Delta to launch flights to Cape Town, South Africa

Delta Air Lines will launch its first nonstop flights to Cape Town this Saturday, part of a broader expansion of its service to South Africa.

The route is in addition to Atlanta-based Delta’s nonstop flights to Johannesburg. South Africa is the United States’ largest trade partner in Africa and Cape Town is a popular tourist destination and a growing business center.

Delta has seen its domestic traffic rebound faster than international from the depths of the pandemic. But Delta said that as more international markets open, it expects international demand to grow and sees overall revenue next year climbing 15-20%.

South Africa is key to the carrier’s plans in Africa. Delta also earlier this month launched a “triangle route” from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Cape Town. All told, the airline said it has increased its capacity to South Africa by 67% over the last year.

The nonstop Atlanta-Cape Town route on Airbus A350-900 jets will operate three days a week, while the triangle route operates four times a week.

Delta in 2020 submitted an application to serve Cape Town via Johannesburg, but initially ran into challenges getting approval from South Africa’s government. It submitted an application for a nonstop route to Cape Town earlier this year, and eventually got approval for both the nonstop and triangle routes.

“We are already seeing tremendous demand for our flights to South Africa and adding our second gateway to the country with our Cape Town service is proving popular as our customers seek new experiences,” said Paul Hassenstab, Delta regional sales director, in a written statement.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. and several other Georgia legislators wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in June to push for approval of the Atlanta-Cape Town route.

“This latest route further solidifies Hartsfield-Jackson’s position as a leading gateway to the world, improves our nation’s access to Africa and will be an economic boon to the greater Atlanta region,” Warnock said in a written statement.

For Atlanta tourism and convention business, the new flights to Cape Town route are another step toward full recovery.

Travel restrictions caused a sharp and lasting drop in international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, and long wait times for visas for international travelers to the U.S. are also stymying trips.

“The piece that is missing in Atlanta is international travelers,” with volumes still at 86% of 2019 levels, said William Pate, president of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The Cape Town flight is a really good example of how we’re going to close that gap.”

International travelers spend more and stay longer than domestic travelers, Pate said, and they typically make up 15-20% of attendance at large conventions.

“We believe inbound international travel is going to continue to improve significantly as Delta adds more flights,” he said.

Delta attempted a broad expansion of service to Africa in 2009, when it launched flights from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Cape Town via Dakar, Senegal. But it discontinued that route just months after starting it, one of a number of flight cuts that year due to a global recession.