United Airlines and Delta have announced they will begin flying direct from Washington and Atlanta in the United States to Cape Town, South Africa, providing the local cruise sector with key airlift capacity.
United is the first airline to fly direct between Cape Town and Washington, while Delta will fly direct from Atlanta, the largest air hub in the world, providing American passengers with an easier and more convenient means of reaching Cape Town.
Cruise tourism officials in the West Cape, where Cape Town is located, have stressed in the past that securing greater direct flight connections between US and European cities is key to growing the local tourism industry further.
United Airlines had previously launched a direct Washington, D.C to Cape Town route in 2019, but was forced to suspend it during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The U.S. route will mean future tourism and investment growth and means direct connectivity to one of the most important markets in the world,” said Paul van den Brink, project manager at private-public partnership Cape Town Air Access (CTAA) at the time.
A study for CTAA by Grant Thornton consultancy prior to the pandemic found a direct flight from North America would add at least an extra 24,000 inbound passengers in its first year. That was for the tourism industry overall, but the cruise tourism sector will indirectly benefit.
The plethora of direct air routes between Dubai in the UAE and major Asian, European and North America cities has previously been highlighted as a key factor in the city’s rapid growth as the primary homeport cruise destination in the Middle East.
With Cape Town looking to grow the city’s standing as a homeport for annual wintering by major cruise lines, connections such as these by United and Delta will be key.
“We are thrilled to further expand our Africa offering with this first-ever direct link between Washington DC and Cape Town,” United Senior Vice President Patrick Quayle said.
“These new flights build upon our existing year-round New York/Newark to Cape Town service,” Quayle continued. “Together they’ll provide a near-daily pattern from the U.S. to Cape Town along with connectivity to the broader region through our Airlink partnership.”
The airline launched seasonal service from New York/Newark to Cape Town in 2019 and expanded to year-round service in 2022. United has more flights to South Africa than any other North American carrier.
United will fly a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft daily on this new route, while Delta will operate an Airbus A350-900 three times per week, in addition to its direct flights to Johannesburg.
“With the addition of service to Cape Town from Atlanta, the largest airline hub in the world, Delta will expand on its leading position serving Africa, providing 10 times weekly service to South Africa specifically, via Cape Town and Johannesburg,” the airline said in a statement.
Cape Town’s tourism sector has already seen a strong recovery from the disruption caused by the pandemic. The coming cruise season, which runs from October to April, has 104 cruise ship calls booked, with cruise ships carrying between 100 and 2,500 passengers due to either feature Cape Town as a port of call on various itineraries, or use the city as a homeport or turnaround port.