Excitement for United Airlines’ forthcoming seasonal non-stop service to Cape Town is running high with the inaugural flight heavily booked four weeks before it touches down on December 16, says United’s Regional Managing Director Sales, Bob Schumacher.

Addressing a media briefing in Cape Town, he said forward bookings were looking ”very strong”.  “This flight has been embraced. This is an extremely exciting opportunity for us.”

Wesgro CEO, Tim Harris, said forward bookings from the US from November to May were already up 11% on the back of the impending United service.  “The forward bookings show there will be strong growth from the US.”  He added:  “This is by far of the most exciting route that Cape Town Air Access has ever worked on.”

This is United’s first foray into South Africa and the first ever non-stop service between Cape Town and Newark International Airport.  

The CPT service will operate thrice weekly until the end of May. UA1122 will leave Newark on Sundays, Wednesday and Fridays at 20h30, arriving in Cape Town at 18h00. UA1123 will return at 20h50 from CPT Mondays, Thursday and Saturdays to arrive in Newark 05H45.  

United will fly a Boeing 787-9 “Dreamliner” with 48 seats in Polaris Business Class, 88 seats in Economy Plus (offering 15cm more legroom) and 116 seats in Economy Class. The service will improve the current journey time by more than four hours.

Schumacher said Americans are expected to make up 80% of passengers on the route, including leisure travellers, VFR’s and corporate travellers. He said negative reports around drought and crime had had little impact on the US market.  “The US travel market is very robust, with an ever-ready Wanderlust, and a propensity to explore new destinations. Cape Town is fêted as a must-see destination.  This is a great opportunity for them that was not easily accessible before.”

He was confident about the long-term prospects of the route: Market conditions were favourable; the B787-900 was right–sized for the route, being highly economical with lower cabin pressure reducing jet lag. “We believe we understand the economics of this route. We need to have a balance between front and back cabin. With the help from Cape Town Air Access and Wesgro, insight from GDS’s and general supply and demand data, we believe we’ve got this right and that both cabins will be well utilized. There is no magic load factor that we need to achieve.”

Western Cape Finance & Economic Opportunities MEC, David Maynier, described the United service as “a massive boost for the local leisure and business travel market”. “It will open up the US market to opportunities in the Western Cape and significantly contribute towards growing our tourism sector. It is estimated the flight will generate R153m in tourism spend in the Western Cape.”  He said the US was a key tourism and business market for the province. Bilateral trade between the Western Cape and the US increased by US$449m in the past nine years representing 64% growth.  The US is also the province’s third biggest tourist source market (after the UK and Germany). US arrivals grew by 16% between 2014 and 2018 to 172 833 visitors.