Flight between New York and Johannesburg
(Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
  • United Airlines will fly from New York to Johannesburg for the first time on 3 June.
  • The new direct daily route comes amid an ongoing travel ban which prohibits South Africans from entering the US, unless classified as a National Interest Exception.
  • But the flights allow vaccinated Americans to visit South Africa without having to worry about any quarantine upon their return home.
  • Tickets are already on sale, with the cost of a roundtrip in economy starting at $792 (around R11,000).
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

United Airlines will begin operating direct flights between Newark, New York, and Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport on 3 June. Despite ongoing travel restrictions imposed on South Africans hoping to enter the United States, tickets for the new daily route have recently gone on sale.

One of the US' largest domestic and international carriers, United Airlines is looking to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels by introducing several new routes throughout June and July. Capitalising on the tide of vaccine optimism, United recently confirmed that it had added more than 400 daily flights to its northern-hemisphere summer schedule.

One such addition is the new nonstop daily service between South Africa and the United States which was first touted in September 2020 just before the second wave of Covid-19 infections forced the world back into lockdown.

Since then, international travel restrictions imposed on South Africans – as a result of the 501Y.V2 variant first detected in the Eastern Cape – have been tightened and extended. The US announced in January that South African travellers would be banned from entering the country but has since offered slight reprieves via the National Interest Exception (NIE) protocol.

Tickets for the Newark-Johannesburg flights were due to go on sale at the end of 2020, but were pushed back due to uncertainty surrounding the US' stringent travel restrictions which extend to Europe and South America. United Airlines initially confirmed that the availability of tickets would be subject to "government approval".

"United is set to inaugurate its new daily service between New York-Newark and Johannesburg on 3 June [eastbound departing from the US] and 5 June 2021 [westbound departing from South Africa]," Gudrun Gorner, the airline's PR Manager, confirmed to Business Insider South Africa on Tuesday.

The cost of a return flight, in economy class, from Johannesburg to Newark Liberty International Airport, which is roughly 24 kilometres outside downtown New York, starts at $792 (R11,000). The same flight in business class costs around $2,650 (R37,000).

The route will be serviced by United's Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – operating under flight numbers UA 187 and UA 188 – which can seat 280 passengers.

"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," said Marcel Fuchs, United's Managing Director of International Sales.

But unless the US lifts its restrictions on South African travellers by 5 June, United’s service will be limited to carrying Americans – and persons classified as NIEs – into and out of the country.

Fully vaccinated passengers may also be permitted entry into the US but must be able to provide proof of vaccination prior to boarding. Only proof of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines are accepted as entry requirements. Vaccinated travellers will need to wait at least two weeks since their last and final dose before being granted permission to board.

Vaccinated passengers who provide a negative Covid-19 test result will not be required to quarantine upon arrival in the US. Quarantine measures for unvaccinated travellers are determined by various state, local, and territorial governments.

United's previous foray into the South African market, with three weekly seasonal flights between Cape Town and Newark, began in 2019 and was cut short just a few months later by the Covid-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions.

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