United Wants To Fly Washington Dulles – Cape Town. They Also Want To Block Delta.

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.

(HT: @IshrionA)

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. Actually, SAA v1 had been the one lobbying their own government for an Open Skies agreement with the USA because the existing agreement put significant restrictions on their ability to codeshare, but they had resistance from within Department of Transport. The existing BASA is a complete dog’s breakfast trying to apply 1990s conditions into a 2020s reality.

  2. There is ZERO chance that the DOT would award a second route to Cape Town to United when there are other carriers that want to provide service to the same city. The DOT’s policy has ALWAYS been to increase the competitiveness of air service and NOT to increase the grip of any carrier over a particular market.

    And Hunter Keay of Wolfe Research updated his models of airline financials for 2022 based on $100/bbl oil (it is actually at $115 right now) and he expects United to BURN a staggering $6 billion in cash this year – by far the largest in the US industry and 1/3 higher than American.

    United badly miscalculated on regional jets and is set to spend tens of billions of dollars to restructure its fleet which will add magnificently to its debt. They have gone all in on throwing international capacity back into the market and have built their costs around that increased capacity that cannot be profitable at these kinds of fuel prices.

    United will figure out by summer that it either needs to dramatically restructure its strategies or will do it in bankruptcy.

  3. Yeah, @ Tim Dunn, yeah, you’re right. I assume the right strategy is to fly old rattling crap into the sunset as the game plan to follow. Brand new hi tech fleet!! Yuck!! Who would ever want to fly that airline instead of Delta….Said no one ever!!!

  4. Gravelly point,
    not sure what your point is but UA is operating B787s to S. Africa while DL is using A350s. Both are as advanced as it gets.
    The difference is really about competition.
    The DOT never awards a route to an airline to block a competitor but rather to maximize competition.

    The US and S. Africa have 21 flights/day max that they can use right now. DL and UA are each allocated 7 for JNB which leaves 7 for CPT. It is, at worst, 4 for one and 3 for the other.

    And you still miss the point that one of the best industry analysts expect United to burn $6 billion in cash this year. They clearly need to NOT fly a whole lot of flights they are flying, fly others that can make money, and get costs out in a massive way. United’s plan to dump tons of capacity into international markets as part of its recovery was flawed from the day it was announced; AA has been much slower because of 787 delays which have been a blessing to it – and perhaps why AA is expected to lose a whole lot less money than United which is itself a shock to many.

    Delta clearly makes money in S. Africa which is why United wants in. But the DOT has standards of competition and it isn”t really the least bit possible that the DOT would change its guidelines and award more than half of the frequencies to any carrier. and that principle has nothing to do with S. Africa.

  5. My first reaction: Last time I checked, United doesn’t have the authority to block Delta from using the extra slots. That power lies with the DOT, so the whole question is moot. Therefore your headline, “Why Is This Even An Issue?” is spot on. My initial response is: Why make such a fuss about it? But, arguing with myself a bit, and in fairness to you, your broader point does deserve discussion. These restrictions do seem to be overkill.

    The following comment is admittedly picky: You wrote, “United says THEIR service would be better.” With all due respect, the sentence should read, “United says ITS service would be better.” The word (and airline) “United” is singular. The word “their” is plural. There’s really no excuse for someone who touts himself as a “thought leader” to make basic grammatical errors. If Brett Snyder can consistently use proper grammar, why can’t you? Before you get defensive, I know I need to find better things to do with my time, and maybe I’m just old-fashioned. LOL!

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