Delta Air Lines again applies for authority to operate Cape Town flights

Feb 17, 2022

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Delta Air Lines once again wants to fly to Cape Town, South Africa.

The carrier on Thursday filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation for government approval to operate nonstop flights from its hub at Atlanta (ATL), a move that comes even as Delta continues to seek approval for a triangular Atlanta-Johannesburg-Cape Town route that was previously rejected by South African regulators.

If approved, the standard round trip from Atlanta to Cape Town (CPT) would be the airline’s second destination in South Africa, after Johannesburg (JNB), which it already serves from Atlanta.

With its latest proposal, Delta hopes to begin Atlanta-Cape Town service on Nov. 18 and is planning to operate it three times a week. It will tentatively depart Atlanta at 8:45 p.m. and arrive at Cape Town at 6:45 p.m. the next day, all times local. The return flight will depart Cape Town at 9 p.m. and arrive in Atlanta at 6:25 a.m. the next day. It’s planning for the Cape Town route to operate year-round.

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Delta plans to use its flagship Airbus A350-900 aircraft for the ultra-long-haul route. Delta’s configuration features 32 Delta One Suites, 48 seats in Delta Premium Select, 36 extra legroom Comfort+ seats and 190 economy seats.

Delta tried in 2020 and 2021 to launch an Atlanta-Johannesburg-Cape Town-Atlanta triangle route, but shelved the idea when it failed to win the approval of the South African government. Instead, it operates nonstop to Johannesburg. Thursday’s filing noted that Delta is still technically seeking South African government approval for the triangle route. Delta last operated flights to Cape Town in 2009, with a stop in Dakar, Senegal (DKR).

In a statement, Delta said it hoped to receive approval for what it calls an “important route.”

“Delta has submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation for three times weekly service between Atlanta and Cape Town,” the airline said. “As always, we seek to build our flight schedules and network around where our customers want to fly. We hope to receive approval to operate nonstop Delta service on this important route.”

Delta’s filing comes a week after United Airlines announced it would begin serving Cape Town from its Newark (EWR) hub, year-round, three times weekly. That flight, which began right before the COVID-19 pandemic, resumed in December. Like Delta, United also flies to Johannesburg. The Chicago-based Star Alliance carrier uses Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft for its South Africa routes.

As for Delta’s initial plan for the triangle route, that came because flying an A350 from Johannesburg to Atlanta initially presented the carrier with a problem. Due to Johannesburg’s high elevation, the A350 couldn’t reach Atlanta at maximum payload. That’s why the carrier originally proposed the tag flight to Cape Town, where it could refuel at sea level before beginning the 8,130-mile trek back to the U.S. But with Delta having already having started the Atlanta-Johannesburg service, even with any payload restrictions that could affect the return, the carrier also now seems set on adding Cape Town one way or the other.

More: The ultimate guide to Delta One Suites

With Delta’s filing and United’s announcement, it’s clear that U.S. airlines are banking on increased travel demand to South Africa, especially as South African Airways continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic without any overseas routes.

Featured photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images.

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