Far-flung trips are about to get a little less far-fetched. In 2020, several U.S. airlines will introduce new direct routes to some of the world’s most scenic and celebrated destinations. Many of the flights were designed with one travel category in mind: adventurers.
New York to Cape Town | United Airlines
United Airlines made history by launching the first direct flight from the U.S. to Cape Town, South Africa, in December 2019. The route from Newark Liberty International Airport to Cape Town International (from $800) will continue into 2020 and 2021. It shaves roughly eight hours off the typical flight path from New York to Johannesburg to Cape Town, making South Africa’s oldest town just 14 nonstop hours away.
As your Boeing 787-9 makes its descent, Cape Town’s rugged mountains and vast coastline will give you all sorts of giddy goosebumps. At Table Mountain, one of the “new seven wonders of the world,” there’s moderate hiking along the Platteklip Gorge Trail, a strenuous and steep 1.2-mile trek up the India Venster route, or 63 different climbing routes up the 3,500-foot flat-topped mountain. A cable car makes getting down a breeze. To capitalize on the city’s waterfront locale, enjoy beginner surfing at Muizenberg Beach or tackle the big, hollow waves at Llandudno Beach.
Los Angeles to Christchurch | American Airlines
Starting in October, American Airlines will make accessing New Zealand’s South Island easier than ever with a direct flight from Los Angeles to Christchurch (from $2,000). The ride will last roughly 13 hours, and increased operation will be offered during the height of New Zealand’s spring and summer.
The country’s highest mountain, Mount Cook, is a scenic four-hour drive from Christchurch (a drive many make via camper van; rental prices start at $19). Within the peak’s surrounding Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, you can hike to the backcountry via the 6.5-mile out-and-back Mueller Hut Route, tough out the steep climb to the Tasman Valley Lookout for views of icebergs, and trek in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary, who used Mount Cook as his training ground for Mount Everest. The bungee-jumping and whitewater-rafting hub of Queenstown is about 300 miles southwest of Christchurch. Many road-trip through Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, and Wanaka along the way.
Dallas to Auckland | American Airlines
The South Island isn’t the only part of New Zealand welcoming more fliers in 2020. American Airlines will wing from Dallas to Auckland, on the North Island, starting in October. This $2,000 nonstop flight—the first from Dallas–Fort Worth to New Zealand—will also be around 13 hours.
Upon landing, head two hours south to the limestone caves of Waitomo for a blackwater rafting trip through a labyrinth of glowworm-illuminated caves. Drive two more hours south, and you’ll be smack-dab in the middle of real-life Mordor at Tongariro National Park. Here, the steep but splendid 12-mile Tongariro Crossing leads you through the volcanic terrain of New Zealand’s oldest national park.
Philadelphia to Casablanca | American Airlines
American Airlines will open its first route to Africa with a $900 flight from Philadelphia to Casablanca, Morocco, beginning in June. The nonstop journey will run three times per week through September. That means Morocco’s top surfing is just a seven-hour flight away.
The capital city and coastal town of Rabat is less than two hours via train ($8) from Casablanca. There, pro surfer Abdel El Harim organizes lessons and outings through his Medina Surfing Association. El Harim also runs a traditional Moroccan guesthouse, the Surf House, with beds that start at $15 per night. For extreme surfing, drive roughly five hours down the coast to the Berber fishing village of Taghazout, where you can ride powerful waves for up to half a mile on a good day.
Chicago to Fairbanks | American Airlines
Starting on May 7, midwesterners can make a beeline for the Arctic with American Airlines’ daily $680 service from Chicago to Fairbanks, Alaska. The six-hour nonstop flight from O’Hare International Airport will run during summer 2020; a similar route will simultaneously open from Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport for $695.
Just 200 miles from the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks gets more than 20 hours of daylight in the peak of summer. This means that kayaking or fishing in the nearby Chena River State Recreation Area can last well into the night. Denali, a bucket-list adventure haven, is a mountainous two-hour drive away. Few trails exist in this 9,492-square-mile national park; instead, you have the rare chance to traverse a truly remote wilderness.
Las Vegas to Maui | Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines is making tropical winter getaways easier than ever with its six-hour Las Vegas-to-Maui flight, which launched this month and starts at around $400. At the airport, rent a car ($40 daily) and head off along the wild and rugged Road to Hana to get acquainted with the island. The iconic route features 60 miles of hairpin turns and clifftop vistas that can take up to a full day to explore.
Don’t just admire the ocean views, jump in with a snorkeling or scuba-diving tour along the vast coral reefs off the island’s coast. Whale sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles greet divers at the popular Molokini Islet, a volcanic crater off southern Maui. Snorkel tours to Molokini cost roughly $100.
Detroit to Tokyo | Delta
This spring, Delta will begin shuttling passengers to Tokyo—hosting the Olympic Games this summer—with a direct flight from Detroit to Tokyo Haneda. The 13-hour flight, which runs roughly $1,500, is the best Olympics option for midwestern travelers. Delta is also offering the route from Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Honolulu, and Portland, Oregon.
From Haneda, a 40-minute ride on the Tokyo Monorail ($5) will drop you off in the heart of central Tokyo. Venues such as the Ariake Gymnastics Center, the Ariake Urban Sports Park (home to cycling and skateboarding), the Odaiba Marine Park (for swimming and triathlon), and the Tokyo Aquatics Center are easily accessible from the Tokyo Metro. To set out on adventures of your own, Japan’s iconic snowcapped and climbable Mount Fuji is a two-hour drive away.