SAS Business Class Review – 4 months after the fact, nearly devoid of photos, and way too long.

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This is the business class cabin on SAS – Image from http://www.BusinessClass.se

My experience in SAS’s new business class was great, as long as you start from the moment I walked onto the plane. SAS’s ground operations leave quite a bit to be desired (especially given that CPH is their hub), making my layover after arriving from the Faroe Islands one of the most stressful in recent memory. Since I didn’t book the whole trip as one itinerary, I had to collect our bags and re-clear security, although that part ended up being a breeze. (As a quick aside, now that SAS flies to the Faroe Islands, you can book award flights all the way from the US. Back when I went on this trip, only Atlantic Airways served that destination, and although they codeshare with SAS, Vagar wasn’t recognized as a Star Alliance destination.)

SAS has a special “fast track” security lane for business class passengers at CPH, which is nice, since we learned on our outbound flight to the Faroes that the normal security line can take forever (around 25 minutes for us, and the check-in agent told us that that security traffic was unusually light). Rather than simply offering a separate lane à la Premier Access, SAS’s fast track is an entirely separate security apparatus in its own room, with one metal detector, one x-ray machine, etc. The entire screening took only a few minutes from entry to exit, and it was easily the smoothest security checkpoint I’ve ever been through. Walking out of the private security room, things were looking up. See, that morning I had received an aircraft change notification from ExpertFlyer, which would have worried me if SAS’s retrofit of their long haul fleet hadn’t already been completed. In fact, the change ended up helping us, since it was from an A330 to an A340, which would free up more business class seats. Since I wasn’t able to reserve window seats when I originally booked the itinerary, I was hoping the aircraft swap would enable us to make a last-minute switch at check-in.

Sure enough, 5H and 6H were open, so we snagged them, much to the check-in agent’s bewilderment at why we’d give up two seats together in the middle section only to sit apart from each other. Of course I would make almost any sacrifice to have a window seat, but my lovely wife made a joke about how after two weeks on the road together, a few hours apart wouldn’t be so bad. Haha, good one. Boarding passes printed, window seat achievement unlocked! Except for one SSSSmall problem – the quadruple S of shit, AKA special secondary security screening. I was immediately worried that SSSS would follow me home to the US and that I had months of TSA rectal exams to look forward to, although it luckily turned out to be a Copenhagen thing. And since the fast track security folks let it go, I hoped that maybe SSSS meant something different in Europe than it does here.

Either way, off we went to the SAS business class lounge, which I’m to understand is their flagship lounge. My singular goal at this point was to take a shower, since I didn’t have time before leaving for the airport, and I felt disgusting. I got a key from the SAS rep at the desk and found a perfectly serviceable shower room (with a private toilet that… well, given that this is a review, I’ll give the toilet an A+). Sure, the shower isn’t the same as the ones you see in pictures from first class lounges in Asia and the Middle east, but the water is hot, there’s free soap and shampoo, and you even get an orchid on the sink for ambience. Shower completed, it was time to check out the rest of the lounge, which was… underwhelming. It was fine, but my overall impression was that it was very United Clubby by way of Ikea, especially for an airline’s flagship lounge. (Granted, there was a first class area up the stairs for Star Alliance gold people, but the entire lounge is open, and what I could see of the first class section didn’t look much different.) If SAS wants their brand identity to be “gets the job done well enough, I guess,” then they’re right on message with the CPH lounge. Oh also, it was around 85 degrees inside and they still had a decorative fire going.

After Justine’s underwhelming experience with the catering on our Delta One flight overseas, she wanted to get a snack before the flight in case SAS’s food proved similarly gross. After finding nothing too appetizing (aside from a clean husband, of course), we decided to walk to the opposite end of the airport to check out the Aspire lounge, which is one of two Priority Pass lounges in CPH (the other being the Aviator lounge, which we didn’t visit.) Now, contract lounges often feel “less-than” to me, since they’re easier to get into, and they don’t have the cachet that comes with being an extension of the airline’s brand. SAS spends millions of dollars building up a certain brand image, so there is something that speaks to people (though I’m sure most would deny it) about being in this idealized space imbued with all that built-up brand equity. More and more, airlines are realizing that the top-down corporate identities by luminaries like Gerstner, Bass, and Unimark need to extend to all aspects of the flyer’s experience, like they did at the beginning of the jet age, when your experience with the brand started at the ticket office, continued into the lounge and onto the plane, and ended when you recognized the branded luggage tag on your suitcase at baggage claim. That’s why you’re seeing nicer and nicer Delta Skyclubs, an entirely new lounge concept with United Polaris, and so on. It’s why the Virgin group airlines put so much zazz into their lounges (either way you spell it, it means mazooma in the bank). My point here is that anonymous contract lounges are at a branding disadvantage, and I would almost always choose an airline’s own lounge if given the choice (especially if I’m at that airline’s hub). Having said all that, we both actually preferred the Aspire lounge to SAS’s business class lounge. It’s about 1/4 the size, but it was comparatively less crowded. The furnishings are nicer, the bar is equally as good, and the food is better too. SAS has a lot of fancy looking salads and stuff, but if the salads aren’t very good AND YOU DON’T EAT SOUP BECAUSE YOU REJECT FOOD THAT’S DRUNK RATHER THAN EATEN, you’re kinda out of luck. That’s where some slices of meat, cheese, and bread can really come in handy. So, long story short, my wife got a sandwich at the Aspire lounge, which gave it the nod over SAS.

From there, the shit show really kicked into high gear. First, we were late getting to the gate due to really long lines at passport control (not SAS’s fault, of course, but it just made the whole situation more hectic). Then we went to board, at which point we found out both that our precious window seats were no longer ours, but also that I would have to wait for all of the other passengers to board so that I could finally get my SSSSpecial screening. The boarding agent was especially rude, snapping at us that there were no more window seats and then referring us to a woman at a different desk who had an array of boarding passes spread out before her.

Here is where I admit that I don’t work in flight operations, so I don’t really know how difficult of a problem an aircraft swap presents the gate agents. (I suppose I should also add in a more general disclaimer that all the shit I’m whining about in this post amounts to a fairly minor inconvenience, since I did eventually board my flight. Still, the game of premium travel is built upon small differences among competing products, and after getting excited about flying SAS for months, my experience with them on the ground was really disappointing). Anyway, to go back to the seat fiasco, it turns out that there were bigger problems, namely that someone somewhere decided to play a game of 52 pickup with the passengers and seat assignments. To make matters worse, a good chunk of people in the gate area were no longer even on the flight at all, despite the switch to a bigger plane.

That meant that my concern about seating assignments was comparatively low priority, and had I been able to board, I probably would have said fuck it and taken the seats in the middle section. However, since I had to wait to be the very last person on the plane, I decided to stick around the check-in desk to see if they could produce a miracle and give me two window seats. After waiting for all the people who had been bumped to be reticketed, the frazzled agent did her best to help me. Turns out 9H and 10H were both available (which makes sense, given that those seats are in a mini-cabin that doesn’t exist on the A330, so they wouldn’t have been available to reserve beforehand). I thanked her profusely and sent Justine on her merry way, waiting while they made the final boarding call, said the doors would be closing, etc. I started to freak out that they weren’t going to let me on the plane, since they just kept ignoring me as they made the announcements that passengers had one more minute to board before they closed the doors. Finally, a solemn gentleman took me into a separate room off of the gate area and had me take off my shoes, belt, and watch while he gave me a good wanding and crotch-grab. Then I had to unpack my carry-on, turn on my iPad and demonstrate that my toiletries weren’t filled with exploding goo. The whole process took a while, at which point I was finally allowed to board – and the flight attendant waiting for me on the plane glared at me as I entered, as if it was my fucking fault that I was the very last person on the plane. I’m getting annoyed just thinking about it, so thanks a lot, blog!

Once seated, everything was right with the world. As I mentioned in a post a few months ago, 9H unexpectedly turned out to be an amazing seat, despite being one of the window seats that’s along the aisle, with the console against the window. I LOVE the Vantage XL seat that SAS has customized, since I prefer to be sitting forward, and the storage area next to the seat was really useful after dealing with my stuff sliding every which way in Delta’s reverse herringbone seat. I don’t mind the narrowness of the seat, and I didn’t find it restrictive at all. It’s an air-cushioned seat, and I did make the mistake of keeping the pressure too high for most of the flight – at one point with a few hours left, I complained to Justine that the seat was way too hard, and she made fun of me for not figuring out how the adjustments worked. Once I let some air out, the seat was much more comfortable.

Other things I remember – the food was gross. Again I had a special meal, so my experience isn’t representative. Justine hated her food, too, though, so there you go. Maybe we’re picky eaters? I don’t really consider myself overly picky, but everything just seemed lukewarm and slimy. Others have given good reviews to SAS’s food, so who knows. Also, are you mad that I don’t have 25 photos of the menu and each successive dish? Every blogger who reviews flights does that, and I always hastily scroll through that part when I read those reviews. I guess the food is a big part of the premium experience, but it just doesn’t really matter to me. The in-flight entertainment was really good, by the way. My system initially didn’t work, although it woke up after a reset. Good movie selection, and being the avgeek I am, I enjoyed all the little SAS-branded mini-movies. Finally, the bathroom is nice – it has a window in it and a bunch of wood paneling, so you get that premium feeling even when you’re dropping a deuce.

Bottom line? SAS over Delta One for sure. Any day of the week. Even with the hassles in CPH. Delta was fine, but the SAS seat is a cocoon of awesomeness, it has room for all your crap during the flight, the IFE screen is bigger, the in-flight snack bar is better, the bathroom is fancier, and I didn’t constantly bang my elbow on the privacy partition that sets Delta’s seats apart from the aisle. The only area where Delta is better is the bedding – SAS pillows are made by Hastens of Sweden, so they cost like $5000 each, but they’re pretty thin and need to be folded four ways before you can sleep on them. I would be excited to fly SAS again, whereas flying Delta would merely be a way to get from A to B without having to fly in economy. Given all the recent devaluations, the fact that these flights were only 45,000 Aeroplan miles each seems like a phenomenal deal as well.

Okay, that’s it. Do you have any questions? Have you flown SAS’s new business class? What did you think? Was their old business class really that bad? What do you think of Scandinavia – pretty great right?

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Flying over the Faroe islands on our way from Copenhagen to Chicago. I definitely enjoyed how much the A340’s engines enhanced my view along the way.

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