On an October evening in San Francisco, members of United’s corporate team gathered in the reception space at the Polaris Lounge at SFO, the city's airport. The celebratory event marked the American airliner's foray into new territory with a direct flight from the Golden Gate City to Queensland, Australia. But it also commemorated the Chicago-based carrier becoming the first U.S. airline to add a new transpacific destination to its global network since the start of the pandemic.

“It's very, very exciting,” noted MileagePlus president Luc Bondar at the cocktail soiree. “And I think when an airline starts a whole new route, it makes it even more exciting.”

While the mixer inside the 28,000-square-foot lounge was an opportunity to clink glasses and mingle with some of United’s most loyal passengers, it also allowed the airliner to look ahead. Some consider the new route from the west coast of the United States to one of Australia’s most picturesque regions, the start of a new chapter for United—one that squarely places the 96-year-old carrier as a leader in the market. However, offering U.S. passengers the opportunity to experience adventures “Down Under” is just one tick on United’s global takeover list. Bondar announced that evening that over the next several months United would continue to launch new international flights that would help connect America to the world, including a direct flight from D.C. to Cape Town.

United started seasonal service from New York/Newark to Cape Town in 2019 and expanded its offerings to include year-round service in 2022. With the Washington D.C. to Cape Town route, United has successfully closed a gap, as the area presented the largest between the U.S. and South Africa without nonstop service. Polaris business travelers flying internationally out of Newark or Dulles airports have an opportunity to experience one of United’s newest Polaris lounges. Like its SFO facility, the carrier has outfitted the upscale spaces with dining areas, working pods, showers, and luxe trimmings all around. United executives say at the root of the D.C. flight launch was a desire to improve important government-to-government connections and increase communication and commerce with a region that has strong cultural ties to South Africa. 

The flights between Dulles and Cape Town help to connect 55 cities across the United States to the country’s legislative capital and capture more than 90 percent of the entire U.S. travel demand to Cape Town. United also has direct flights from Dulles to more than 10 world capitals and a new service to Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria.

"From creating new jobs to supporting key civic and aid organizations, United has taken tremendous pride in growing our family and operations in South Africa, and across the African continent," said Patrick Quayle, United's Senior Vice President of International Network and Alliances. United hopes that the newly launched flight will significantly enhance travel options for consumers, strengthen ties between the two countries and benefit the travel and tourism industries of both countries. 

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the travel industry and the economies that heavily rely on tourism. The U.S. is the third-largest overseas source of visitors to South Africa, behind the United Kingdom and Germany. But with an initial pause on travel, and then some globetrotters being hesitant to take long hauls to the region due to Omicron (initially called the South African variant), the country did experience economic implications. And the transportation and tourism sectors in the region have the highest average Black ownership at 78 percent and 52 percent.

United works closely with the Mandela Foundation and BPESA (Business Processing Enabling South Africa) a not-for-profit company that serves as the industry body and trade association for Global Business Services in South Africa. Recently the carrier announced a collaboration with travel company Certified Africa, whose mission is to make travel to African countries easy, immersive, and life-changing for millions of the African diaspora across the U.S.