Delta will add Cape Town service to keep Johannesburg flights going with the Airbus A350

May 20, 2020

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LATEST UPDATE: Delta could begin new Cape Town flights in October

ORIGINAL POST: Delta Air Lines has plans for how to continue serving some of its longest-haul routes to places like Johannesburg and Sydney with the Airbus A350 following its decision to retire the Boeing 777.

The Atlanta-based carrier will add A350-900s with the capability of flying all but one of the four ultra long-haul routes previously flown with 777-200LRs, Delta president Glen Hauenstein told staff during a virtual town hall on Wednesday viewed by TPG. Flights to Mumbai (BOM), Shanghai Pudong (PVG) and Sydney (SYD) will continue as they are with the Airbus jets, with modifications planned for its flight to Johannesburg (JNB).

“We’re very confident that there is nothing we were flying back before the crisis that we cannot fly in the future with A350 equipment,” he said. 

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Hauenstein did not provide a timeline for the restart of any of the ultra long-haul routes that Delta flew with the 777-200LR prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The routes, all of which have been suspended, were:

  • Atlanta – Johannesburg: 8,439 miles
  • Atlanta – Shanghai: 7,659 miles
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Sydney: 7,488 miles
  • New York JFK – Mumbai: 7,799 miles

Delta will continue Johannesburg flights with the A350 by adding a stop in Cape Town (CPT), said Hauenstein. The airline’s South Africa service will follow a new circular routing that goes: Atlanta-Johannesburg-Cape Town-Atlanta. The stop will allow for refueling at sea level before beginning the 8,130-mile trek back to the U.S.

This is something of a win-win for Delta and travelers: the airline can continue serving Johannesburg, a city where it is the only U.S. carrier, and add tourist-popular Cape Town to its map. Passengers flying from Johannesburg would stop in Cape Town on the way back to Atlanta, but Delta would not be able sell tickets solely on the domestic South Africa leg without special accommodation from the government.

Related: Delta Air Lines will retire its Boeing 777s in latest coronavirus fallout

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


The 777 was something of an oddball in the carrier’s widebody fleet. Delta only had 18 of the type — eight of the -200ER and 10 of the -200LR — with no plans to add more, whereas it has nearly 60 more next-generation Airbus A330 and A350 wide-bodies on order.

The capabilities of the 777-200LR previously allowed Delta to operate the four long-haul routes mentioned above. However, with demand for international travel dampened by the coronavirus crisis and not expected to return until 2023 or 2024, the airline had to make tough decisions with its wide-body fleet. The 777 was, in a sense, the sacrificial cow.

“It was the queen of the fleet,” said Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, on the 777 during the town hall. The jet was the first new delivery to the carrier after it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2007, he added.

Related: When it’s time to retire that airplane, how do airlines decide what to let go?


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Delta’s new A350 “flagship”, due to enter passenger service on 30 October ✈️

A post shared by Ned Russell (@airbus777) on

Delta began flying the A350 in 2017. It introduced its Delta One business class suite on the plane, which is fitted with 32 suites, 48 Premium Select premium economy seats and 226 economy seats. The airline now operates 13 jets and has orders for another 26, including 14 that it acquired from LATAM Airlines last September.

All future A350 deliveries will come with the capability to operate Delta’s longer routes — abilities lacking on the airline’s first 13 A350s — Hauenstein said Wednesday without elaborating.

The baseline range of the A350-900 is 7,275 miles, according to Delta. However, Airbus offers a higher-weight version with a range of 9,321 miles and the A350-900ULR with a range of 11,163 miles. Singapore Airlines uses the latter variant on its ultra long-haul flights between Singapore (SIN) and Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO).

Related: Delta sending Airbus A350s to Los Angeles, will close Cincinnati pilot base

Delta will not be alone when flights begin to Cape Town. United Airlines launched seasonal service between Newark and the South African city in December, though it has not said whether the flights will return since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Hauenstein also did not say when Cape Town flights will begin and Johannesburg flights resume. South Africa remains largely closed to international arrivals with no timeline yet for when restrictions will lift.

Delta also needs to take delivery of the enhanced A350s from Airbus before the flights can restart.

But when restrictions lift and the planes are available, Hauenstein assured staff that Delta does plan to return to South Africa.

Related: A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

Featured image by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.

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