Chicago-headquartered United Airlines’ first-ever nonstop route between New York and Cape Town is now in service, with the inaugural flight landing at Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) on Monday evening.
The seasonal service will operate three times a week between Newark Liberty International Airport in New York and CTIA, and will run until March 25 for its first season. United is operating a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft with a capacity to seat 252 passengers on the route.
Watch: NY/Cape Town service takes off
“We are excited to inaugurate our nonstop seasonal service between Cape Town and our New York/Newark hub,” said Bob Schumacher, United’s regional director for sales.
“Our new flight will not only improve the current journey time between the two cities by more than four hours, it also strengthens our international route network and provides customers in South Africa with over 80 nonstop connections from New York/Newark to other destinations across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean,” he added.
Cape Town Executive Mayor Dan Plato hailed the new route. “Cape Town is a world-class city and this direct flight positions us as an attractive entry point into the rest of the continent. The local tourism and business sectors will greatly benefit from this as it allows us to showcase the diverse services and experiences that the city offers visitors from the United States,” he said.
Plato thanked United Airlines for implementing the route and paid credit to the team at Cape Town Air Access – a public-private partnership led by Wesgro, the Western Cape’s trade, investment and tourism promotion agency – for their hard work in securing the high-profile new service
Wesgro said in a statement that securing the nonstop flight demonstrates the power of public-private sector partnership and cooperation. The agency’s CEO Tim Harris said he is grateful to those organisations that participated in making the new route possible.
“Five years ago, when we started the Cape Town Air Access project, we identified the United States route as a priority and have worked since then to land it. The USA is in the top three most important markets for the Cape across investment, exports and tourism,” he noted.
Other partners in the initiative include the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape Government, Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), Cape Town Tourism and SA Tourism. It is supported by private sector players such as Naspers, Tsogo Sun, Investec, Oasis Holdings, the V&A Waterfront and the Leeu Collection.
According to Wesgro, Cape Town Air Access has succeeded in landing 16 new routes and 22 route expansions since its inception in 2015 – adding more than 750 000 one-way seats into the city.
It is estimated that the additional routes have helped contribute an additional R6 billion in tourism spend to the province’s economy.
“For Acsa, the direct air link between Cape Town and New York/Newark is a significant milestone in its continuing drive to increase South Africa’s air connectivity,” says Acsa acting CEO Fundi Sithebe.
“CTIA has experienced a positive growth trajectory and this is directly attributed [to] the focused collaboration with stakeholders … We have enjoyed considerable success with these air access initiatives in recent years. However, securing the commitment by United is especially pleasing not only because of the distances involved but also because of the incredible potential for tourist and business visitors from the US,” she adds.
The new route comes at the right time, especially since the major growth CTIA experienced between 2015 and 2018 has slowed down, with a decline in international passengers for three consecutive months from July this year. Moneyweb reported last month that, according to Acsa stats, CTIA’s growth on the international passenger side for the year to end-September stood at 2.4%.
Dubai-based airline Emirates reduced its three daily flights to Cape Town to two per day earlier this year.
The collapse of UK travel agency Thomas Cook in September will also have an impact on the airport as it ran a seasonal summer service between Cape Town and London for several years.
However, there is a strong presence of European airlines operating direct routes to the Mother City, including British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa-owned Eurowings. These airlines are expected to pick-up some of this business.