Before we left for our trip to South Africa, I was a little nervous about our direct flight from Newark to Cape Town. It’s a new flight path that United is running, but it was going to be the longest I’ve ever been on a plane at one time, projected to be 15.5 hours at booking. I was pretty anxious about the whole thing — I think it was a combination of flying for so long on one leg and being over an ocean for such an extended period. I know, it sounds kind of crazy, but that is how my mind works.
United Newark To Cape Town Flight
The only reviews I could find for United’s Newark to Cape Town flight were from a select few travel outlets that had gone on the inaugural flight…and were seated in business class. That was not the reality for me (hello, economy), and to be honest – I don’t think it’s the reality for a lot of people that will be using this route unless you are knee-deep in miles or money. For us, upgrading to business came with a price tag of $15k per ticket. If we upgraded only from Newark, the cost only went down to $8k per ticket. Like I said, not realistic for the average traveler from Honolulu.
Newark To Cape Town
In any case, today I wanted to share my experience of what it’s like flying for nearly 16 hours at a time and some tips I have if you are getting ready to conquer this flight or something similar.
First things first – this specific direct flight on United is aboard the 787-9 Dreamliner and is the only direct flight between the United States and Cape Town. Other flights typically connect through Europe and add additional travel time (sometimes a full extra day), which is why the launch of this flight route (December 2019) was so exciting.
Some of United’s planes rely on self-hosted entertainment (aka – stream it on your phone or iPad), but these seats all had seat-back entertainment and economy passengers got both a hot dinner and a light breakfast.
The seat configurations in economy are frustrating with a 3-3-3 set-up. Since we were flying as a pair, we knew one of us was going to get the middle seat. It ended up being me and I’ll be honest, realizing this upon getting settled made me more anxious. We were also in the very back of the plane, which isn’t our favorite.
United Dreamliner 787-9 Seating
So, how did the flight go? Surprisingly – very well! Will I be signing up to do that long of a flight again? Not immediately. But I wouldn’t rule it out and I realize now that I was anxious for nothing.
I’ll be candid — by hour 13, I was pretty ready to be off the plane. It’s just a lot of time to be in close quarters with anyone, let alone in a middle seat of an airplane, but I wasn’t going crazy like I had pictured in my mind.
My legs did cramp despite drinking a ton of water and getting up to walk around, but I think that might be normal for such a long journey and I would make it a point to do a little stretching if I did such a long flight over again.
Dane and I watched a movie together and then several movies on our own, ate the provided meals and tried to sleep as best we could. We walked laps around the cabin (the ride was smooth sailing!) and read our books that we had packed. We didn’t pack cards on this trip (face palm), but that is another activity we usually do to occupy the time.
The key for me was checking in after each activity to the interactive map to see what kind of progress we were making. Looking at my watch felt confusing while passing through multiple time zones, but the map made it easy to see just how much time we had left and how far we had gone.
The flight home was very much the same. Dane and I wound up having a middle seat open in the 3-3-3 setup mentioned above, which made a world of difference. I cannot even begin to imagine how nice that lay-down seat is in Polaris business class!
In any case, if you are considering booking this route to visit Cape Town on United, I highly recommend it. If you are like me and cannot afford the upgrade, I suggest bringing a refillable water bottle, a good book (or two), some quality plane snacks, compression socks and chapstick. But one thing you can leave at home is your anxiety about flying on such a long flight in economy! 🙂