United Airlines has asked the government for authority to fly Washington Dulles – Cape Town, South Africa three times a week using a Boeing 787-9, effective November 17, 2022. They already offer scheduled service from Newark to both Cape Town and Johannesburg. But they may not be allowed to do this.
Here’s the schedule they’re proposing:
- Washington Dulles – Cape Town, 6:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.+1
- Cape Town – Washington Dulles, 9:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. +1
Boeing 787-9s Should All Have Polaris Seats By The Time This Service Begins
United May Not Get 3 Flights A Week, But May Keep Delta From Operating 3
Here’s where things get interesting. There are (4) unused weekly frequencies to South Africa that are available to U.S. airlines for the government to dole out. Delta wants 3 of them to fly Atlanta – Cape Town, and United wants 3 of them to fly Washington Dulles – Cape Town. (Delta flies to Johannesburg already, United flies to both major cities in South Africa.)
United says their service would be better. They’d offer it year-round, but not really because they want the option to run it only seasonally. And they seem to know that they’re not going to get what they’re asking for, because they also suggest giving them 2 weekly flights and Delta 2 weekly flights.
There’s a reasonable argument that the split would benefit passengers most because it would mean using all available frequencies for flights, rather than granting three frequencies to one airline and leaving one weekly flight unused. It’s hard to make a route work just once a week (there are fixed costs where it helps to amortize over more flights).
United’s stance would squat on allowable frequencies, precluding any new entrants on the U.S. side into the U.S. – South Africa market. It would also block Delta from getting everything it wants.
Why Is This Even An Issue?
The United States has ‘Open Skies’ agreements with 131 countries, allowing U.S. airlines to fly to those countries (more or less) as they wish and allowing those countries access to the U.S. as well. There is no U.S. – South Africa Open Skies treaty.
Instead, there’s bilateral agreement on flights that can be offered. South Africa limits how much U.S. airlines can fly, which seems insane on its face – more flights from the U.S. would be unquestionably good for its economy. More competition, though, wouldn’t necessarily be good for the historically inept and corrupt South African Airways. More importantly it doesn’t clearly benefit those in power.