When United Airlines announced its new non-stop route from the New York City area’s Newark Liberty International Airport in April, it was seen as a huge win for tourism to the South African city, which is the legislative capital of the country, as well as home to top attractions like the flat-topped Table Mountain and Robben Island Museum, which offers tours of where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 18 years.
With the service launching in less than three weeks on December 15, the anticipation for take-off is growing since it shaves so much time off of travel to the bottom edge of the continent.
“If you’ve traveled to Cape Town before from the United States, you probably connected somewhere in Europe or even in Johannesburg,” United Airlines spokesperson Jonathan Guerin says. “Now, with United’s new nonstop service, you will save nearly eight hours of travel time round-trip – that’s practically a full day!”
Indeed, previous travel times from the United States to Cape Town were upwards of 19 hours each way, ever since the last non-stop route from Miami on South African Airways ended in 1999. United will now serve as the only airline offering nonstop service from the U.S. to Cape Town.
The landmark new route will launch next month with three flights a week — departing Newark on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and arriving the next day at 6:00 a.m. and returning on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8:50 p.m and arriving back in the U.S. at 5:45 a.m. the following day — on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with 48 United Polaris business class seats, 88 Economy Plus seats and and 116 United Economy seats.
Cape Town Tourism on the Rise
In 2018, the city reported 5.3 million passengers arriving at Cape Town International Airport — a 3 percent growth from the previous year, including 13 percent growth in international visitors. Travelers from Germany and the United Kingdom outranked those from the United States at the time, but the new route seeks to change that.
“We are always looking at ways to expand our industry-leading international route network to offer our customers more convenient options when planning travel,” Guerin added, explaining that the new route — United’s first ever between the two cities — was born after “reviewing opportunities and analyzing customer demand for business and leisure travel between the United States and Cape Town.”
The Newark hub was chosen since it also allows for one-stop itineraries through the New Jersey airport to Cape Town from 80 other U.S. cities.
The Draw of Local Attractions
The city’s landmark attractions have been keeping up maintenance to ensure top-notch experiences. Table Mountain’s annual maintenance was completed in August 2019 after a five-week shutdown, including replacement of the heel and haul ropes and overhaul of the cabins’ rotating floors and door, in addition to sprucing up the cafe and ticketing areas. In July 2019, Robben Island acquired a new 270-passenger ferry, Kroata, named after the first recorded female prisoner on the island, to serve more tourists.
The V&A Waterfront area has also kept up its status as one of the most visited destinations on the continent — with 24 million visitors annually — by debuting a $1.37 million (in U.S. dollars or 20 million in South African Rand) upgraded swing bridge, which doubles the previous one’s width and can withstand wind speed of up to 60 km per hour, in July 2019. Also nearby is the new Silo District, anchored by Africa’s largest art museum, the Zeitz MOCAA, and the five-star Silo Hotel, both which opened in 2017. The Norval Foundation, an art center across from Table Mountain, also opened in 2018.
Additionally, the ease of booking day experiential tours and classes in the region has been made easy by services like Airbnb Experiences (offering choices such as sunset hikes to Lion’s Head and Bo-Kaap walks with a local) — and GetYourGuide (selections include a Boulders Beach penguin colony kayak trip and winelands tours including visits in Stellenbosch).
Hotels are also expanding in the area, with Canopy by Hilton making its African debut with its first property, the 150-room Canopy by Hilton Cape Town Longkloof, opening in 2021.
United Continues Expanding Network
The Cape Town route launching next month is just one of nine new international destinations launched since the beginning of 2017, with Reykjavik, Porto, Naples, Prague, Nice, Palermo, Tahiti and Curacao all being added to the United map.
Also announced last month is a new route from United Airlines’ partnership with Air New Zealand, launching the first-ever nonstop service between Newark and Auckland, New Zealand, which will take flight three times a week starting in October 2020. Bookings for those flights started this month.
But for now, all eyes on are the big launch next month. “We are excited about connecting our customers with a destination like Cape Town,” Guerin says. “We look forward to offering our customers easier access to South Africa’s growing tourism industry and enabling business opportunities between the United States and the Western Cape’s technology sector.”