[Updated] Delta’s 777 Retirement Means That They’ll Operate A South African Triangle Route, Will United Match Or Beat That?

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Update: The final nonstop flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta will operate on October 24th. After that, the flight will operate on the A350 as a triangle route, which means means that the inaugural nonstop from Cape Town to Atlanta will start on October 25th.

Originally posted on 5/24:

Several airlines are operating triangle routes due to COVID-19 and the CARES act. The airlines took loans that require a minimum level of service from airports that they serve, but airlines have done that by adding triangle routes.

For example American currently flies from Dallas to Vail to Aspen to Montrose and then back to Dallas:


If you want to fly from Vail to Miami today, you’ll be making 3 stops. It’s not easy to fly places these days!


It won’t last for long though. The DoT has granted American’s request to drop service to Vail,  Aspen, and Montrose.

Delta recently announced that they would retire their entire Boeing 777 fleet this year as they move towards an all-Airbus long-haul fleet.

However the 777 has a higher maximum takeoff weight than Delta’s Airbus A330 and A350, which means that they will no longer be able to fly nonstop from Johannesburg to Atlanta, which is weight limited due to Johannesburg’s high altitude.

Delta’s current A350-900s don’t have a long enough range to even make it from Cape Town to Atlanta, but they will take delivery of longer range A350-900s that can make that flight.

Delta hopes to fly a triangle route from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Cape Town to Atlanta after getting those new A350s:


On the one hand, it’s cool that Delta will now serve Cape Town. But on the other hand you will now need to make a stop to fly from Johannesburg to Atlanta and 2 stops from Johannesburg to anywhere else in the US.

Delta charges a premium on this route over flights that fly to South Africa via Europe or the Middle East. A triangle route is not very efficient and in the pre-COVID world had mostly been eliminated. But without 777s Delta has no choice if they want to keep serving Johannesburg. But will people still pay that premium for a triangle route?

United flies nonstop seasonally between Newark and Cape Town on a Boeing 787-9. I have to wonder whether United will match Delta’s triangle route or if United might just pull off nonstops to both Cape Town and Johannesburg, which would be a huge win over Delta.

United’s partner South African currently flies the A350 nonstop between JFK and Johannesburg (would you believe that it’s nearly 500 miles shorter than Atlanta-Johannesburg!), but they’re in deep financial trouble. Should they fold, it would seem ripe for the picking. But even if they don’t, United may smell the blood in the water and make a play for it, once travel demand picks back up.

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12 Comments On "[Updated] Delta’s 777 Retirement Means That They’ll Operate A South African Triangle Route, Will United Match Or Beat That?"

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On the flights to Israel what will they using if they retire all the 777 ?


A330-300’s as they’ve been using for a while.


Airbus has much more comfortable seats. Was that part of their decision?




I’m slightly sad to see the 777s go but that’s largely because my wife and I just flew one from LAX to SYD with our 9 mo daughter in Delta One back in November and it was lovely. Longest flight I’ve ever taken and it was great. I’m sure the A350 is just as nice, so it’s a bit silly, but I was sad to read about it.

Mitch Cumstein

9 mo daughter in Delta One? I assume you meant 9 yo.


I will say that flying from the PNW or West Coast – my preference is two red-eye flights to SA – SFO-ZRH then ZRH- JNB/CPT – this seems to make the Jetlag almost non-existent.

The daytime flights through LHR or EU to TLV are much worse IMHO, even tho TLV/JNB are only about 1+ hour time zone difference.

If you can do 1-3 days stopover in Joburg landing early morning – then connect to CPT in the evening on DL then that would be almost perfect option – while SA LCC (many are now in administration) while they fly almost hourly – but tack on seat selection and extra bag fees its a short flight 2 hours.

Should VS remain and Delta one suites remain @ 60K per leg and you can stage from ATL then ATL-JNB and CPT-ATL – could be a great option – since you can transfer TYP/MR to VS.

Haven’t flown the Delta one suites on the 350 yet –

I wonder if they will source KM out of Joburg.


Perception of Comfort on aircraft is closely related to having empty seats adjacent and how many seats across the airline has decided to utilize. On a 777 Delta stuck with nine in economy while many airlines switch to 10. The Airbus 350 is a bit wider than a 330 / 340 but they have 9 across rather than the 8 across that you might expect on that aircraft.


I don’t expect this to hurt them much on the route. What will eventually hurt them more is when AA inevitably launches service to South Africa from MIA. As long as the South African economy and political situation stays reasonably intact, there’s probably enough demand for both services, especially in light of SAA’s woes.


Maybe they will go via SAL with a DC-7.


I’d be surprised if UA flied to JNB.

I look at it the other way from you – if they didn’t seem interested in operating flights there back when SAA had some semblance of a feeder route network, I can’t see them being interested when they have to rely solely on JNB traffic. At least not until there is a full rebound, and then some in the aviation market.

To the extent they’re interested in ultra long haul these days, I’d guess the focus would be more on expanding in India, and once the energy market rebounds (gasp!) the Middle East