United’s Take On Delta’s Jo’Burg Flights

It’s Attorneys at ten paces as United Airlines and Delta Air Lines continue to tussle for the last remaining frequencies on the US – South Africa country pair. Seventeen of the 21 available weekly return frequencies are already allocated, and both airlines want to snare what’s left to operate flights to Cape Town.

Delta and United duke it out for remaining South Africa frequencies

United wants to fly between Washington Dulles (IAD) and Cape Town (CPT) three times a week. The flights would be in addition to the existing daily New York Newark (EWR) to Johannesburg (JNB) and three-weekly Newark to Cape Town flights. Delta Air Lines flies daily between Atlanta (ATL) and Johannesburg. The bilateral air services agreement between the US and South Africa allows for US carriers to operate 21 flights in each direction each week between the two countries.


Both airlines have submitted applications to the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to lock in those last available frequencies. On March 18, Delta called its submission “superior to United’s in all material respects.” Indeed, Delta argued (unsuccessfully, it seems) that the DOT should stop overthinking the matter and simply award Delta the frequencies now.

“The substantive merits of Delta’s application and the public benefits that will flow from its proposal are so clearly superior to United’s that the Department would be well justified in granting Delta’s application now based on the relevant filings to date,” Delta’s Attorneys on behalf of the Atlanta-based airline.


Delta Air Lines already flies daily between Atlanta and Johannesburg. Photo: Delta Air Lines

United calls Delta’s submission brazen and critics’ existing flights to South Africa

Now United has fired back. United Airlines has called Delta’s submission brazen and suggested their existing flights between ATL and JNB aren’t quite up to scratch.

“United has firm plans to utilize these valuable frequencies. Delta, in contrast, brazenly asks the Department to grant its application now based on the filings to date but has not provided specificity regarding its proposed service. Indeed, unlike United, Delta’s Application does not state the days on which it will schedule any weekly flights,” a March 25 submission by United’s legal eagles to the DOT reads.

“Generally, while adding a carrier to a market generates positive effects for consumers by adding competition, these benefits are undermined where the additional carrier does not offer certainty, reliability, or predictability,United’s submission says before going into full Will Smith slap down mode.Given the uncertainty of Delta’s plans and its historic unpredictability and lack of consistency in its service to South Africa, consumers would not benefit from it being added as an additional carrier in the US-Cape Town market.”


United already operates the bulk of the flights between the US and South Africa. Photo: United Airlines

United (opportunistically) takes the high ground

United had offered to split the remaining frequencies between the two airlines – easy enough for United to do as they have the lion’s share of the US carrier allocated frequencies between the two countries. Also easy to propose when you know that solution wouldn’t work for Delta and would likely be rejected by them, as it was.

But that rejection lets United Airlines take a kind of moral high ground. United told the DOT their split proposal was a reasonable and equitable compromise.

“United’s proposed compromise would have also benefited consumers by providing service to the second-largest US metropolitan area for travel to Cape Town while expanding the reach of catchment areas to sweep in other areas of potential interest in travel to Cape Town,” the submission says. “As such, Delta’s decision to reject United’s proposal suggests that Delta is more concerned with its own competitive position than with bringing forth the maximum public benefits in an efficient manner.”

All’s far in airline love and war. While Delta argues their submission is so good the DOT should make a decision in their favor immediately, United is taking a quite different tack, adopting a little humility which doesn’t really come naturally to the airline – but needs must. Suggesting Delta’s application is wasting the DOT’s time and resources, United says it looks forward to the DOT’s decision at their convenience and would be happy to lend further assistance if required.


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