US-based United Airlines’ decision to launch its first-ever non-stop daily service between Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport and New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport in March next year has been welcomed by the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa).
The move, announced by United Airlines on Wednesday, comes as the global airline industry is grappling with its worst crisis in history in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and related international travel bans and restrictions this year.
“United Airlines’ announcement shows a great deal of commitment to SA and the African continent, which is set to be the next growth point for aviation,” Bongiwe Pityi-Vokwana, Acsa’s GM of OR Tambo told Moneyweb.
“The decision to service the Johannesburg route is tremendously encouraging.”
“It presents massive opportunities for strengthened links between southern Africa and the United States as the largest economy in the world. The move also reminds us that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, OR Tambo International Airport, given its world-class infrastructure and location, is well positioned to connect the northern and southern hemispheres,” she added.
Pityi-Vokwana noted that while “the road to recovery will be long, there will also be opportunities for growth over the coming months as the Covid-19 pandemic curve continues to flatten”.
United Airlines will operate its new Johannesburg route with a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
In its statement, the airline said the new non-stop service will start in “Spring 2021” – referring to the Northern Hemisphere season that begins in March. The Chicago-headquartered carrier did not give a specific date for the commencement of flights.
It noted that the new route is subject to government approval and said tickets will be available for purchase on united.com and the United app in the coming weeks.
The airline said it will become the only US carrier to operate between Johannesburg and New York/Newark.
Before Covid-19 hit, South African Airways (SAA) and US-based Delta Airlines were operating scheduled flights to the US. SAA had two routes – to New York (John F Kennedy International Airport) and Washington, while Delta had a daily flight to Atlanta.
With SAA entangled in a business rescue process, there is uncertainty around the airline resuming all its scheduled international air routes once South Africa’s Covid-19 international travel bans are lifted.
Worth noting is that both SAA and United Airlines are Star Alliance members. United Airlines also launched a seasonal three times weekly service between Cape Town and New York/Newark in December last year.
The launch of its Johannesburg-New York route will see the airline offering more non-stop flights from South Africa than any other US carrier.
“This new non-stop service will strengthen our international route network and provide our customers from South Africa with even greater travel choice and the possibility to connect via our New York/Newark hub to destinations across the Americas,” said Marcel Fuchs, United’s MD of international sales.
“Connecting Johannesburg to New York will open up new opportunities for both business and leisure travellers and help our customers in South Africa reconnect with friends and family around the world,” he added.
According to United Airlines, New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport is located just 14 miles (about 22.5km) from Manhattan.
“[The airport] offers the fastest surface transfer journeys to many parts of the city, including the AirTrain service to New York Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, with a journey time of less than 30 minutes,” it said.