SAS, or Scandinavian Airlines, is the flag carrier of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. It’s also one of the airlines that does not levy any fuel surcharges when you redeem Aeroplan miles, and together with their extensive US route network, that makes them one of the ideal choices for flying from North America to Europe without paying an arm and a leg.
I booked myself on SAS business class on their Airbus A330 to get to Oktoberfest, and I was looking forward to finding out how the airline’s premium product compares with the other transatlantic options out there.
SAS Scandinavian Airlines | SK946
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Cabin: Business class
Route: Chicago (ORD) to Stockholm (ARN)
Date: Wednesday, October 3, 2018
Time: Departing 9:05pm and arriving 12:30pm the next day
Duration: 8 hours 25 minutes
As I mentioned in the last installment, having overstayed my welcome in the United Polaris Lounge and mad-dashed my way over from O’Hare Terminal 1 to Terminal 5, I was rather late to board the aircraft.
By the time I had hustled through the jet bridge and turned left into the business class section, the cabin was already virtually full of passengers who had taken their seats, so I wasn’t able to get any cabin pictures without getting up in people’s faces. Instead, I went ahead and got settled into my seat for the flight, Seat 6A on the left side of the aircraft.
It’s a shame, because SAS business class is very aesthetically pleasing indeed. Here’s an impromptu photo of the cabin that I ended up taking later in the flight – it’s a clean and modern look, brought about by the sleek anthracite cabin finishes with light brown accents on the seats.
SAS business class uses a modified version of the lie-flat Thompson VantageXL seat, which is arranged across the cabin in a 1-2-1 configuration. There are eight rows of seats on the Airbus A330, for 32 business class seats in total.
The distinguishing mark of the VantageXL seat is the alternating pattern of the seat positions from row to row. Down the middle, the seats are staggered so that each row’s footwells are housed within the seat consoles of the row in front of it. Meanwhile, along the windows, the seats alternate between being closer to the window and being closer to the aisle.
Couples travelling together can’t go wrong with the double-seats in the centre aisle, while solo travellers would benefit from choosing one of the window seats in Rows 2, 4, 6, and 8 that are closer to the window and thus afford more privacy. Seat 6A, where I took up residence, was one of these ultra-private seats.
As you take your seat, you find the in-flight entertainment monitor embedded in the seat shell in front of you, with a small literature pocket to its side.
You’ll find a larger literature pocket beneath that, as well as the footwell, housed within the console of the seat in front of you.
Virtually all of the in-seat features are located in the seat console at your side. If you’re seated in the window seats closer to the windows, the consoles give you a sense of privacy from the aisle, whereas if you’re seated closer to the aisle, then the consoles would be positioned against the windows.
The buttons and controls on the console fit together in quite an ergonomic way, and I quite liked having everything all in one place. From the outside in, you have the seat controls, reading light, bottle holder, a small shelf to hold your belongings, the entertainment controls, headphone rack, and USB and power ports.
Best of all, the console itself has a spacious surface area, where you can keep your laptop, drinks and snacks, or various other items during the flight.
There’s something quite satisfying about the design of the mini-shelf in particular, which acts as a bottle holder, a storage unit, and a partition between the various control units. Throw in the visually pleasing colour scheme, and I thought the seat design was a real winner.
There’s also a simplified set of seat controls on the edge of the console. These are designed to be easily accessible while you’re relaxing on the seat in recliner or lie-flat mode.
The tray table pops out from the corner of the console with the push of a button, and swings into place in front of the seat.
The opposite side of the SAS business class seat has few features of note – the armrest here can be raised or lowered, but that’s about it.
And lastly, I was pretty surprised to find an over-the-shoulder belt, which fits together with the regular seat belt to form a three-point shoulder harness as an additional safety measure. Passengers are encouraged to use it for take-off and landing, but it’s not required during the flight when the seat-belt sign is on. This was my first time encountering such a setup, although I’ve since seen it a few times on other airlines as well.
Since I was among the final business class passengers to board the aircraft, the flight attendants came by to welcome me onboard and pass out the pre-departure items relatively soon after I arrived. Interestingly, it was an all-male crew working the business class cabin, which isn’t something you see too often.
I enjoyed a glass of the champagne as my welcome beverage, and flicked through the in-flight dining menu and amenity kit.
The beautifully designed menu read as follows:
Meanwhile, the amenity kit was rather minimalist in its design, and was stocked very lightly with just the bare essentials. If you like collecting amenity kits from different airlines’ business class products, you might find yourself a little disappointed with this one.
The safety video played as we began our pushback and made our way across the taxiways of O’Hare Airport. There’s always an amusing gem or two in every airline safety video, and I found SAS’s sad-looking characters and matter-of-fact delivery to be quite hilarious.
The entertainment selection wasn’t the most extensive out there, but roughly 100 movies and television titles were available, and that’s plenty of choice on an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic.
SAS’s airshow game was also on point, delivering you some pretty impressive satellite imagery as you track the progress of your flight.
I put on Deadpool 2 for a while as we took off from Chicago, but soon got my laptop out to get some work done instead. Happily, SAS has wifi on their planes and offers free wifi to its business class passengers, as well as its EuroBonus Gold & Diamond customers.
However, virtually as soon as the seat-belt sign was turned off, the crew jumped into action to get the dinner service started, presumably in the hopes of letting passengers get some rest on this late-night departure as soon as possible.
The meal service concept on SAS is rather unique. Drinks, nuts, and bread are served first – I began with the rosé champagne, and then switched to the chardonnay.
Then, each course of the meal is served from an open-top cart that’s wheeled down the aisle. Some other airlines out there employ this process, but in doing so make the meal service feel like a factory assembly line; however, SAS does a good job of maintaining a sense of personalized service despite using a meal cart.
They do this by focusing on the little touches – for example, the flight attendant plates your salad right in front of your seat, offering to season it with salt and pepper as well.
You’re also allowed to choose either one of the appetizer dishes, or try both of them if you desire. As a seafood aficionado, I went with the shrimp cocktail with black pepper crème fraîche, which was delightful.
For the main course, I chose the grilled swordfish with purple mashed potato, which is one of the more unique dishes I’ve had onboard an airplane. While the taste was good, the dish turned out to be a little too oily to be fully enjoyable, in my opinion. I certainly needed lots of wine to wash it all down, which thankfully the flight attendants taking care of me were very diligent in topping up!
I’m happy to have encountered a cheerful crew on this flight – both the older lead flight attendant and the younger guy helping him out looked to be enjoying their work and were friendly, efficient, and professional.
After the main course, I was first offered my choice of coffee and tea, and the cheese and dessert service would commence after that. Tea was served by Dammann Frères, a French tea house, and I ordered a cup of the Japanese Genmaicha green tea.
The cheese and dessert course was up next, and it was delivered by way of another grand procession of the meal cart. The lead flight attendant locked the cart in place next to my seat and allowed me to pick and choose anything from the impressive selection of fruits, cheeses, ice creams, cakes, and dessert wines on offer.
I was feeling quite full already, so I asked the flight attendant to recommend just a few items, and he plated together the Three Twins strawberry ice cream and a small cheese plate for me.
He also proactively topped up my ice cream with a few berries and some fresh fruits on the side, and insisted that I pair my dessert with some of the Château Haut Coustet sweet wine (and of course, he topped up my chardonnay as well). That’s the kind of warm personalized service that truly leaves an impression!
After struggling to finish my meal, there were just about five and a half hours left of the flight, meaning I’d get four hours of sleep if I was lucky. It’s always tough to get proper rest on these overnight flights from the East Coast to Europe, even on a route like Chicago–Stockholm that’s actually one of the longer transatlantic flights out there.
I quickly visited the bathroom to freshen up before hitting the hay. SAS’s sharp black decor continues into the bathroom, and I was surprised to find an airplane window in here as well, since I’ve only seen that on the massive Airbus A380 before and the A330 isn’t particularly large.
When meals aren’t being serviced, SAS sets up a fully-stocked self-service area in the walkways near the galley, where passengers can grab a variety of snacks, fruits, and drinks. You’ll see that there’s an espresso machine here as well, where the crew can whip up a hand-crafted cappuccino for you. I grabbed a few bottles of water and some chocolates from here to bring back to my seat.
There’s also a magazine rack here for you to grab some extra reading material.
Interestingly, when the younger junior flight attendant saw me taking pictures of the self-serve area, he asked me if I had a blog or an Instagram or something like that. I guess the crew can always tell when one of us is onboard 😉
I gave him my business card and told him about Prince of Travel – if you’re reading this, my friend, thanks for an excellent flight!
I made my bed and got ready to sleep for a few hours. The SAS business class seat is very comfortable in lie-flat mode, the pillow is large and plush, and there was no problem with the size of the footwell either (sometimes these staggered seats leave you with very little room to move your feet as you sleep, but I didn’t find this one to be too restrictive).
I was awoken a few hours later by the cacophony of the pre-landing meal service. We were flying over the North Sea by this point, with a little over an hour left to go until arrival in Stockholm.
Compared to the personalized dinner service, efficiency is the name of the game when the pre-landing meal is being served, and so everything came on one tray. I loved the huge variety of the breakfast tray, which included charcuterie, sausages, spinach frittata, muesli, English muffins, and fruits.
The junior flight attendant walked by to serve tea and coffee from a jug. I asked if I could have a cappuccino, and he went over to the espresso machine to fix me one. It was a good way to perk myself up after a night of sleep that was mediocre at best.
With about 30 minutes of the flight left to go, the crew cleared our trays away just as the captain announced our descent and turned on the seat-belt sign. The window shades went up in the business class cabin, and I enjoyed the views of the Swedish countryside as we descended into Stockholm Arlanda Airport.
Upon landing in Stockholm, the captain’s announcement seemed to have read my mind, wishing passengers a pleasant onward journey and remarking that he “hoped [we] all managed to get some rest… or maybe even some sleep!”
Bleary-eyed and only slightly amused, I shuffled off the plane and into the airport for my layover, bringing my very enjoyable flight on SAS business class to an end.
SAS business class excels in both the hard product and soft product. The seats look stylish, are designed ergonomically, and afford a great deal of privacy, while the meal service is fun and unique in both its ingredients and its delivery, and on top of that the service very friendly. Throw in the free wifi and the fact that there are no fuel surcharges when redeeming miles, and SAS might just be my new favourite business class product for flying transatlantic.
While the airline doesn’t serve any airports in Canada, its US destinations are quite numerous, and the fact that it maintains three separate hubs in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo means that there’ll be plenty of routes for you to choose from. Give SAS business class a try on your next trip to Europe, you won’t regret it!