Delta Air Lines Planning To Add Cape Town To Its Route Map

In a bid to save its South Africa service, Delta Air Lines will be adding Cape Town to its route network. Delta president Glen Hauenstein stated this in a virtual town hall on May 20th for employees. In it, airline executives reaffirmed confidence that the A350 could continue to fly where the 777s used to. Simple Flying takes a look.

Delta A350
Delta will use an A350 to add Cape Town to its route network. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Adding Cape Town

The Points Guy reported on Delta’s plans to launch Cape Town flights to stay in the South African Market. Before the onset of the crisis, the Boeing 777-200LRs flew between the airline’s largest hub, Atlanta, to Johannesburg. According to Delta, the 777-200LRs have a range of 9,890 miles (or just under 16,000 kilometers). This made it an ideal candidate to fly Delta’s longest routes, such as from Atlanta to Johannesburg, which clocks in at 8,439 miles.

Delta Air Lines Planning To Add Cape Town To Its Route Map
The A350s taking over 777 routes would further Delta’s transition to an all-Airbus widebody fleet. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

However, with the 777s on their way out, it left Delta’s route map up in the air. While the airline did have Airbus A350s, these planes could not compete with the 777-200LRs. This is especially true for Johannesburg. Due to its status as a hot and high airport, aircraft performance is affected, so Delta could not fly an A350 from Johannesburg to Atlanta with all of those headwinds.

So, now, the airline will fly that route with a stop in Cape Town on a routing from ATL-JNB-CPT-ATL. Cape Town is at a much lower elevation meaning the A350 can operate nonstop back to Atlanta.

Triangle routing
The triangle routing for the new Cape Town route. Rendering created at Great Circle Mapper

However, to do this, Delta will be taking future A350s that are modified to operate these routes. It is unclear if Delta is moving over to the A350-900ULRs, which are famous for doing the world’s longest flight from Singapore and Newark.

The 777s were the first aircraft to make Johannesburg a viable point on Delta’s network. Currently, Delta is the only US airline to serve Johannesburg nonstop while United flies seasonally to Cape Town from its hub in Newark. It is the airline’s longest route. And, with South African Airways’ future in limbo, Delta could become the only carrier flying nonstop between Johannesburg and the United States.

Delta Air Lines Planning To Add Cape Town To Its Route Map
With a stop on the way back in Cape Town, Delta will be able to fly an A350 from South Africa to the US. Photo: Delta Air Lines

On the JNB-CPT segment, Delta will need to get permission from the South African government to carry passengers. If SAA collapses, however, this could be an appealing option for the government. Singapore Airlines also flies between Johannesburg and Cape Town. However, the airline also does not have the rights to transport passengers solely between JNB and CPT.

Simple Flying reached out to Delta for comment. Delta indicated that nothing has been confirmed at this time.

It may take some time for Delta to officially add this to its route schedules since the airline will need government approval and have to set up a ground game in Cape Town.

Other 777-200LR routes

The -200LRs also flew other long routes from Atlanta to Shanghai, Los Angeles to Sydney, and Delta’s newest New York-JFK to Mumbai. Delta’s upcoming modified A350s will continue to serve all of these routes.

Delta 777
The 777s will leave Delta by the end of this year. Photo: Getty Images

Why the 777s were better for passengers

The 777s were a far better long-haul jet for Delta passengers than the A350s. The reason being that the 777s were equipped with four experiences: Delta One Suites, Premium Select, Comfort+, and Main Cabin. However, A350s lack Comfort+.

Delta’s A350s lack Comfort+ seating. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Delta’s top-tier elites can get complimentary Comfort+ seating after booking, while lower-level elites could get complimentary upgrades to Comfort+ on long-haul journeys. The lack of Comfort+ virtually eliminates most upgrades for elite passengers. However, on future A350s, Delta can likely work with Airbus to modify the interior to include Comfort+ seating. This would be especially beneficial for passengers on some of the longest flights. While Delta stated it has no plans to add Comfort+ just yet to the A350s, it would be wise for the airline to consider the option.

When could Delta launch these flights?

Currently, this is all up in the air. First, Delta will need to take delivery of these advanced A350s. However, with Delta deferring deliveries of new jets, it is unclear when these aircraft will arrive. Previously, Delta planned on taking four of LATAM’s A350s plus two more A350s by the end of 2021. The remaining 10 it had on order would come after 2022. Meanwhile, the LATAM A350 orders Delta assumed are due at the carrier by 2025.

If Delta does not alter most of this schedule, then some routes could come back sooner than others. Some of the shorter routes, like Los Angeles to Sydney, will likely come back sooner rather than later. The LATAM A350s will help cover that capacity once they undergo retrofits.

Delta Air Lines Planning To Add Cape Town To Its Route Map
The Airbus A350 is Delta’s new flagship aircraft. Photo: Delta Air Lines

International travel demand will likely take a few years to rebound. So, Delta will not entirely be behind competitors. Probably closer to 2022 or 2023, Delta will start to resume more of its long-haul schedule. Previously, 10 Boeing 777-200LRs supported those four routes. Delta will thus need about 10 A350s to run those routes. Other 777-200ER routes may also need some A350s. However, those planes also perform some transatlantic routes to Amsterdam and Paris. Upcoming A330-900neos can easily cover these. Some other routes, such as to Tokyo and Seoul, will, however, require A350s. So, let us look at the delivery schedules.

Let’s say that Delta decides to take on four of LATAM’s A350s this year plus two on order in 2021. This will give the carrier six new A350s by the end of next year to cover routes to say Shanghai and Sydney.

Delta Air Lines Planning To Add Cape Town To Its Route Map
LATAM’s A350s will need to be retrofitted with Delta One Suites. Photo: Delta Air Lines

At the end of 2018, LATAM anticipated taking two A350-900s in 2021, two more in 2022, another eight from 2023 onwards. Now, LATAM will take two A350s in 2024 onwards, which means, that Delta has slots for A350s from 2021-2025. By 2022, Delta could take up to 10 A350-900s. These then could go to replace a decent amount of lost 777 capacity while the rest would come by 2023. Of course, these schedules are fluid and could change.

Nevertheless, unless Delta accelerates (or delays) delivery, expect all of these pre-crisis routes to come in phases with complete resumption targeted by about 2023. By 2025, however, Delta then should be able to completely restore daily service on all of these major long-haul routes. And, by then, long-haul demand should likely be restored.

Delta Air Lines Planning To Add Cape Town To Its Route Map
A deferral of orders could set back the return of these services to later in this decade. Photo: Delta Air Lines

There are other caveats. First, Delta could use new A330-900neos to replace some former 777 and current A350 transatlantic routes, freeing up more planes to take over some existing 777-200ER routes. This means that newer A350s could be devoted entirely to these four longest routes to Shanghai, Johannesburg, Mumbai, and Sydney.


The current crisis is continuing to play out. If Delta’s financial situation does not improve, it could be forced to defer or even cancel some aircraft orders putting some routes in jeopardy. However, this is perhaps some of the most exciting news coming from Delta this year. Back when the airline announced it would take over some A350s from LATAM, there was plenty of excitement about how the airline could use those jets to grow. However, now, it is more likely that any growth will have to wait about five or six years as Delta focuses on repairing its current long-haul route network.

Will you fly Delta down to Cape Town? When do you think Delta will be able to reinstate daily flights across all these routes? Let us know in the comments!