Delta delays its much-anticipated tag flight to Cape Town

Dec 4, 2020

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Despite South Africa reopening to tourists, Delta is delaying its entry into Cape Town along with its resumption of service to Johannesburg.

On Friday, the Atlanta-based carrier pushed the launch of the new joint service to March 28, 2021. Previously, the carrier planned to launch the flights on Oct. 24, 2020, before first delaying it to Jan. 8, 2021. Now, it’s being pushed back another two months.

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Delta confirmed the delay to TPG and added: “We continue to adjust our flight schedules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and customer demand. As a result of this, we have adjusted the planned restart of operations between Atlanta and South Africa. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause to our customers.”

Interestingly, South Africa reopened its borders back in November. However, Delta clearly didn’t see enough demand to warrant starting the service in just over a month.

The daily nonstop will fly the following schedule (all times local):

  • Depart Atlanta at 5:45 p.m., arrive Johannesburg at 2:45 p.m. on the next day
  • Depart Johannesburg at 4:15 p.m., arrive Cape Town at 6:30 p.m.
  • Depart Cape Town at 8:30 p.m., arrive Atlanta at 6:45 a.m. on the next day

The entire trip from Atlanta to Cape Town will take 18 hours and 45 minutes. Cape Town passengers will likely not need to deplane during the Johannesburg stop. Delta also won’t be selling the domestic JNB to CPT as its own leg; all flyers must book it in conjunction with a flight to or from the U.S.

Delta plans to add service to Cape Town as part of a new circle route with Johannesburg on the A350. (Image by Cirium)
Delta will add service to Cape Town as part of a new circle route with Johannesburg on the A350. (Image by Cirium)

In May, Delta announced that it will start flying from Atlanta (ATL) to Cape Town (CPT) as part of a triangle route from its fortress hub in Atlanta, to Johannesburg (JNB) before continuing on to Cape Town.

Before the pandemic, the carrier operated daily non-stop flights to Johannesburg on its Boeing 777 aircraft. However, the 777 fleet became a casualty of the pandemic. As such, the route will be flown by the carrier’s flagship Airbus A350, outfitted with 32 fully enclosed Delta One business class suites, 48 Premium Select premium economy seats and 226 economy seats.

Flying an A350 from JNB to ATL presented Delta with a problem. Due to the city’s high elevation, the A350 couldn’t reach ATL at maximum payload. That’s why the carrier added the tag flight to Cape Town, allowing the plane to refuel at sea level before beginning the 8,130-mile trek back to the U.S.

Cash rates start at $1,500 round-trip in economy, $2,300 in Premium Select or a whopping $13,500 in Delta One. Award rates are even steeper at roughly 148,000 SkyMiles round-trip in coach, 240,000 in Premium Select or 770,000 miles in Delta One.

Delta’s A350s feature fully enclosed suites in business class. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

Of course, these Delta One rates are hardly a bargain and not worth jumping on unless you’re a die-hard AvGeek and want to make sure you have a biz seat on the inaugural flight.

Related: The ultimate guide to Delta One Suites

While there’s certainly no guarantee of award space opening up, that would also be when saver-level awards potentially become available to partners like Virgin Atlantic. If and when that happens, you’ll be able to book awards for as low as 40,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points one-way in economy or just 60,000 points in Delta One.

Related: Dreaming of South Africa: How I’m planning to return using points, miles and cash

This won’t be the first time Delta flies to Cape Town. The airline served the city and Johannesburg from Atlanta and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) via Dakar (DSS) from 2008 to 2009 using Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. Connecting passengers did not need to deplane in Dakar on those flights.

Interestingly, Delta’s service is slated to resume South Africa service just one day after United launches its new nonstop flight from Newark (EWR) to Johannesburg on March 27, 2021.

Additional reporting by Benji Stawski, TPG.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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