United Airlines has resumed its thrice-weekly non-stop service between its New York/Newark hub at Newark Liberty International Airport and Cape Town, with a special (grey) water salute marking the arrival of the first flight UA1122 into Cape Town International Airport last night (Thursday, December 2).

The seasonal service was operated for the first time from December 2019 to March 2020, but the Covid pandemic meant that these flights did not operate from December 2020 to March 2021.

United is the only airline providing a non-stop transatlantic service between Cape Town and North America and the only carrier with a non-stop service between South Africa and New York. United operates more non-stop flights between South Africa and the US than any other airline.

The Cape Town-New York/Newark route builds on United’s existing service between Johannesburg and New York/Newark, launched in June this year.

“We are excited to return to the Mother City and the Western Cape as the only airline providing a non-stop transatlantic service between Cape Town and North America,” said Bob Schumacher, United Regional Director Sales.

“Our non-stop service from Cape Town is not only reconnecting our customers, both business and leisure, to New York City, it also provides the possibility to quickly and conveniently connect via our New York/Newark hub to over 60 onward destinations across the Americas.”

An upbeat Geordin Hill-Lewis, Mayor of Cape Town, noted: “It was heart-warming to see a plane full of excited American tourists ready to explore and enjoy Cape Town, after a 20-month hiatus in flights. This is why it gives me great pleasure to say that today, we are ‘United’ once more.”

City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Tourism, James Vos, said United Airlines’ return from New York to Cape Town marked a proud moment for the city and for the Air Access initiative, which received funding from the City of Cape Town.

“A few weeks ago, we launched a destination marketing campaign in New York and other major cities showing the diversity of experiences and beauty Cape Town offers. This route between North America and Cape Town opens travel and trade opportunities that stands to be of significant benefit to our economy,” Vos said.

‘US an important strategic partner’

Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, David Maynier, said the US was an important strategic trade and investment partner for South Africa and the Western Cape – strengthened by the bilateral co-operation agreement signed in 2020.

“As the only direct, non-stop flight to the region from North America, it also holds additional promise for increased passenger numbers from Canada. We officially welcome United back!” commented Wrenelle Stander, Wesgro CEO and Cape Town Air Access Spokesperson.

“We have seen numerous travel bans and restrictions being placed on travellers across the world,” said Mark Maclean, GM of Cape Town International Airport. “We are therefore delighted that United Airlines will restart operations at Cape Town International Airport as planned. The connection between New York and Cape Town is a very popular route and connects us with a key source market for business and leisure travellers.

“We are aware that many travellers are looking forward to the return of United Airlines. We trust that the travel bans and restrictions are as short-lived as possible and that we will continue to receive visitors to our region during this peak season.”

Speaking to CNBC ahead of the flight’s departure from Newark, United Airlines CEO, Scott Kirby, said there would always be new variants but noted, that as they evolved, governments, health professionals and other stakeholders were becoming much better at effectively dealing with them.

“I do foresee a dip in bookings in the near future but not in the long-term. This is a three-steps forward, one step back scenario,” said Kirby.

He believed the impact of the Delta variant was much more serious.

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