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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.