SAS FLIGHT REVIEW NEWARK – STOCKHOLM SAS PLUS

 

Interior A-330 aircraft, SAS Plus cabin. Photo courtesy SAS

By Ron Bernthal

I arrived at Newark’s terminal B about two hours early for the 5:20 pm daily non-stop flight (SK904) to Stockholm.  Check-in at the SAS counter was fast and efficient using the dedicated SAS Plus (premium economy) check-in line, and I arrived at the SAS Lounge (free access for SAS Business & Plus passengers) with plenty of time to enjoy the snacks, reading materials and WiFi. The SAS Lounge New York (Newark) was being upgraded and expanded during my visit, the only drawback was that the bathroom facilities in the lounge were closed, and lounge passengers had to use the lavatories in the main terminal, just outside the lounge doors. The expansion is now completed, and includes 40 additional seats and additional lavatories,  as well as updated design of the Café and reception areas.

SAS Lounge, Terminal B, Newark Airport. (photo Ron Bernthal)

The lounge offers a buffet with sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, within a Scandinavian-designed environment of light wood tables and chairs, attractive lighting, and huge windows facing an awaiting SAS A330 aircraft filling up with baggage, food and fuel at gate 60.Boarding began at 4:50 pm via the Business Class priority line.  My aisle seat was on the two-side of the 2-3-2 configuration, all 56 SAS Plus seats offer a spacious 38” pitch, 18.3” width, 7” recline and leg rests. The SAS Plus cabin looked especially clean, with no scratches or fabric tears, and I decided that this A330 must be one of the newer, or more recently retrofitted aircraft, with nice looking charcoal grey and blue seats and carpeting. The large, 12” HD seat-back entertainment screens offered more than 200 hours of films and other audio and video services, and power outlets are available for each seat, with extra USB ports.  In SAS Business and Plus cabins there is free WiFi, and the ability to make calls and use mobile phones inflight through a GSM connection, which means that passengers are charged international roaming rates by their mobile operator. Earphones were distributed free to all passengers.

The soft and comfortable duvet provided at each SAS Plus seat would be a welcome amenity during the evening flight. We pulled back from our gate at exactly on-time at 5:20 pm (how better does it get?) with lift-off at 6:10. Even better than the quick time getting off the ground were were the “landscape cameras” mounted on the front and bottom of the aircraft. Although our cruising altitude was too high to see much of anything via the cameras, from my screen controls I turned the front camera on during the take-off and landing portions and they provided great cockpit window views of the urban terrain near Newark and archipelago and forest views during the Stockholm approach into Arlanda Airport.

( photo courtesy SAS)

Meal service was great, with dinner consisting of broiled salmon, rice, salad, rolls and cake, with white wine. For breakfast we were served a plate with cold turkey, cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomato, yogurt and granola, bread, orange juice and coffee. I chose some mid-flight snacks as well, including some really delicious banana/strawberry, guava, and starfruit/yuzu smoothies. The smoothies are made by the Swedish smoothie company called Froosh, originally started to give consumers in the Nordic countries a convenient, delicious and healthy way to get more fruit into their diet. The company, now headquartered in Copenhagen, another SAS destination, uses 100% fruit completely free of any concentrates, sugar or preservatives. In early 2017 SAS started offering this a new range of food and beverage items, focusing on functionality, natural ingredients and high quality products from local, Scandinavian producers. Some of the new snacks, in addition to Froosh smoothies, include Larssons Chips from Sweden, Speedy Tom Chocolate from Denmark, and Imsdal spring water and Ringi apple juice from Norway.
Alcoholic drinks are also included in the mix, including Danish Mikkeller vodka, Mackmyra whiskey from Sweden and Harahorn gin from Norway.  Most of the new snacks are available on Scandinavian and European SAS flights, with a few showing up on international routes, and all are complimentary for SAS Plus passengers.

Just before landing in Stockholm at 7:10 am (five minutes early), with many passengers still asleep, the cabin’s ambient lighting was turned on, allowing the aircraft’s interior to be bathed in a pale orange light, which gradually increased in intensity until the normal, white cabin lighting signaled the end of the flight and our imminent landing in Sweden.

With the rise of leisure and business travel to Scandinavia, due to the region’s reputation as being safe, clean, less expensive than in previous years, and has become one of the world’s newest culinary destinations, SAS has added non-stop flights from the U.S. and has enhanced its aircraft and onboard amenities to stay competitive with the no-frills, low-cost carriers that have eked out a foothold in the U.S. market. “Last year we increased our US to Scandinavia capacity by 25 percent,” said Max Knagge, General Manager The America’s for SAS. “We are offering the most non-stop flights, which is helping us meet the demand from our leisure passengers. Also, many people are beginning to realize that because of the currency exchange and the stronger U.S.dollar, prices in Scandinavia for hotels, meals and public transportation is often less than in many U.S. destinations.  They are hearing this from friends who come back with stories of how they were surprised at the affordable prices. In addition, Scandinavia has beautiful nature, interesting culture, and we know how high the Nordic countries rate in the global ‘happiness’ rankings,” said Knagge.  “And, of course, the food scene in Scandinavia is really taking off, with people discovering Nordic cuisine and all the fresh fish and seafood available as being very healthy and good tasting.”

Preparing breakfast treats in Gothenburg’s historic Haga district (photo Ron Bernthal)

For passengers flying SAS to Oslo’s new expanded airport, they can experience the world’s “greenest” airport terminal —it’s the first to receive the BREEAM Excellence sustainability rating, the expansion is chock full of sustainable features, including passive-house-level insulation, predominantly natural lighting, recycled building materials, and natural thermal energy sources.

The 377,000-square-foot extension was designed by the airport’s original architects, Nordic Office of Architecture, who managed to reduce the building’s carbon footprint by 35 percent and cut energy needs by 50 percent—all while increasing the airport’s capacity from 19 million to 30 million passengers.

One of the most unusual additions is a massive watertight basin beneath the building. In winter, airport ploughs clear snow off the runways and pour it into the basin, storing upwards of 2 million gallons of Oslo snow. The icy substance is then used to cool the terminal in the summer, saving as much as 2 GWh of energy for cooling.The interior’s Scandinavian-sourced timber, planted walls, and fountains all contribute to an improved visitor experience.

New, expanded Oslo Airport terminal is the “greenest in the world” photo by Ivan Brodey via Inhabitat

SAS operates daily flights to Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen from Newark Liberty International Airport, and services Scandinavia from six additional U.S. cities including Newark, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Miami.

Turi Wideroe, Flight Officer, the first woman pilot of a commercial airline, in 1969, shown in 1972 as jet co-pilot. (photo courtesy SAS)

SAS www.flysas.com

The Thief: Design hotel thrives in Oslo’s newest cultural district.

The swim-up window at the Spa allows you to float in a heated pool listening to Reiki Zen meditation music while peering outside at pedestrians walking along the snow-covered Norwegian landscape (photo The Thief)

The Thief Oslo

By Ron Bernthal

Although most visitors to The Thief , in the Oslo neighborhood of Tjuvholmen (tchuv-holmen), arrive by taxi, others can travel by bus, tram or ferry and walk ten minutes along the Aker Brygge waterfront, past the stunning, three-year old, Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum to The Thief, an equally impressive structure designed by the Oslo firm Mellbye Architekter AS. The hotel’s name came about not because of the property’s high room rates (Norway is not an inexpensive country to visit), but because 18th century Tjuvholmen was called “thieves’ island,” a time when criminals caught stealing were executed in this once isolated area.

Large artwork by Richard Prince installed on a wall in the lobby of The Thief (photo The Thief)

Today, Tjuvholmen is one of Oslo’s glittering new arts districts and, as one might expect, The Thief has its own art curator, Sune Nordgren, a noted Swedish-born art and design aficionado and founding director of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. Mr. Nordgren oversees the 100+ museum quality art pieces that are displayed inside and outside the property, including Sir Peter Blake’s collages in the hotel suites, the Andy Warhol print in the Fru K restaurant, Jeff Koons balloon animal sculpture and Julian Opie’s animated artwork in the elevators. When I checked in at the hotel’s reception desk I kept staring up at the Richard Prince’s huge ink-jet on canvas work, “Cowboy – The Horse Thief” that covered an entire wall of the lobby. The hotel maintains a close working relationship with the Astrup Fearnley Museum next door, and all that priceless, borrowed art in the guest rooms and interior public spaces, and the stunning sculptures outside the hotel, like Antony Gormley’s intriguing cast-iron beggar outside the front entrance, is a great perk for guests. Free admission to the museum comes with your room booking, although few of The Thief’s upscale guests are looking to save the 100-120 krone ($11-$14) entrance cost.

Astrup Fearnley Museum (photo Nic Lehoux)

The 119-room property, opened in 2013, is a member of Design Hotels™ and the entire building, and almost every object inside, is a feast for the eyes, including the most common elements, like the perfect round holes that act as handles on the translucent bathroom doors, the adorable glass yogurt cups on the breakfast buffet, and the narrow, rectangular swim-up window at the Thief Spa, where you can float in a heated pool listening to Reiki Zen meditation music while peeking outside at pedestrians trudging along the snow-covered Norwegian landscape in parka’s and woolen ski hats. Every sensory experience, from the images of brightly colored artwork that flash before your eyes, to the pleasing curvature of the hotel’s glass façade at twilight when the golden glow of lighted room windows contrast with the moody dark waters of the fjord, is enjoyable.

The Thief sits between a small canal and the scenic Oslofjord in the revitalized Tjuvholmen district, steps from the Astrup Fearnley Museum and close to the Oslo Opera House. (photo The Thief)

The large windows in my room face the Astrup Fearnley and the Oslofjord, as well as the modern, rust-colored Handelsbanken, where, from my comfortable leather desk chair, I watch office workers stay busy at their desks until well after sunset. There are nine pillows on my King bed, with two flexible reading lights on each side of the headboard, and two stunning lamps on each end-table. A glass door allows access to petite triangular balcony, just big enough for a small chair. A wooden shelf holds large-size picture books about Norwegian art and architecture. The 42” Philips plasma HDTV offers dozens of channels from Norway, USA and Europe, and the complimentary Wi-Fi is fast and reliable.

Standard guestroom with view of Oslofjord and Astrup Fearnley Museum (photo The Thief)

A solid pocket door separates the white and brown marble bathroom from the guestroom, and sensors turn on the recessed mood lighting as soon as you enter the bathroom. A price guide to the bath amenities lists the thick, fluffy Maggie Wonka-designed bathrobe hanging on the door at 1,500 Norwegian krone, about $177, or one can purchase a tube of Marvis, the Italian-designed toothpaste, for $7. Even the little white boxes hanging on a bathroom wall where glasses are stored, is imaginatively designed.

The steel and painted polyester sculpture “Le Grand Rossignol” by French artist Niki de Sainte Phalle (photo courtesy The Thief)

The hotel’s fine dining Fru K restaurant serves three meals daily, and is filled with as much art as any other space in the hotel. I especially liked the original 1976 Andy Warhol silk screen and acrylic on canvas, a piece from a series called Ladies and Gentlemen. This work, valued at close to $2 million, hangs casually in the same room as the gorgeous buffet breakfast spread. Honestly, at 7:00 am it was not that difficult to decide which attraction needed my attention more, but Warhol was a very close second. Fru K has its own meeting room, a private bar area, an outdoor patio and a lunch and dinner menu that rivals any in Europe. Depending on the season, some of its Norwegian cuisine includes cod from Lofoten in the far north, quail eggs from Toten north of Oslo, Langoustine are caught by trawlers off Norway’s west coast and delivered live, and reindeer ribeye steaks arrive from the Nordas region near Bergen.

Small plates of Norwegian cuisine from Fru K restaurant (photo The Thief)

Although the Thief Spa is physically separated from the hotel by about 50 feet, with its own entrance for local visitors, hotel guests use a private elevator that descends along an outside wall to a below ground location, where an underground corridor leads to the reception area of the Spa. Constructed in 2014, about a year after the hotel opened, Thief Spa offers treatment and dressing rooms, post-treatment relaxation areas, a gym with the newest exercise machines, sauna and steam rooms, and a lovely heated swimming pool with mood lighting above and below the water. A small fee is charged to use the Spa, and includes complimentary fruit, nuts, and tea.

While former industrial areas of Oslo are still being transformed into modern arts and cultural districts, like nearby Bjørvika, where the modern Oslo Opera House opened in 2008, the construction work in Tjuvholmen is now complete. With the Astrup Fearnley Museum and The Thief pushing the envelope in terms of design and art, several of Oslo’s most well-known art galleries, including Galleri Brandstrup (www.brandstrup.no), Galleri Pushwagner (www.pushwagner.no) and Stalper+Friends (www.stolperandfriends.com) have now moved into the area, along with numerous restaurants, outdoor cafes, and a few brightly colored, design-driven residential buildings, all facing the sea, Oslo’s most precious asset.

A view of the Oslofjord from Tjuvholmen with ferry, sailboat and storm clouds (photo Ron Bernthal)