Delta delays its most anticipated long-haul route of 2021

Apr 18, 2021

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

Will the fifth try be the charm? Only time will tell.

Over the weekend, Delta delayed its hotly anticipated new triangle route to Johannesburg and Cape Town for the fourth time. It was previously slated to take off on June 5, but that’s now been pushed to July 2, per Cirium schedules and confirmed on Delta’s website.

As with any new international route during the pandemic, the July 2 date is still subject to change. 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, and again to March 27, 2021, and then to June 5, 2021.

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The month-long delay comes as South Africa is still struggling with a coronavirus 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 variant.

Only time will tell whether Delta will need a fifth delay for its hotly anticipated new triangle route, but delaying service by a month might not be long enough for the U.S. government to lift its travel ban on non-citizens.

Delta’s new triangle route (Image by Cirium)

Before the pandemic, Delta operated daily non-stop flights from Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg (JNB) on its Boeing 777 aircraft. However, the 777 fleet was retired late last year.

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.

Flying an A350 from JNB to ATL 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 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.

Flyers can book flights to/from both JNB and CPT on a single itinerary, but the 790-mile domestic flight isn’t available to book as a standalone.

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.

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 is planning to launch a flagship Johannesburg route in 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.

In January, United delayed its Johannesburg inaugural to June 3. United is also planning a new San Francisco (SFO) to Bangalore (BLR) flight, which was also recently delayed due to the pandemic. It remains to be seen if United will further delay these routes.

Other airlines: 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, Miami 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).

While all the aforementioned routes are “on the books,” it’s anyone’s guess which — if any – actually launch as planned.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

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