New nonstop flights are dramatically cutting travel time and linking more African cities to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
By Shannon Sims
Want to plan a trip to Africa but are intimidated by the flight time? Your concern is reasonable.
Flights from the United States to the African continent can take 30 or even 40 hours depending on the routing, and many travelers face lengthy layovers in Amsterdam or London, or Dubai or Doha in the Middle East. But that might be changing soon: Airlines are increasingly introducing nonstop flights, dramatically reducing travel time and further linking the United States to major African nations.
This spring, Royal Air Maroc offered the first Miami-to-Africa nonstop route in two decades, a direct route from Miami to Casablanca, Morocco. In December, United will start a direct flight from Newark to Cape Town, a 14 1/2-hour journey offered three times a week. And by next summer, fliers will be able to go nonstop from Philadelphia to Casablanca, on American Airlines’ new route (Also three times a week, but only 7 1/2 hours).
Unsurprisingly, these nonstop routes are mostly departing from the Eastern Seaboard. New York continues to be the most important hub for nonstop travel to Africa; half of the nonstop routes out of the United States to the continent are routed out of either John F. Kennedy International Airport or Newark.
The most inland flight is Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, a route flown three times a week by Ethiopian Air; no nonstop flights depart from the West coast. The longest-distance flight currently is Delta’s Atlanta to Johannesburg route (8,440 miles and 15 hours).
The reason for the boost in nonstop traffic between the continents has as much to do with technology as it has to do with demand.
Longer flights — really long flights — are increasingly flown by airlines all around the world. Developments in plane construction makes it possible to fly longer routes, and record-breaking “ultra long-haul” flights now take passengers between New York City and Singapore (Singapore Airlines; 9,500 miles); Doha and Auckland, New Zealand (Qatar Airways, 9,000 miles); and London and Perth, Australia (Qantas; 9,000 miles). In August, Qantas announced it was testing a 19-hour New York City to Sydney flight, which would be the world’s longest nonstop commercial flight.
The Boeing 787-9 aircraft in particular is being eyed as the key to opening up these longer nonstop routes. That plane can “make flying long distances more economical for airlines, and requires fewer passengers flying a route to do so,” said Gary Leff, a travel industry blogger with the site View from the Wing.
At the same time, for airlines based in the United States, the marginal gains in international markets may be greater than in the domestic market. “The domestic market is mature, and profitable opportunities for growth are limited, though not nonexistent,” Mr. Leff said. He believes demand for flights like United’s new Cape Town route will come primarily from passengers based in the United States.
American’s new Philadelphia to Casablanca route will be the airline’s first flight into the African continent. But the new United route is not the first time the airline has flown nonstop to Africa. Three years ago, United discontinued a Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, route that serviced travelers in the energy and oil industries.
“There are several factors that we consider when entering a new market like Cape Town,” said Jonathan Guerin, a United Airlines spokesman, “including customer demand for travel between the U.S. and Cape Town; aircraft availability; and optimal connections at Newark for customers from cities throughout the United States to connect seamlessly to our Cape Town service.”
For many airlines, the African city is not necessarily the final destination for their travelers. Getting passengers to the continent nonstop, and then onto partner carriers within an airline alliance for the rest of their travel keeps passenger loyalty in place from home to destination.
In the American Airlines announcement of the new route, the vice president of network and schedule planning, Vasu Raja, pointed out that the Casablanca route is intended to link up with Royal Air Maroc, which will be joining the OneWorld alliance (which American is a part of) in 2020.
Mr. Raja noted the nonstop will give American a partner in Africa, allowing “for even more connections farther into Africa, to places like Marrakesh, Lagos and Accra.”
He added, “This is only the beginning.”