Sunday, July 26, 2015

Direct flights from Houston to Johannesburg

No, it's not a new service, but rather a curious tidbit of Houston's commercial aviation history from three decades ago.

JNB-IAH First flight cover, December 1982. Source: The Timetablist
In December 1982, South African Airways began direct service between Johannesburg and Houston Intercontinental using long-haul Boeing 747SP aircraft. Even though the 747SP was the longest-range commercial airliner available at the time, the 9,000-mile distance between the two cities was such that the plane still had to make an intermediate refueling stop at Cape Verde's Sal Island Airport (as the July 1983 Official Airline Guide indicates; Sal Island was a stopover point for much of SAA's overseas services at the time due to the fact that the Apartheid government's flag carrier was not permitted to fly over most of the African continent).

It's unclear to me exactly what market this peculiar route was intended to serve, especially since Houston was nothing like the international air hub that it is today (in 1982, the only other trans-oceanic flights out of IAH were to London, Paris and Amsterdam) and Apartheid-era South Africa was not exactly a major travel destination. Was it intended to be an energy-related connection, even though South Africa was not a significant petroleum producer?

Needless to say, the presence of the racist government's airline in Houston was controversial, and local civil rights activists successfully lobbied mayor Kathy Whitmire and city council to revoke SAA's landing rights even before Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which barred South African airlines from flying to the United States.

SAA did not resume the service after Apartheid ended and the ban on its flights was lifted. Scheduled air services from Houston to the African continent would not reappear until 2011, when United began nonstop flights to Lagos, Nigeria.

Flights from Houston to South Africa would make much more sense now than they did in the early 1980s, considering how much larger of an international travel hub Bush Intercontinental is today and given that United and South African Airways are both Star Alliance members. During a trade mission in January of 2014, mayor Annise Parker and city officials even discussed the matter with South African aviation officials. It's possible that flights from Houston to Johannesburg could someday again become a reality. The longer ranges of the Boeing 777 and 787 mean that interim stopovers in Cape Verde are no longer necessary.

A quick observation:

If you are a commenter, there is a 99.94% chance that you are a miserable, hateful, ignorant, bigoted, festering piece of shit.

I really need to stop reading the comments section.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Way to go, ladies!

A belated congratulations to the US Womens' National Team, who won the 2015 FIFA Womens World Cup in convincing fashion last weekend by routing Japan, 5-2. The victory is the US Womens' first title in a dozen years and avenges their 2011 loss to this same Japanese team.

The United States might not be a "soccer" nation, but there's no denying that its womens' program is the best in the world. It now has three championships, and has never placed worst than third place in the history of the Womens' World Cup. (Germany, with two titles, comes in a distant second; Sweden and Japan both have a single championship apiece.)

For what it's worth, last Sunday's final also attracted the biggest US television audience for any soccer game ever - men or women.