- United Airlines really wants to fly from Washington DC to Cape Town.
- And it's taking direct aim at competing US carrier Delta Air Lines which was recently awarded flights to the Mother City as part of a triangular route with Atlanta and Johannesburg.
- Delta also wants non-stop flights to Cape Town, but United argues that this should be regarded by the US department of transportation as its "lowest priority".
- A supplement to its original application was filed with the department on Wednesday, revealing the hard fight for non-stop flights to Cape Town.
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Chicago-headquartered United Airlines wants to start non-stop flights between Washington DC and Cape Town, resulting in a war of words with its chief competitor, supported by political powers.
US airlines are fighting for Cape Town flights. This battle comes amid a severely disrupted period in air travel owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, which effectively halted lucrative European tourists in 2021. During that time, Americans became South Africa's largest tourist group, with more travellers arriving from the US than from the UK and Germany.
Travel to Cape Town, according to the recent flurry of applications for international flights, is the crown jewel eyed by vying US airlines.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines was recently awarded rights to fly to Cape Town as part of a triangular route with Johannesburg. The green light came after years of delays and frustrated bilateral engagements, for which the US placed the blame solely on the shoulders of South Africa's department of transport.
Another Delta application, filed with the US department of transportation (DOT) to be reviewed concurrently with its now-approved triangular route, asks for non-stop flights from Atlanta to Cape Town.
United Airlines, which already operates flights from New York to Cape Town, wants to start flying from Washington DC. United's application, first filed with the DOT in March, prior to Delta's approval, has now been ratcheted up.
A supplement to its original application was filed on Wednesday. The 177-page supporting document before the DOT details how non-stop flights from Washington DC to Cape Town would benefit both countries and why Delta Air Lines' application should be the "lowest priority".
With both airlines battling for the last remaining flight frequencies allowed as part of the US-South Africa Air Transport Agreement, United argues in its application that it is more committed to serving passengers between the two countries and that Delta has held a dominant position for too long.
United added that, despite receiving approval for triangular routing, Delta's "plans for South Africa service remain unclear".
"United has clearly demonstrated its commitment to providing the public with, and maintaining, consistent, non-stop service to South Africa that maximises the use of the limited frequencies available," the airline said of its consistent schedule between Newark/New York and Johannesburg, together with plans to make Cape Town a year-round destination.
"With United's high utilisation of every frequency it has been allocated, the public has received as full a benefit as possible. In contrast, Delta has not shown a similar level of commitment or service. Instead, it has consistently underutilised its allotted frequencies and pursued ever-changing plans for its US-South Africa service."
United's proposal to fly non-stop from Washington DC to Cape Town has received support from Virginia Senators, Transportation Secretary Shep Miller, former ambassadors to South Africa, and a host of other commerce and pilot associations, along with more than 5,000 airline employees.
"From creating new jobs, to supporting key civic and aid organisations, United has taken tremendous pride in growing our family and operations in South Africa, and across the African continent," said Patrick Quayle, United's senior vice president of international network and alliances, following the most recent filing.
"If awarded by the DOT, this historic non-stop service will significantly enhance travel options for consumers, strengthen ties between our countries legislative and diplomatic epicentres, and benefit thriving travel and tourism industries serving our respective countries."