Delta drops plan to serve Cape Town; will now fly directly to Johannesburg

Jun 19, 2021

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information.

Plans for Delta’s hotly anticipated new triangle route to Johannesburg (JNB) and Cape Town (CPT) have changed yet again. While this service has been delayed for the sixth time to Aug. 1, 2021, (per Cirium schedules and confirmed on Delta’s website), this time, the carrier has now decided to drop plans to fly to Cape Town altogether.

When Delta first announced its two-city South Africa service, the carrier planned to start flights on Oct. 24, 2020. It was then delayed to Jan. 8, 2021, then March 27, 2021, then June 5, 2021, and then to July 2, 2021. While Delta’s flight to South Africa is still projected to fly on Aug. 1, the service will now only run directly from Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg.

Johannesburg sunrise South Africa Skyline
The Johannesburg skyline. (Photo by THEGIFT777 / Getty Images)

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Delta is also tweaking the operating frequency. From Aug. 1 through Sept. 8, the carrier plans to run three weekly flights on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the eastbound direction and on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays in the westbound direction.

From Sept. 8 on, Delta will increase the flight to daily service.

The month-long delay comes as South Africa has just logged its first confirmed cases of the Delta coronavirus variant, while still dealing with its own virus variant that appears to be more infectious. The U.S. government on Jan. 26, 2021, banned travel from South Africa, with the exceptions of U.S. citizens and legal U.S. residents, due to the more contagious South Africa variant.

Before the pandemic, Delta operated daily non-stop flights from Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg (JNB) on a Boeing 777-200LR. However, the airline’s 777 fleet was retired late last year.

Delta uses enhanced Airbus A350-900

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

A Delta One suite. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

The route will now 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. The flight time will run about 16 hours — Delta’s longest flight, and will no longer need a stop in CPT anymore and will just fly directly from ATL to JNB.

Paid fares on the inaugural flight start at a whopping $2,500 round trip in coach and $3,700 in Premium Select. Delta One Suites are sold out as of press time. One-way award redemptions start at 140,000, 250,000 and 465,000 SkyMiles, respectively.

Big three launches other ultra-long-haul flights

Despite the pandemic, the “Big 3” U.S. airlines are all slated to launch a slew of new ultra-long-haul flights this year.

United Airlines launched its flagship Johannesburg route on June 3, 2021. Following the successful late 2019 launch of a Newark (EWR) to CPT nonstop, the Chicago-based carrier is planning to launch a second South Africa flight to JNB using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

United is also planning a new San Francisco (SFO) to Bangalore (BLR) flight, which was just delayed again, this time to Aug. 1.

Related: United pushes back two major long-haul launches following low demand

American Airlines’ long-haul plans for 2021 include a new Seattle (SEA) to BLR flight, three Tel Aviv routes (from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Miami (MIA) and New York (JFK), and multiple new international hops from New York-JFK, including Athens (ATH), Santiago (SCL), Rio de Janeiro (GIG) and Tel Aviv (TLV). (JFK-TLV flights launched on, May 6, 2021.)

Additional reporting by Stella Shon.

Featured photo of a Delta Airbus A350-900 by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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