WATCH | United's new direct route from New York to Cape Town takes off, but what's next for SA's Air Access team?

Travellers looking to visit the Big Apple should get their passports and visas ready - as Cape Town now has a new direct flight to New York. 

December's lackluster start with load shedding has turned a corner, at least in the Mother City - as the much-anticipated, non-stop service between the city and New York sees United Airlines return to Africa. Its inaugural service kicked off on Reconciliation Day, December 16 to much fanfare and celebration.

This direct route has been four years in the making and is a major show of confidence for South Africa in tough economic times - through its boost to business, leisure and cargo travel. It provides travellers with the only non-stop service between the United States and Cape Town, shaving four hours off the usual transatlantic journey - linking the city to the important North American market. 

READ: Cape Town has landed 3 new airlines, 4 new destinations and 7 route expansions in just 14 months

United Airlines flight to Cape Town kicks off
(Photo: Selene Brophy)

Previously, all service from the United States to South Africa has had Johannesburg as the destination. These flights are from New York JF Kennedy and Washington Dulles (direct, one-stop) on South African Airways (SAA) and daily service from Atlanta on Delta. SAA is United’s Star Alliance partner.

The new flight route is expected to add an estimated R283 million in direct tourism spending to the Cape economy in the first year, according to a Grant Thornton study. Estimates indicate this will increase by R425 million by 2021. It would also see 890 jobs in the province in the first year of operation. 

The first seasonal flight between the two cities will operate until 28 March 2020 - operating a Boeing 787-9.

  • UA1123 departing Cape Town to New York - Mon and Thu  at 08:50pm - arrives 05:45am (GMT+5)
  • UA1122 departing Newark, New York to Cape Town - Wed, Fri and Sun - 08:30pm arrives 06:00pm

The first inbound flight from New York/Newark was welcomed to Cape Town International Airport with a special salute. A number of dignitaries were in attendance for the ribbon cutting ceremony - including Bob Schumacher, United Regional Director Sales; US Ambassador to SA, Lana Marks; Cape Town Executive Mayor, Dan Plato as well as Airports Company South Africa Acting CEO Fundi Sithebe amongst others.

United launched its new direct flight between Cape
United launched its new direct flight between Cape

United launched its new direct flight between Cape

(Photos: Justin de Reuck) 

Tom Stuker, the world's most travelled flyer who is headed for more than 21 million miles under his belt (and who flies exclusively with United) was also on board the incoming flight from Newark, New York. Stuker says that the welcome was "unbelievable" and if the city of Cape Town is anything like it, then the Mother City "might be a place he would want to move to".

And of course for the departing flight, the first couple to check-in Akudzwe Chiwa from Zimbabwe and Parker Donaldson from the US, were a delight to chat to. The two art students currently studying at UCT were headed back to the US to visit Parker's parents. They said they are excited about the new direct flight and took the opportunity to book one of the launch route specials online when it was initially announced earlier in 2019. 

So what can travellers expect from the on board Experience?

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft operating the new Cape Town-New York/Newark service seats 252 passengers: 48 in United Polaris business class, 88 in Economy Plus and 116 in United Economy.

United Polaris business class, the airline’s new business cabin, features a sleep-enhancing experience for intercontinental travellers.

Polaris is now available on board, featuring an elevated in-flight food and beverage experience, custom bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue and exclusive amenity kits with products from Sunday Riley. United Economy Plus offers added legroom and increased personal space.

Located near the front of the Economy cabin, the seats give the added benefit of a swifter exit from the plane on arrival. Economy Plus seating is available on all trans-Atlantic flights. United Economy offers complimentary food, soft drinks, juices, beer and wine, tea, coffee and in-flight entertainment.

On most aircraft, seats feature an adjustable headrest and a personal on-demand entertainment system.

'Commitment to customer experience' 

United is focusing more than ever on its commitment to its customers and recently announced that Mileage Plus miles will now never expire, giving members a lifetime to use miles on flights and experiences.

Customers now have more free on board snack options as well, with a choice of Lotus Biscoff cookies, pretzels and the Stroopwafel. The airline also recently released a re-imagined version of Connection Saver – a tool dedicated to improving the experience for customers connecting from one United flight to the next – and launched Plus Points, a new upgrade benefit for Mileage Plus premier members.

Arrival at Newark

Located just 14 miles or about 22kms from Manhattan, Newark Liberty International Airport offers the fastest surface transfer journeys to many parts of the city, including the Air Train service to New York Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, with a journey time of less than 30 minutes.

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