner is… well, both Delta and United.

Over the course of this proceeding, the Department of Transportation has been in communication with counterparts in South Africa, seeking to negotiate an exchange of extrabilateral opportunities.

Two additional frequencies were requested, given the increase in demand for passenger service to South Africa. The Department of Transport of South Africa has granted two extra frequencies, upon certain conditions being met. It’s expected that this will happen.

With this, the Department of Transportation has a total of six South Africa slots to award, and those will be split between Delta and United. This means that Delta can operate 3x weekly flights between Atlanta and Cape Town, and United can operate 3x weekly flights between Washington and Cape Town.

South African authorities have until August 15, 2022, to officially authorize this. So only time will tell whether US airlines tentatively put these flights on sale before then, or if they wait until the official permission is granted before selling flights.

United wants to launch Washington to Cape Town flights

Bottom line

Delta and United have been fighting for the right to add Cape Town flights, as they were competing for a finite number of slots. The great news is that the DOT was able to negotiate additional slots, meaning that both airlines can get what they want.

Expect that as of November 2022, Delta will launch an Atlanta to Cape Town route, while United will launch a Washington to Cape Town flight. It’s exciting to see additional service direct to Cape Town, especially given the struggles the South African aviation industry is having (complicating connectivity within the country).

What do you make of Delta and United both being granted Cape Town flights?

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