United Airlines Partners With Airlink For South Africa Connectivity

United Airlines is teaming up with Johannesburg-based Airlink, forming a codeshare arrangement that will offer one stop connections from the U.S. to some 45 destinations in Southern Africa.

United Airlines is moving into Southern Africa via a codeshare agreement with Johannesburg-based Airlink. Photo: United AIrlines

United Airlines eyes an African codeshare expansion

United already flies between Newark and Johannesburg five times a week. The 14 and a half hour flight utilizes one of United’s flagship Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. On December 1, United plans to add Cape Town to its timetable.

“United continues to demonstrate our commitment to Africa, beginning three brand new flights to the continent this year alone including new service to Accra, Ghana; Lagos, Nigeria and Johannesburg,” says Patrick Quayle, vice president of international network and alliances at United.

“Now through our codeshare agreement with Airlink – which is the most expansive partnership in Southern Africa – customers will be able to easily explore more bucket list destinations across the continent including easy connections to Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and more.”

In addition to opening up dozens of Airlink destinations in Southern Africa to United passengers, United Airlines will combine its MileagePlus loyalty program with Airlink, allowing members to earn and redeem miles when they travel on Airlink’s flights.

Airlink primarily operates a fleet of Embraer regional jets. Photo: Airlink

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From its Johannesburg hub, Airlink’s network to stretches to Lumbumbashi and Pemba in the north, Vilanculos in the east, Cape Town in the south, and Walvis Bay in the west. Airlink was established in 1992. The airline is independent, full-service premium and privately-owned. The fleet comprises mostly Embraer regional jets, but a handful of British Aerospace Jetsream 31s also scoot around the network.

“North America is an important source market for our destinations,” says Airlink CEO and Managing Director, Rodger Foster. “This codeshare will make it easy for our North American customers to reach the Okavango Delta, Chobe, the Kruger National Park and adjacent private game lodges, Cape Town, the Garden Route, Swakopmund and the Copperbelt, among others.”

Airlink’s Southern African destinations. Source: Airlink

The benefits are not all one way. Southern Africa-based Airlink passengers will get fast and seamless access to all of United’s network. South Africa’s flag carrier, South African Airways, in extremis. Competitor Airlink is well on the way to operating as South Africa’s defacto’s national airline.

Unlike many airlines, who inhale the avgas and dream about bigtime expansion, Airlink sticks to its home turf. But by knocking on the doors of global airlines like United, the airline accesses entirely new passenger cohorts.

Just last month, Airlink did a similar deal with Dubai-based Emirates. Like United, Emirates is boosting its presence in Africa. Emirates says such such codeshare agreements built connectivity options and open up new destinations to customers of both airlines.

Airlink also stepped up its presence further north in Africa earlier this year by signing a interline agreement with Kenya Airlines. That deal opened up a swathe of Kenya Airlines destinations to Airlink passengers. Those destinatiions include Accra, Addis Ababa, Entebbe, Kigali, Lagos, Lusaka, Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura, Kinshasa.

Both United and Airlink declined to put a firm date on when the new codeshare would begin, leaving it at “in the coming months.”