Delta has such an awesome plan. After United began their much-anticipated service to Cape Town, South Africa, Delta decided to follow suit. They had long been the only link to South Africa, flying nonstop from their Atlanta hub to Johannesburg. But with the retirement of their 777-200s, they found themselves in a bind. The Airbus A350-900, Delta’s new flagship long-haul aircraft has less range and cannot return from Joburg at full capacity.

The solution? Fly a triangle route from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Cape Town and return to Atlanta. But South Africa has apparently killed this plan.

Government Red Tape and Tit-for-Tat

As reported by, Delta has thrown in the towel on their plans to fly to Cape Town. Delta applied for a “co-terminalization” of the airports they planned to serve with the South Africa Department of Transportation. After trying multiple times to confirm that the SADOT would grant this, the South African bureaucracy finally told them that they did not intend to grant Delta’s request. Delta has now pulled the plug and will be operating the original ATL-JNB route with their A350. They will be facing some difficulties due to the elevation and heat in Joburg, as it will limit the maximum payload on the return to the U.S.

The U.S. government has “retaliated” against the SADOT, disallowing South African Airways from operating flights to multiple U.S. locations. Even fifth-freedom flights would not be allowed. This is a sort of non-move, though, as SAA entered bankruptcy. If the SADOT reverses their position, the USDOT plans to reverse theirs.

Final Thoughts

I’m a bit bummed that Delta won’t be flying to Cape Town. I always enjoy when carriers are able to put new destinations (for them) on the map. What I did not expect was any real award space to South Africa, which is one of the worst routes for finding business class seats. We never fail to see sky-high SkyMiles prices.

We’ll see if Delta is ever able to serve CPT. With the state of South African aviation what it is, I’m betting that they don’t.