United Airlines Will Fly to South Africa – But Not Johannesburg!

United has made a lot of investments in flying long haul. They fly non-stop to Singapore, and Houston – Sydney. Not all of their bets have worked. For instance they’ve abandoned Los Angeles – Singapore non-stop (bulking up their San Francisco flying) and Houston – Sydney service has been cut back.

In contrast American Airlines hasn’t launched anything really long haul since they added Los Angeles – Hong Kong to their Dallas – Hong Kong service. American flies to Sydney and to Auckland, something they’ve scaled back waiting on the US government to approve their joint venture with Qantas.

While American’s executives have been talking more about India (and Africa) they avoid service – especially long haul service – where they don’t have a connecting partner on the other end. That’s why the best bet for American Airlines to serve Africa will be Morocco.

United’s Star Alliance has partners in Africa already – Ethiopian and South African – and United is willing to experiment long haul.

Copyright: tupungato / 123RF Stock Photo

Even though their South Africa partner is exceptionally weak – indeed, perhaps because South African Airways is so weak – United is launching Newark – Cape Town service.

Currently South African flies daily non-stop New York JFK – Johannesburg. United stopped serving Africa 3 years ago with the end of Houston – Lagos, Nigeria service.

The new United service will commence December 15, operated with a Boeing 787-9.

From To Depart Arrive Aircraft
New York/Newark Cape Town 8:30 p.m. 6:00 p.m. +1 Boeing 787-9
Cape Town New York/Newark 8:50 p.m. 5:45 a.m. +1 Boeing 787-9

South Africa is struggling. Cape Town especially has struggled. The usual play to fly to South Africa would be Johannesburg, picking up connecting feed there from South Africa Airways. Cape Town non-stop is an unusual play.

Indeed, there’s very little non-stop service from Europe to Cape Town. For instance British Airways flies from London (South African no longer serves the route). KLM serves it from Amsterdam. There’s non-daily service from Frankfurt and Paris and non-daily Edelweiss service from Zurich. A US non-stop will be a first. This is certainly a gamble but United has seemed to be in a gambling mood, willing to experiment, fail, and adjust their route network.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You dont mention a key detail – that this is a seasonal flight being flown during the peak demand period from the U.S. I was just there and the place was TEAMING with Americans. It’ll do fine, and I’m sure it’ll be somewhat similar to the SFO-PPT flight they launched – good premium demand up front.

  2. Lufthansa also flies to Cape Town from Munich.

    So – London, Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich, Munich, Frankfurt. All of Europe’s most important hubs. Not bad.

  3. No tourist or vacationer wants to be in JNB in December. CPT is amazing in December. Still, JNB makes sense for business travelers I guess.

  4. Sure, it’s a gamble for UA, but as a frequent traveler to South Africa (from North America) I think it is a great idea, considering the DL route ATL-JNB is really popular and almost always $1500+ for a coach seat!

    Usually I do the North America-Europe-South Africa route and schedule my flights with an 18-23 hour layover in Europe, so I can get a hotel room, catch up on some sleep and recover from jetlag, before preceding onwards to South Africa, which is in the same time zone as LHR/FRA/AMS/MUC.
    I can find those coach tix for well under $1,000-, a considerable savings.

  5. If you didn’t mean for your list to be exhaustive, why bother listing out a handful cities? Irresponsible.

  6. Fingers crossed that this works — the USA could certainly use more service to southern Africa — but I’m skeptical. I figure if there was any money to be made flying across the Atlantic to Cape Town, South African would already be doing it somewhere. And throw in the seasonal aspect of this, and I doubly-skeptical.

    I kind of thought UA might CHALLENGE South African by offering an EWR-JNB flight, but I guess not.

    Before this flight launches, the fastest way to CPT if you’re not in NYC (with South African’s nonstop to JNB) or ATL (Delta’s) is to fly Europe and then fly nonstop to CPT. No doubling back this way. But it’s still a loooong way.

    I’ve always thought AA could someday offer a flight to South Africa from MIA, but maybe there’s not enough fee for that.

  7. With regard to “There’s very little non-stop service from Europe to Cape Town”, that’s how it looks when looking at the airlines mentioned in the blog post. But after considering the package:/charter tourist flights too, say from the likes of Thomas Cook, there may be a lot more non-stop service to Cape Town than at first meets the eye.

  8. Cape Town is very well regarded as a tourist town and is the safest city in South Africa. It has the highest population of white South Africans at about 50%. Johannesburg is filled with high crime and violence and should be avoided.

  9. @Judy Link to point out that service from Frankfurt, Paris, etc is non-daily.

    @GUWonder it’s a city that works in the european leisure market, all the more interesting for United to jump in

  10. initially i was totally caught by surprise (I would’ve guessed EWR-JNB myself), but it seems like a decent strategy

    even though there’s no JV between UA and SA, they still have a cordial, almost minimalist, code-sharing relationship. This way the 2 airlines could offer complimentary service, and for whoever actually needs to conduct business at JNB, a long flight to CPT with a quick connect to JNB isn’t’ that horrible. In fact, EWR-CPT-JNB is 8607mi while the same pax connecting ATL is 9185mi and FRA is 9249mi.

    Sure, it’s still 7.7% longer than the nonstop offered by SAA, but by going CPT, UA avoids much of the headache regarding JNB’s hot-n-high property. At 7819mi, seat blocking should be minimal …. certainly nothing like the IAH-SYD or SFO-SIN monsters.

    ps : RIP ND

  11. John rogers,

    Going to CPT to pick up women? Or was that some other FTer’s thing while playing the miles and points game to do so?

  12. Not really sure why there is skepticism here, and why so much focus on connecting feed. CPT is a big high-end tourist destination. Lots of rich people from New York want to go there and hang out at wineries and stuff. A couple hundred of them fills a plane. Simple.

    This is exactly the sort of route that the 787 was designed for.

  13. Gary, when will United load nonstop EWR-CPT onto their website? RN it is not even showing?!?!?!

  14. South Africa is always amazing — been three times now — and a nonstop flight on a 787 from EWR to Cape Town is *VERY* attractive — this gets you to wine country, to beaches, to Western Cape, and also within driving distance of Namibia for those who prefer not to fly to Netherlands or Germany to connect for Windhoek service. That said what I liked last year about Johannesburg was the speed with which I deplaned, got through immigration, got a SIM card from the Vodacom shop, and got my rental car — total time less than an hour and I’m not making this up. Then flew to Cape Town a few days later … a much different world and a much smaller airport with one runway.

    You’ll always hear endless negative news about South Africa but its greatest asset are its people who are incredible and I’ve never had a bad day or a bad experience in any of the 25+ places I’ve visited there.

  15. Cape Town is a beautiful lively city, with world-class restaurants and great hotels

    The parliament of South Africa is in Cape Town

    Is the perfect gateway to exploring the wineries, Cape Point, the unique biodiversity protected areas, the World Heritage Sites, the Fynbos ecosystem…

  16. If your gonna take a trip to SA it’s best to plan on staying 3-4 weeks and visit Capetown, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls, Krueger National Park, the wine district (stellenbosch) travel the Garden Route and maybe Namibia or Durban. If your going to spend 1500+ round trip and besides the rand to the US Dollar is night and day. The Rand will get u so much more for less than the American dollar. My opinion Delta provides the best service of the 3 main US Carriers and have taken the ATL-JNB-ATL flight numerous times he’ll it’s better than SAA service JFK-JNB or Dulles-Dakar-JNB

  17. My husband and I have been to South Africa over a dozen times for both business and pleasure trips. We also took small groups of friends an family there for over half of those dozen trips. We live on the West Coast of the US. Getting there is always long and tedious – even in Business Class which we were not always privy to enjoy. We flew mostly out of DC and a couple of times out of NYC. We were going to try Brazil but they stopped the service before we could book it. Bottom line, we love it there. We haven’t been there now for almost 7 years. We are eager to return and were overjoyed when we saw the new routing. Our business travel is very limited now (it was our own company and business hosts that paid the bills previously) and we must now use mileage and our lifetime status for anything comfortable. JNB is a workable option for us. I look forward to finding the best alternative for us now.

  18. Key detail – United does not have a plane capable of US-JNB (altitude) which is why they choose CPT (sealevel). DL uses the 777LR – only this version of the 777 can do this – everyone else uses A340 or 747 (4 engines). No 787 will ever fly US-JNB (not until they come out with a LR version)

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