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.