Although SAS long mooted launching service to San Francisco, this is the first time it has flown to the city by the bay, Gustafson noted. He added:”We are extremely delighted to be back here on the U.S. West Coast. I see California and Silicon Valley as a place that will generate traffic.”
Especially business traffic. “High technology is a very important part of this market,” Gustafson pointed out. Among companies on both sides of the Atlantic that Gustafson expects to supply corporate customers for the six times weekly, non-stop service are Ericsson, Sony Mobile, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems.
On the route SAS expects what Gustafson terms “a good mix of both business and leisure” traffic. Of course, high-flying, high-tech executives are the highest-yield passengers, especially if they fly in business class.
SAS has not implemented major changes in its long-haul international business class cabin recently; it plans to replace business class in Europe with economy class (SAS Go) and premium economy (SAS Plus).
On long-haul routes such as San Francisco-Copenhagen, SAS lacks 180-degree-recline, flat-bed seats like those which Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and United offer. (SAS Business Class sleeper seats offer 170 degrees of recline and 79 inches of personal space.) Nevertheless, Gustafson emphasized, “We are always, constantly, looking to upgrade our international business class.”
One might expect Los Angeles, a larger city with a busier airport than San Francisco’s, to be an attractive destination, but Gustafson said SAS prefers San Francisco.
“Los Angeles is just the opposite of San Francisco – mostly leisure travelers,” he said. “SFO is a very convenient airport. Customs and Immigration are very fast at SFO, and we have good time slots for connections with United.” Also, no Star Alliance carrier has a major hub at Los Angeles International Airport.
The Copenhagen-San Francisco flight, using an Airbus 340-300, the largest aircraft in the SAS fleet, departs San Francisco at 5:35 p.m. daily (except Tuesdays), arriving in Copenhagen at 1:15 p.m. the next day, local time.
In the other direction, flights depart Copenhagen at 12:25 p.m., arriving in San Francisco at 2:24 p.m. the same day, local time. The service launched on April 8.
SAS has configured the A340-300 into three classes – business, premium economy and economy – using 245 seats on the San Francisco-Copenhagen route, which it expects to lure 125,000 passengers a year.
Despite struggles with the bottom line and ongoing efforts to win concessions from recalcitrant labor unions (it has no fewer than 37 unions, spread over three countries), SAS has scored consistently well in a category deemed essential by both business and leisure travelers: on-time performance.
Indeed, for several years running, flightstats.com has named SAS the most punctual airline in Europe, with on-time performance in the high-80s percentile.
“The company made a commitment to be a world-class company on performance,” Gustafson declared. “Employees volunteered to be on-time ‘generals’. We have people who decided to concentrate on luggage, on airports. We use radio frequency identification to track bags. We encourage passengers to use self-service kiosks, online boarding passes and mobile boarding passes. We use the full panoply of initiatives to get customers to their destinations on time.”
SAS’ determination to be a world-class performer is admirable. The question for Gustafson’s company is if it will be a big enough draw to ensure Scandinavian Airlines keeps pace with its fast-growing rivals – and turn a profit while it grows.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others.