SAS Scandinavian Airlines has a lot of history under its belt — over 70 years’ worth, in fact. It was first to offer a regularly scheduled transpolar flight way back in 1954. More recently, it was a founding member of the Star Alliance. It continues to make big moves, expanding its US route network into Miami and Los Angeles to solidify its status as the airline with the most flights between the US and Scandinavia.
But as of a few years ago, SAS’ business class on its long-haul A340 and A330 fleet was stuck in the past, with a 2-2-2-across layout and only angle-flat seats. The airline ordered a few A350s but deliveries aren’t expected until late next year. In the meantime SAS needed to do something to keep its existing fleet from aging out of relevance. So starting last year it launched a massive effort to reinvent its flagship premium cabins.
We got a chance to experience SAS’ reimagined business class for ourselves and we found a lot to like — all documented in this trip report. And as suckers for aviation nostalgia, we’re glad that travelers will have the chance to fly the classic A340-300 for a while longer, and won’t have to sacrifice on style or comfort to do it.
Read on and join us on a Scandinavian adventure for the ages!
After a zippy check in, quick pass through the fast track at security, and a short trip to United’s placeholder lounge (while the main one is closed for its Polaris transformation), I arrived at the gate and saw the Airbus A340-300 that would be taking me to Copenhagen. I’m a big fan of liveries with colored engine nacelles, so SAS’ look didn’t disappoint — especially on the four engine A340.
The 40 business class seats on SAS are divided between a larger forward cabin and a smaller mini-cabin in the rear. The staggered 1-2-1 across configuration gives all passengers direct aisle access. For the outside seats, half of them are more distant from the aisle, providing amazing privacy, while the other half abut the aisle and are a bit less private.
It’s a truly gorgeous cabin. The color palette uses a lot of dark charcoal colors, with bright storage nooks to add a dash of color. The curvilinear edges of the seat shells give the cabin’s appearance an undulating geometry. Scandinavians take design seriously, so I suppose it’s no surprise that SAS went all-out on the cabin appearance.
I had assigned myself seat 8H, which was closer to the window than the aisle.
The seat was wide and comfortable, with a massage function I could really feel. The seat enclosure only gave me use of part of the very wide ledge beside my seat, but there was still plenty of space, though there were no real bins that you could put stuff in during takeoff and landing. The seat went fully flat and provided one of the longest beds I’ve seen — a full 6’5″. Scandinavians are known for being tall so I guess long beds are more a necessity than a luxury when you’re Scandinavia’s leading airline.
Design-wise, I really liked the storage nook. It featured storage for headphones, a bottle of water, power outlets, a USB charging port, intuitive seat controls, and a reading light.
SAS makes it easy to upgrade with money or points before boarding. So while the cabin had appeared only half full on the seat selection map at check-in, it ended up flying full.
True to its reputation, the A340-300 took its sweet time getting off the ground. Travelers departing SFO to Europe get a beautiful view of San Francisco on departure from the right side of the plane.
First Meal Service
Flight attendants distributed service menus with beautiful winter-themed cover art.
The service began with a hot towel. Interestingly there was no snack or nuts provided, so we went straight to starters. SAS runs its meal service using carts, which might come across as less-than-luxe to picky flyers. It definitely doesn’t feel as formal as cart-less, tray-less meal service. However carts do allow you to take a look at the options before deciding, which I appreciate since I always seem to choose badly when I order sight unseen.
In this case, I made a switch on the fly to the halibut and conch ceviche with jalapeà±o, cilantro, and olive oil, which was nicely seasoned and delicious. Another advantage of the cart was that the flight attendants plated your salad right in front of you.
I really enjoyed SAS’ drinks list, which showcased Scandinavian options like Harahorn Norwegian gin, Mackmyra Swedish whisky, and a few Danish beers. I was intrigued by the “Mikkeler spirits ginger & lime beer cocktail,” a mix of small-batch vodka, Berliner Weisse beer, lime, passion fruit, and a healthy dose of ginger. It was seriously amazing — one of the best cocktails I’ve had in the sky.
The cart made a second pass, this time with choices of main course.
I wanted to try the most Scandinavian thing on the menu, so I went with the venison. The taste was … well it’s hard to describe. But not bad. Pretty good, actually, once I got used to the new flavor! The surrounding veggies were cooked well, and the bread pudding was delicious.
Throughout the meal flight attendants operated efficiently but always with a smile, seeming genuinely pleased to be able to answer passengers’ questions about the meal. I took advantage of their generosity and asked for *all* of the options off the dessert cart. No regrets.
SAS boasts a robust list of after-dinner drinks, including sauterne, port, calvados, cognac, cointreau, and Bailey’s.
The video screen in business class is enormous, bright, and high-res, with a slick interface. Scrolling and touch-selection is as responsive as on an iPad, which is more than I can say for a lot of other IFE systems I’ve tried recently. SAS deserves credit for offering solid noise-canceling headphones.
AvGeeks rejoice! There are downward and forward-facing external camera views.
The library of movies and TV shows was solid but not spectacular. There were about five movies that I was interested in watching. It was enough to keep me entertained on my round-trip itinerary, but that’s about it.
One HUGE plus when flying SAS is that all passengers in business and economy plus get free WiFi. I had some trouble connecting during the first part of the flight, but once I was online I was generally able to load websites and send email. Most airlines with inflight WiFi charge business class passengers, so free functional WiFi is a major differentiating factor for SAS. And the airline is making big investments in high-bandwidth systems that could conceivably allow music and video streaming in the future.
Stuffed to the gills from that dinner and in need for some sleep, I decided to freshen up. SAS offers a pretty basic amenity kit. It contains the necessities — a dental kit, sleep mask, moisturizer, lip balm, ear plugs, and soft socks — but nothing else. It met my needs inflight (with the exception of a conspicuously absent comb), but isn’t much of a prestige item.
The rear right business class lavatory was spacious enough to make changing easy, and even had a window!
For those feeling hungry mid-flight, the redesigned cabin includes a self-serve snack nook. Just like cart-style meal service, this self-serve snack concept fit SAS’ less formal, more practical style.
This was an overnight flight, so flight attendants didn’t make passes through the cabin but were just seconds away when I hit the call button.
While the pillow and bedding on this flight were soft and substantial, I didn’t use them much because the cabin was kept a little too warm. Still, despite some monster turbulence over northern Canada, I still got six hours of solid sleep. I woke up 90 minutes before landing to a clear sunny sky west of Norway, just as the pre-landing meal service was getting started.
During boarding, flight attendants had come around to ask passengers whether they wanted to be woken up for breakfast. I’m glad they asked and I think this should be a universal practice for overnight flights. There’s nothing more annoying than not being woken up and landing hungry after shelling out major $$$ (or points) for business class, or alternatively being woken up early against your wishes for a meal you don’t want. One downside of cart-based meals is the increased noise in the cabin, which must have been annoying for the passengers trying to sleep through the service.
SAS’ breakfasts don’t feature large warm centerpiece entrees. Instead, you mix-and-match smaller hot and cold items off the cart. It was a tasty smorgasbord, though cucumbers aren’t a usual fixture of my breakfasts at home.
SAS is equipped to prepare espresso beverages in business class, and the cappuccino I ordered with breakfast was excellent. Our flight attendant also recommended a Scandinavian-style apple juice called “apple must.” It was great — a real must-try (yes I’m ashamed of my bad puns…).
Soon enough the tray tables were clear and we started a smooth descent into Copenhagen Airport. We coasted down the entire length of the runway after landing.
SAS has a lot riding on its new flagship business class, which it’s depending on to stay competitive for at least the next few years. Overall it’s a product they’re right to be proud of. My flight was a fantastic experience and I’d be thrilled to fly SAS again.
- A truly beautiful cabin
- A seat that’s spacious, comfortable, and well-designed, with universal direct aisle access
- A good sleep experience, with an unbeatably long fully-flat bed and soft bedding
- The IFE screen can go toe-to-toe with the best business class screens out there
- Free WiFi that worked well for most of the flight
- Espresso drinks, for the coffee lovers out there
- Delicious meals that featured Scandinavian specialties
- Friendly service
A few hiccups:
- The amenity kit is very basic
- The cabin was kept too warm overnight
Cart-style service and self-serve mid-flight snacks are plus/minus, depending on your preferences.
One thing to keep in mind if you’re considering connecting on SAS: their premium product for intra-Europe flights is relatively spartan. It’s pretty much just an economy seat with meal service, lounge access, and a few other perks. Still, given how good the long-haul product is, I wouldn’t avoid SAS because of this.
Practical Tips If You’re Flying SAS In Business Class
- Seat selection: Definitely go for window seats in even-numbered rows, which offer the most privacy and are closest to the window. If you can’t snag one of those, try for one of the 50% of seats that are more offset from the aisle. The forward cabin is a better pick than the rear mini-cabin, as the rear cabin is behind the boarding door and gets a lot of traffic during boarding. While the mini-cabin may appear emptier on the seat maps, SAS upgrades people aggressively so there’s no guarantee that it will be a quieter experience.
- Bidding for upgrades: SAS offers upgrades to business class with either miles or points, even at the gate. It may be worth asking about the price, if you’re flying economy or economy plus. However we’ve heard that certain fare classes of partner awards (such as with United miles) aren’t eligible for upgrades.
- WiFi: If you’re having trouble connecting in-flight, try rapidly entering various URLs or clicking bookmarks in quick succession. It’s what ultimately got the system to connect me.
- Lounge access on arrival: I didn’t stop by the lounge after I landed, but if you decided to sleep through the inflight breakfast, it’s not a bad place to fill up the tank before heading into town.
- The new SAS app and mobile site: I found both very useful for getting boarding passes and changing seats. The mobile site in particular is very eye-catching.
We’ll be back soon with reviews of SAS’ new “next-generation” lounge in Oslo and their updated premium economy product.
Now it’s time for us to hear from you! What do you think about the new business class product? Do you have experience flying with SAS? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for live updates from trips like these.
NOTE: SAS Scandinavian Airlines covered my flight for this story. All opinions are my own.