World Airline News reports that United Airlines will start flying from Chicago O’Hare to Johannesburg, South Africa in March 2024.
United Airlines currently flies from Newark to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, and from Washington Dulles to Cape Town. Newark – Johannesburg is the airline’s second longest route.
The longest distance that United Airlines currently flies is 8,446 miles on board San Francisco – Singapore. That’s a sixteen and a half hour flight (an hour less on the return from Singapore).
Chicago to Johannesburg would clock in at 8,708 miles. That would be the ninth longest flight in the world, but the longest by any U.S. airline.
- The aircraft they would use, the Boeing 787-9, can make the journey. Qantas flies the aircraft 9,009 miles from Perth in Western Australia to London Heathrow.
- However Qantas doesn’t pack in their planes as much as United does. There are 236 seats on a Qantas Boeing 787-9, but 21 more seats in United’s configuration. That limits range somewhat. I wouldn’t be surprised to see such a flight weight restricted.
The longest flights in the world are all operated by variants of the Airbus A350, such as New York JFK to Singapore non-stop on Singapore Airlines which is 9,542 miles.
United is the only U.S. carrier that’s been interested in consistently operating ultra-long haul. American Airlines flies New York JFK to Delhi, though India flights can be challenging from the U.S. without Russian overflight (United operates to India as well). United even operates Houston – Sydney seasonally in winter, and that is about 150 miles longer than their San Francisco – Singapore flight.
Still, I’m surprised by the report that United plans to offer this flight.
- They already serve South Africa from Washington Dulles (Cape Town). An additional Dulles service to South Africa would seem to be in the offing first, since it’s closer.
- Chicago doesn’t seem like a big market for South Africa. Currently United’s Star Alliance partner Ethiopian offers six day a week service to Addis Ababa (and onward connections).
- United is likely to pick up the bulk of the Chicago connecting market to South Africa via its two East Coast gateways already, so it’s not clear how additive this flight would be?
A Long Way To Go In United Economy
Ultra long haul flights require big fares to justify the crew, fuel and aircraft time. I haven’t plotted out United’s existing South Africa service to see whether they have long ground times currently and might be able to ‘save an aircraft’ by adding another strategically-timed route. Nevertheless it’s still a lot of flying, pushing the limits of the aircraft in their configuration, and would be their longest flight if it happens.