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SAS mini review
Scandinavian Airways System: A smaller European carrier in a state of flux.
On my recent trip to Copenhagen for the half marathon, I flew SAS in and out of the city. Here are some brief observations.
Not many U.S. airlines fly to Copenhagen. Right now, Delta is the only one to do so and it only flies there from New York JFK. American will begin service from Philadelphia in 2024. But by far the biggest range of flight options connecting Denmark with North America is offered by SAS, short for Scandinavian Airways System. It currently flies to Copenhagen from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark (New York), San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington D.C. And it also serves some of those cities from Stockholm and Oslo.
SAS — founded in 1946 — is an unusual airline as it is the legacy state flag carrier for not one country but two, Denmark and Sweden (and used to be for Norway, too, until that country’s government divested its interest). But — like some other European flag carriers of late — SAS has had a troubled recent commercial past. This culminated in 2022 with it filing for bankruptcy protection.
At the time of writing, Air France-KLM, along with the Danish state and a private U.S, investment firm, were set to take over the carrier. So SAS appears to have a secure future, although no longer as an independent carrier — and with Denmark the only Scandinavian government retaining an interest (although the airline’s Stockholm- and Oslo-based operations seem likely to continue).
I flew SAS short-haul from London into Copenhagen and long-haul back to Los Angeles. As usual, I was standby on interline staff travel benefits. And I was at the back of the plane on crowded flights (we don’t have upgrade privileges on SAS).
These days, SAS is something of a hybrid, with elements of a legacy full-service carrier and aspects of a low-cost one. Its long-haul flights operate with three classes of service, Business, Premium Economy (called “Go Plus”), and regular Economy (“Go”). But regular Go is the only legacy long-haul Economy Class I know where you have to pay for soft drinks (after the first one served before the main meal). And don’t expect freebies like wired earbuds if you don’t have any with you. In short-haul Economy, moreover, you even have to pay for water.
But despite the absence of frills, SAS doesn’t quite have the vibe of a low-cost carrier. At the gate at Heathrow, there were a bunch of prosperous-looking Danes in snappy suits, with the air of being satisfied with their business transactions in London as they headed home.
SAS is currently part of Star Alliance (of which it was a founding member) but . And I’m a bit surprised the alliance rules don’t require a bit more conformity in terms of what basic items are offered free to passengers and what you have to pay for. That said, assuming the Air France/KLM deal is consummated, the airline will transfer to the rival SkyTeam alliance.
But the meals on SAS long-haul Economy are included and my lunch on the way to LAX was quite good and well-portioned — I would rate it better than average for transatlantic economy fare. Plus they do hand out half-liter water bottles at the start of long-haul flights. And the general service vibe was pretty upbeat and positive.
Moreover, there are some nice features in the seat-back system, at least on the A350 on which I flew to LAX. For example, there’s one of my favorite features, live nose and tail cameras. And there’s a handy picture-in-picture feature where you can have a small and moveable moving map/flight info system overlaid in a corner while watching something else. The Wi-Fi on the transatlantic segment was well-priced at $16, but I got error messages every time I tried to access it before I got to the payment screen, so never got to use it.
Overall, I liked SAS more than I’d expected.
SAS non-rev notes
SAS is generally non-rev friendly. I got a confirmed seat assignment when checking in online for the LHR-CPH segment on the way to the airport, even though the flight was pretty full. No such luck on the flight back to the U.S., where I had to standby at the gate. But they did confirm me quite soon after the gate opened when the lead agent working the flight arrived. And I had adequately decent seats on both segments.
Interestingly, CPH has some of the lowest taxes of any European airport. Normally, taxes make non-revving much pricier on flights into the U.S. than in the other direction, whether you are traveling on “own metal” for “free” or — as in my case — on an interline ZED fare. But with flights out of Copenhagen, the tax premium is quite modest. An economy ZED fare from CPH to LAX costs $132, including taxes, compared with $97 in the other direction — just $35 more. By contrast, FRA-LAX costs $224 and LHR-LAX a whopping $293 — those higher amounts reflecting the stiff taxes and fees when flying out of those airports. I’ll be posting a ZED primer soon that will explore the ins and outs — and economics — of ZED travel in greater detail.
Eventyr Lounge, CPH
Finally, there’s a decent Priority Pass-accessible lounge in Terminal 3 of the Copenhagen Airport, which is the one used by SAS. I went in for about 20 minutes the evening I arrived from London, and had breakfast there when I left for Los Angeles. The spacious lounge was uncrowded on both occasions. There are nice ramp and runway views, and a reasonable — though not stellar — selection of food and drink. Oddly, for a European lounge, the wine is mostly Californian — the sort of stuff you’d pay about $7 about a bottle for in a store in most parts of the U.S.A. There are showers, which I wouldn’t necessarily expect in a lounge like this, although there’s a small charge for towels. ✈️
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