It’s official: Delta files for rights to begin Cape Town flights

Delta Air Lines plans to return to South Africa in October with new joint service to Cape Town and Johannesburg, giving the carrier one of the few new-route announcements to come since the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the industry.

The Atlanta-based SkyTeam Alliance carrier aims for flights to begin with an Airbus A350-900 on Oct. 24, Delta said in a regulatory filing Thursday. The service will extend its existing nonstop between Atlanta (ATL) and Johannesburg (JNB) to a triangle that includes a stop in Cape Town (CPT) on the return leg.

Here is Delta's proposed schedule with all times local:

  • Depart Atlanta at 5:45 p.m., arrive Johannesburg at 3:45 p.m. on the next day
  • Depart Johannesburg at 5:15 p.m., arrive Cape Town at 7:25 p.m.
  • Depart Cape Town at 9:25 p.m., arrive Atlanta at 6:45 a.m. on the next day

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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)


Delta does not plan to carry local traffic between Johannesburg and Cape Town, it said. In addition, tickets will not go on sale until it has the relevant approvals from both the South African and U.S. governments.

The new routing, and service to Cape Town, follows Delta's decision to retire is fleet of Boeing 777s amid coronavirus-related fleet reductions earlier in May. The the 8,439-mile nonstop Atlanta-Johannesburg route was exclusively flown with the jets.

The carrier's A350s are outfitted with 306 seats. The jets have 32 Delta One business class suites, 48 Premium Select premium economy seats and 226 economy seats.

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

A Delta Airbus A350 at ATL (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)
Delta will fly A350-900 jets on its new Cape Town service. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)


United Airlines also plans to return to Cape Town this fall, a spokesperson told TPG. The Star Alliance carrier began seasonal nonstop service between the Western Cape and Newark Liberty (EWR) with a Boeing 787 in December.

Delta's decision to resume South Africa flying indicates it will take delivery of new A350s before October. The 13 jets already in its fleet do not have the capabilities to fly the route, with only newly-delivered A350s from Airbus able to do so, airline president Glen Hauenstein told staff during a May 20 virtual town hall that was viewed by TPG.

The carrier's existing A350s have a range of 7,275 miles while the baseline A350 today has a range of 9,321 miles thanks to a higher maximum takeoff weight, according to Delta and Airbus.

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

As recently as April, Delta did not have firm plans to take more new aircraft this year in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Whether eventually over the course of the year we wind up taking some fully financed aircraft, it's an open question right now,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Wall Street analysts on April 22.

Delta has 26 A350-900s on order. This includes 14 jets and orders that it acquired from LATAM Airlines last year.

If Cape Town flights do begin in October, it will not be the first time Delta served the Western Cape. The airline served the city and Johannesburg from Atlanta and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) via Dakar (DSS) from 2008 to 2009, according to Cirium schedule data.

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

Featured image by Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images.

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