This post isn’t so much of a trip report as it is a commentary. The Boeing B 737 is the most successful jet airliner in aviation history, with a total of more than 10’500 aircraft of the type built. It is currently in its fourth generation with the ill-fated B737 Max, the future of which does not look too bright in the wake of the two fatal accidents more than two years ago.
The B 737 was originally built to operate from small airports with limited infrastructure. This meant that the aircraft’s layout required it not to be too high off the ground for better access for the service vehicles and for the possibility to incorporate a set of retractable passenger stairs.
The result was an aircraft with a short, stuby appearance. It is most easily recognisable by the fact that the engines had to be mounted directly under the wing in order to maintain enough clearance to the ground and thus to avoid them becoming contaminated by ingesting debris lying on the ground.
Over the years, the B 737’s fuselage has been stretched a number of times. The wing has also been modified, together with new avionics and more powerful engines. The original B 737-100 was only 29 metres long. Today, the longest version of the type is the B 737-900 at 42 metres.
The B 737-600 is a bit of a squirt, at just 31 metres length. It is also the least successful model of the B 737 series, with only 69 aircraft ever built. Of those 69 aircraft, only about half remain in active service in 2020. Part of the -600’s problem was that it was simply too heavy for the number of passengers it was able to carry, which might also explain why it is the only version of the B 737 for which the manufacturer did not offer the option to have winglets, which would only serve to make the aircraft even more overweight.
SAS was the first and, at one time, the largest operator of the B 737-600, with a fleet of 30 units that were ordered mainly for domestic operations in Sweden. Their intention had been to replace part of their fleet of old DC-9s and MD-80s with the -600. The Scandinavian airline decommissioned its last B 737-600 in 2019.
For the passenger though, the -600 had a lot to offer in terms of comfort, because the cabin of the B 737 in general is much wider than that of other hundred seaters currently in the market, such as the Embraer 195 or the A 220. At least on the -600 there were hardly ever any issues finding a place to store your hand luggage in the overhead bin. As such, it made for a rather pleasant ride on the sector such as Stockholm to Zürich, which has a flight time of slightly more than two hours.
On the face of it, the benefits of having a standard model aircraft for a specific type of mission and then offering it in different models in varying sizes makes a lot of senses, especially in terms of crew training, planning flexibility and maintenance. And for the larger of the B 737 types, that obviously seems to have worked rather well. But the -600 also shows that at the bottom end of the scale, there comes a point where the benefits from having cockpit commonality and sharing parts with other types can no longer make up for the fact that you are, at the end of the day, carrying around with you a lot of dead weight that directly translates in the amount of kerosene you have to upload. That was pretty much the also experience Airbus made with its mini Airbus A 318, of which only 80 were built.
I must admit that I never really understood the Scandinavians’ obsession with summer and the sun until I came on this trip.
But I’m starting to see their point. It’s coming up to eight in the morning and it’s still dark outside. It’s also windy, cold and all round unpleasant.
Getting to the Airport
From Haugesund to the airport there is an airport bus. The journey time is about 30 minutes. The bus leaves at 08h15, to arrive at the airport with enough time to check in and go through security for the 09h35 departure to Oslo.
The bus departs from the Haugesund terminus, which is a rather depressing edifice that really could do with a fresh lick of paint.
In any case, I arrive at the airport about 50 minutes before departure. It’s a very convenient and small airport, with only four check-in counters and just as many gates. There is no lounge though.
Ever since I arrived in Norway, I’ve been craving one of those cardamom rolls. But somehow, wherever I go on this trip, they’ve either just run out or they’re still preparing them. I try my luck at the airport airside kiosk, but no luck…
But at least there is the fact that there are no airbridges at this airport. So when boarding starts, I can take my time walking across the apron taking pictures of the airrcraft taking me to Oslo.
I’m seated on 16F, which is on the second emergency exit row. Seat pitch is obviously very good. The only problem is that there is no arm rest on the window side of the seat. As a result, you’re either sharing the one on the other side, which seems a bit unfair on the guy stuck in the middle seat, or you have to find something else to do with your hands.
Our take-off is to the northwest and very bumpy, thanks to a strong crosswind. But shortly after we’re airborne, we pierce through the cloud and a burst of sunshine floods the cabin.
The fligh time to Oslo is only 34 minutes. On board service in Economy Class consists of complimentary tea, coffee or water.
The weather in Oslo is slightly better. I think. It’s colder, but at least the sun is trying to break through the cloud.
And once more I have the good fortune of deplaning via stairs instead of an airbridge. Hurrah!
I now gave three hours to make my international conn… finally, come to papa my sweets, I’ve been looking all over for you…!
I just stepped off the SWISS flight from Zürich. In 90 minutes I have a connection to Haugesund. If you’re connecting from an international flight that’s not on SAS to any domestic service, you can’t go straight to departures. Instead, you’ll have to exit through customs, then head one floor up and go through security again. Hm’kay…?
Alas, once I’m landside again, it’s difficult to find the escalators to take me one floor up to departures, because they’re all hidden away.
But I must admit, at least the terminal is very nice and spacious, despite the inconvenience.
Luckily, I’m travelling on an SAS Plus fare, which means I’m entitled to use the fast track for security. Not that it helps much, because the security staff have obviously decided my luggage is a security issue and take for ever to check it. It’s just a rucksack, for heaven’s sake. Maybe it’s something to do with my spectacular beard…
The SAS Business Class Lounge
There’s an SAS lounge in both the international and domestic sectors of the terminal, one floor up from the public area.
I know, I know – it’s such a cliché… but the lounge really does look like something from an IKEA showroom.
There is also a good selection of salads, breads, cheese, cold cuts and soups.
I just have enough time for a bowl of salad while I upload the previous post before my flight starts boarding from gate C8.
It’s obviously cold outside, because they’ve even covered up the aircraft’s engines.
On this flight, I’m seated on 3F and as my luck will have it, the middle seat between me and the guy on the aisle stays vacant.
The seat pitch is good, but compared to the very modern A220, the cabin on this aircraft look ancient!
There is a USB port in the back of every seat, by the way.
The two cabin crew working the forward cabin are… ehm… difficult? The purser is an elderly gentleman who looks as though he should have retired long ago. And he obviously think he’s quite the joker. Only, he’s not funny and his safety on board demonstration is so sloppy that he might as well not have done it at all.
In Norway it seems to be standard practice that aircraft are only pushed back from the gate, but without turning them to point in the direction of the taxiway. I wonder if perhaps it has something to do with the ice.
In any case, before we head for the runway, we make a stop of about twenty minutes on the de-icing pad for them to defrost our plane. It’s obviously such a common occurrence up this end that the pilots don’t even bother to announce what’s going on.
But then once that’s done, we head for the runway and take-off without any further delays.
On domestic services, SAS Plus passengers get to select any item they like from the buy on board menu for free, whereas in regular Economy Class, food and drinks are only available for purchase. Tea and coffe however, are complimentary in all classes.
I ask for some apple juice and a packet of crisps.
It’s obviously not haute cuisine, but hey, the flight is only 35 minutes.
Despite the delay for de-icing, we still land on time. Up here it’s 15 degrees warmer than Oslo, with the temperature hovering around 9 degrees.
Haugesund airport is very small. Arrivals is more or less one not so big room with enough space to deliver the luggage. But at least that also means there are no airbridges!
I step outside, and the airport bus to Haugesund is already there. The bus runs infrequently, but the schedule coincides with SAS’s arrivals and departures. The journey into town takes about 25 minutes.
The meeting in Akrehamn finishes just before 14h00. Which is good, because I’ve ordered a taxi to take me to Haugesund’s Karmoy airport at 14h00. The journey by taxi to the airport takes roughly twenty minutes and will cost you NOK500, which is pretty good by Norwegian standards. Theoretically, you could also go by bus. But in most cases this will be inconvenient, because the busses are infrequent and there is no direct bus from Akrehamn to the airport anyway.
Haugesund airport itself is a dinky little thing. The landside departure area is basically one big room with check-in counters, self-service machines and a highly efficient security lane.
I’m unable to check-in online. Or rather, I can check-in, but I can’t get my boarding pass. I try the self-service machine, which at least allows me to change my seat for the onward flight, but eventually only spits out the boarding pass for the flight to Oslo. So I head over to the Wideroe counter, where a frumpy middle-aged female explains that she has no idea what I did exactly, because I’m checked in just fine. What do I know woman, it’s your check-in system. I’m just a lowly passenger, and apparently one in dire need of being lectured…
There is no lounge at Haugesund airport. Which is hardly surprising, given that the departure area has all of three gates and is roughly the size of a very small broom cupboard. But there is a kiosk where you can purchase snacks, drinks, magazines and last minute souvenirs.
Boarding starts slightly ahead of schedule, due to the fact that the plane arrived in Haugesund nearly ten minutes early. I’m all excited, because there are no air bridges in Haugesund. So I’m going to have to walk across the apron and use stairs to get aboard. Woohoo! I know I’m a nerd, but I’ll admit that I purposely selected a seat on row 20, just so I could use the rear door of the aircraft for boarding.
Of course, what I don’t take into consideration, is that this is September in Norway. I exit the terminal building, which is precisely the moment the heavens open. Moreover, it’s blowing a gale. Perhaps a normal human being would just get on with it and make a run for the stairs. But the opportunity is just too good and the plane just way too pretty. So I keep stopping to take photos of my aircraft.
Eventually, by the time I get on board, I’m soaking wet all down the back of my trousers. I look as though I just embarrassed myself with excitement. But I don’t mind, because after all, I got to take aeroplane photos up close, so it’s really not that far from the truth…!
The cabin of this aircraft is in much better condition than those of the two Boeing B 737-700s I flew with to get to Haugesund. The aircraft has wifi installed, which is available at a price in the SAS Go cabin. Moreover, it has the new cabin interiors with the dark grey Recaro seats installed. Seat pitch on row 20 is good and the seat is comfortable enough.
That is, of course, until Mr. 20B arrives. Seriously? I mean, admittedly, his physique really is quite spectacular, and I dare say that back in the good old days he probably would have made even the toughest Viking warrior look like a bit of a wimpy weakling with fitness anxieties. The only way he can fit his long legs into the seat, is to sit there spread-eagled and with his elbows poking into my side. Worse still, I can’t even complain to him, even if I dared to, because it’s obvious that he’s really trying his best to take up as little space as possible. But at least the flight to Oslo is only forty minutes.
There are four crew on this flight. One young man who allegedly smiled the last time way back around the turn of the century, and three senior females who could be his mom, granny and great-granny respectively. I can’t really say anything much about the cabin crew because there is no interaction with them. During boarding they successfully ignore their passengers and pretend we all aren’t really there, and then after take-off, I drop off to sleep and miss the service. Such as it were.
In SAS Go, tea and coffee are complimentary. All other snacks and drinks are available for purchase, subject to the duration of the flight.
The landing in Oslo is quite bumpy. But at least the weather is much better here, so I get some good views of the landscape on the approach.
I have three hours to make my connection. Transferring in Oslo is painless and easy. The biggest problem really, is that the facility is too crowded, so getting through can be difficult at times.
When I flew to China with SAS in July, I have to say I rather enjoyed their product and service on long-haul. But on short-haul, I think they’re a complete stinker. As I already mentioned before, their aircraft tend to be filthy and tattered, which makes you wonder about the state of those parts of the aircraft that you can’t see. But apart from that, the crews on all flights were totally uninspired and bland, which again is a stark contrast to my experience with them on long-haul.
A few years ago, I think it was somewhere around 2014, SAS took the decision to abolish its Business Class product on short-haul intra-European routes. Instead, it launched a new cabin concept comprising SAS Go, which is your classic Economy Class with buy on board set up, and SAS Plus, which replaced what used to be Business Class.
In SAS Plus you get more or less all the perks you can normally expect from a European Business Class product: fast track at security, lounge access, complimentary meals, etc. The only difference to other carriers appears to be that the middle seat is not left empty in SAS Plus.
Getting to the Airport
I depart from the office at 12h17 to catch the 12h28 train to the airport. The worst of the summer is over here in Switzerland, and although it’s a lovely, bright and sunny day, you can already feel that the sun is losing its heat and the harshness of summer.
SAS checks in on row 2 of terminal 2 in Zürich. Their handling agent is DNATA. There are self-service machines available for check-in as well. One day before the flight, I receive a text message from SAS, informing me that online check-in for the flight is open. Strangely enough though, although I can check in, I can’t upload my boarding pass to passbook.
By the time I’m through security and airside, it’s already 12h55. My flight will be boarding from gate A72. So I decide to skip the SWISS lounge and head for my gate instead to watch the movements on the apron.
Boarding for the flight starts on time and it looks as though the flight is fairly full. Before the gate agent even manages to finish his announcement, there’s already a scrum for the automatic gate readers… You’d think they’re giving it away for free.
There is no cabin divider, which I always find slightly awkward. Instead, there is a small sign attached to the aisle seat, indicating where SAS Plus ends and SAS Go begins. On today’s flight there is just the one row of SAS Plus. Leg space on row 1 is very good. I am seated on 1A. On the opposite side of the cabin, there is even more pitch between the seats and the bulkhead.
I also needn’t worry about having somebody sitting next to me, as I’m the only passenger in SAS Plus today and therefore have the whole row to myself.
The one thing that strikes me though, is that the cabin is really dirty. And it’s old dirty that has spent years maturing into grime.
There are three cabin crew. The service up front is conducted by a rather unhappy looking female just past her middle age, and a gentleman of roughly the same age who does not necessarily look happy but at least seems less unhappy than the female.
While the aircraft is on the ground, there is zero interaction between the crew and the passengers. There are no welcome drinks, no newspapers, nothing.
The flight time is announced as two hours and fifteen minutes.
In SAS Go the service is buy on board, with the exception of tea and coffee. In contrast, in SAS Plus passengers are served the full range of complimentary food and drinks available from the snack menu.
The service begins with a partially wet towel, which should probably have been served warm. Shortly after that, the cold meal is served in a rather stylish but oddly shaped square cardboard box with cutlery that looks like something they nicked from a pre-schooler.
The box contains a salad of carrots with honey glazed chicken, a yoghurt dressing and pollen sprinkles, which I still hadn’t figured out by the time I’d finished the meal.
The quality of the meal is good and so are the flavours, at least they are if you like overdosing on carrots and beets. Otherwise, I think you may have a problem. Fortunately, in SAS Plus you can order anything you like from the buy on board for free. And so, in a bid to ward off a vitamin-induced coma of too healthy food (I hope the tall, blond M. ain’t reading this…), I ask for a packet of those delectable Larsson crisps I enjoyed so much on my last flight with SAS from Shanghai back to Copenhagen…
To drink with the meal, I have a Coke Zero.
After the meal, the male cabin attendant comes to clear my box away and brings me a cup of coffee and unceremoniously plonks a small box of not really very nice chocolates in front of me.
As we approach Oslo the weather starts to deteriorate. When I left Zürich, the temperature was a balmy 27 degrees Celsius. But here in Oslo they’re expecting rain showers and a maximum temperature of only 14 degrees…
Eventually, by the time we land it’s already 16h16. My connecting flight to Haugesund will already be departing at 16h55.
I’m not really sure what to make of my SAS Plus experience. All in all, the flight was okay, I guess. And it certainly helped that I had the first row all to myself. But even so, the entire experience was kind of underwhelming and unspectacular, from the dirty cabin to the rather lacklustre service.
I think next time, if I have an alternative on European short-haul, I’ll take it.
I think the presentation went rather well, and I even had a bit of a fan-boy moment when I chatted with two gentlemen at the conference that I’ve quoted more often in my papers than I care to remember! It is kind of odd when you finally meet somebody and realise they don’t just exist on paper but also in the three dimensional world…
Getting to Pudong Airport
The flight to Copenhagen will be leaving at 13h20 from Shanghai Pudong’s terminal 2. To get from the university in Fudan to the airport will take approximately fifty minutes by car, which is why I order a taxi to pick us up from the hotel near the university at 10h00 on Saturday morning.
To enter the building you first have to undergo a preliminary security screening. Although to be honest, given how sloppy and uninterested the staff go about their job, I’m not really quite sure what the point of this check is supposed to be…
SAS checks in on row H of terminal 2. When I get there, my heart nearly stops, because the queue is endless. How many people fit in a bloody Airbus A 340 anyway? Luckily though, there is a dedicated queue for Business Class passengers, which is much shorter.
From what I can gather on an A 4 sheet of paper lying on the counter, SAS gives you the option to do a last minute upgrade at check-in from Economy to either Economy Plus or Business Class. An Upgrade from Economy to Business would be something like RMB3500, which is a bit less than EUR500.
The cases are labelled all the way to Zürich and so, the next stop is immigration and security. Fortunately, the queue is not too long there either and within twenty minutes I already find myself airside.
The departure gate for the SAS flight is right opposite the exit from security and the escalators leading up to the lounge are just off to the left. So I take a few photos of my aircraft and then decide to escape to the lounge.
The Air China Premium Lounge
In Pudong, SAS uses the Air China First and Business Class lounge, lounge number 71, which is located one level up from the public airside area.
The lounge is spread out over two floors. The lower floor is mainly for lounging about (and surreptitious smoking, by the smell of it…) and there is only a bar with drinks available but no food. The main area of the lounge is on the upper floor, which is also where the buffet with the food is.
There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes, including Western and Chinese dishes, pastries, etc.
The lounge is nice enough, and even though there’s a Lufthansa A 380 being readied for its return to Frankfurt outside, it’s not too crowded. And the wifi is not bad either.
Boarding for the 13h20 departure is expected to start at 12h35, so 45 minutes before departure. There are three different lanes to queue for boarding: one for Economy, one for Business Class and a third for families with children and other disabilities and misfortunes…
The boarding process is completed on time. But no sooner have the doors been closed that the captain informs us there will be a delay of at least thirty minutes due to heavy traffic in Pudong. Eventually, we depart with a delay of an hour. However, given that the flight time is announced as ten hours and twenty minutes, which is one hour less than scheduled, we’ll probably still be arriving in Copenhagen on time.
Getting airborne from Pudong is the usual undignified and somewhat embarrassing spectacle you get on the Airbus A 340: we line up on the runway, we wait, the excited anticipation starts to rise, the throttles are pushed forward to the TO/GA position, the engines start howling…
… still howling…
… and then there a gentle bump and the beast slowly lumbers into motion, slowly gaining speed. Terminal 1 goes zooming past the window… well, passes at a slightly faster pace than taxi speed, then the new terminal still under constructions and then, only then, seemingly in slow motion Astrid Viking raises her nose into the air and reluctantly cuts the ties with earth. We actually made it, we’re finally airborne.
The cabin on this bird is identical to the one I had on the outbound flight, so I think it hardly needs an introduction. Instead, this time I tried to focus on taking pictures of some of the smaller details of the cabin. I must say though, I really like the seat and I think it offers a lot of space and comfort.
On this flight the complimentary wifi is available. But it is turned off the entire time we are flying over Russia. Which is a very long time if you consider the size of the country.
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. After that, the menus for the flight are distributed.
After take-off, the slippers and the hot towels are handed out before the start of the lunch service.
The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel at home, for example by suggesting things for them to sample from the drinks cart. There’s something very efficient but still unrushed about their service, which makes the experience very pleasant.
The vanity kit comes in a stylish black bag. It contains socks, eye shades, ear plugs, a Colgate toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as some lip balm and hand cream by REN. The toothbrush is the same model Emirates uses and it’s very good. The earplugs are also comfortable to wear and good at blocking out the noise.
The meal service starts with the warm nuts and drinks. I decide to go with a Danish, Belgian-style ale that’s quite strong at 9% and has a somewhat disturbing hint of tropical fruit. I’m not sure what to make of it, I’m not even sure I like it either.
The crew make two bread rounds and encourage passengers to take more than just the one piece. The bread is served with a small ramekin of butter. I always find it’s the little things that make the difference between a normal crew and a stellar one: by the time he’s finished the first two pieces of bread, the valiant M. has already demolished all the butter. When the crew come by for the second bread round, one of the flight attendants notices and brings him some more butter without him even having to ask for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call service.
The First Course
For the first course, there is a choice of two starters. I have the crab and salmon mouse with the tomato timbale, which is very good and flavourful, but without being overly fishy. The first course is accompanied by a small mixed salad, which is served with a small flacon of balsamico and olive oil.
The Main Course
For the main course there are four dishes to choose from: chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore at the best of times, I decide to try the polenta, served with goat’s cheese, broccoli and a very tasty tomato and bell pepper sauce. The meal is served with shavings of parmesan cheese on it. I really like this dish. Especially the tomato sauce is excellent and tangy and goes very well with the parmesan.
For dessert there is a choice of cheese and crackers, a warm cheese cake with berries and a selection of fruit. I have the cheese cake with a bit of dragon fruit and kiwi on the side. And then to conclude the meal, there is coffee or tea.
By the time the meal service ends and the table wear has been removed, we’ve only been airborne for just over two hours. Not bad!
Being a daytime flight, the crew only dim the lights but do not switch them off completely. Throughout the flight they regularly pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks.
The Second Service
I miss the second service, mainly because I’ve kept myself well fed and well hydrated from the snack bar during the flight. From what I could gather from a glance across to the valiant M.’s tray, the meal consisted of a shrimp salad, a fruit salad for dessert and a choice of salmon or proc for the main dish, which was served with Anna potatoes and veggies.
Our arrival into Copenhagen is five minutes ahead of schedule. The only thing I think SAS could do better is to provide arrival information for connecting passengers. As it is, there is no information provided until you’re on the ground.
Other than that though, I think SAS has a solid and consistent product. Their main selling point, I’d say, is the crew. On both the outbound and inbound they were really friendly and very hospitable. The meal service is also very nice. There’s something old-fashioned about it but that’s kind of nice. And the seat is also very comfortable. I’d fly them again any time.
I just stepped off an Airbus A 321 of SWISS, arriving from Zürich. It’s just gone nine o’clock in the morning and I now have another six hours to make my connection to Hong Kong.
The SAS Lounge
There is no SAS or Star Alliance lounge in the non-Schengen sector of the F concourse, from where the flight to Hong Kong will be leaving. But SAS has a Business Class lounge and a dedicated lounge for Star Alliance Gold members in the Schengen area.
The Business Class lounge is nice, although it is quite small and tends to get very busy at times. Here too there’s a bit of a IKEA showroom/Starbucks café vibe going on. But given that this is the heartland of IKEA and I’m shameless enough to stereotype, I guess that’s fair enough.
The food and drinks selection is somewhat limited though. But I’m guessing the lounge had been designed mainly to cater for short-haul traffic, seeing as the number of long-haul flights from Stockholm is fairly limited. But the wifi connection is good.
One hour before departure the valiant M. has solved yet another series of mathematical somethings that only an engineer could find exciting, and so we head off for our departure gate. The queue at immigration is quite busy, especially seeing as the Thai Airways and Emirates flights are departing ahead of our flight to Hong Kong. But the line moves quickly.
The non-Schengen area has closed gates, so when the flight starts boarding, that only means that passengers are invited to enter the holding area. But at least there are plenty of places to sit.
I must say, I rather like the new SAS Business Class cabin. The colours are admittedly a bit dark, but I think that only makes the cabin look more elegant. The seats are in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration and there are eight rows of seats, which means a total capacity of 32 seats in Business Class – all of which have direct access to the aisle.
On the even numbered rows the window seats and the D aisle seats have a bit more privacy because they are not directly on the aisle.
The seats are staggered, so that the window seats are slightly in front of the middle seats.
The seat is comfortable to sit and lounge in. In the bed position though, it feels a bit tight because there isn’t a lot of height clearance to move the legs.
The touch screen is very responsive. Moreover, you can touch the screen from your seat without even having to bend forward.
Apparently, there is complimentary wifi on board for Business Class passengers. But I try a couple of times throughout the flight, and it never works.
A duvet, pillow, seat cover and the amenity kit have already been placed at every seat.
After take-off the crew also distribute slippers.
The crew on today’s flight is really excellent. They’re very friendly and their interaction with the passengers is relaxed and welcoming. It’s nice to experience a crew on a flight that actually looks happy to be there, for a change.
The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of orange juice, water and champagne. While we’re still on the ground, the crew also distribute the nicely designed menu for the flight and an unscented hot towel.
After take-off, once the service begins, I notice that the crew always make sure to start the service at the same time on both aisles. This is really just a minor thing, but still I think it’s a nice gesture.
The meal service begins with a large bowl of mixed nuts and an aperitif. I decide to go with the Apple Must, which is some sort of thick apple juice and very tasty.
After that, the table is set.
The salad is prepared in front of you.
The First Course
There is a choice of two first courses. I go with the smoked cod served on a bed of pickled root vegetable julienne and a mustard, dill and brown sugar dressing. During the first course the crew make two bread rounds and actively encourage passengers to take as much bread as they like.
The Main Course
For the main course there is a selection of four main dishes. Again, I go with the fish and have the baked cod with herb butter, parsley potatoes, cabbage with onions, oven dried tomatoes and a Hollandaise sauce.
After the main course there is a cheese and dessert service, which is served from a trolley and really looks very nice. I have the rhubarb tart and strawberries, which are served with thick whipped cream. With that I have a Sauternes to drink.
And then to conclude the meal, I have a coffee.
All in all, I have to say I really enjoy the meal. I think the quality of the food is very good. What’s more, there’s copious amount of it and the presentation on the trolley is nice. After the meal service the crew set up a self-service bar by the side of the L2 galley. And here too there is a large selection of items to choose from, including crisps, biscuits, instant noodles and fresh fruit.
The Second Service
Ninety minutes out of Hong Kong, one of the cabin crew comes to wake me up, it’s time for the second service. This consists of:
a selection of breads and butter,
yoghurt and müsli,
a selection of cold cuts, cheese and vegetables,
a small Stilton and broccoli pie,
coffee and juices.
The timing of the meal is very good and shows that the breakfast service needn’t take for ever. Again, the quality of the meal is very good.
Normally you can expect arrival traffic into Hong Kong to be fairly busy, causing long delays for the approach. But today is different and we’re on the ground fairly quickly. I guess it probably has to do with the fact the SAS is one of the earliest arrivals from the European airlines in Hong Kong, with most of the others not arriving until the afternoon.
The MD-80 figures prominently in my childhood memories of lazy summer vacations spent at the beach in Malta, sitting in the shade, digging my toes into the backing sand and gazing out across the azure shades of the Mediterranean sea.
In those days there were not that many direct flights to Malta. Air Malta operated a three times weekly schedule to Zürich with the mighty B 720, and that was it. Not of course, that I would have minded as a child to travel with that old veteran but alas, my parents had their reservations, shall we say. Back then Air Malta was not the world’s most reliable airline and with only three weekly flights tended to be rather pricey for family of five. So instead, we used to travel with Swissair from Basel via Zürich to Rome, initially with the DC-9-50 and later with the MD-80, and then from there on to Malta, either by Air Malta or with Alitalia on the B 727-200 and later also with the MD-80.
My memories of these flights are no longer clear and are now shrouded in the haze of the many years that have since elapsed. But I do remember Swissair serving lovely, tasty warm pancakes filled with spinach in a tomato sauce on the Zürich to Rome sector. I remember my elder sister, and I am still grateful to her for doing it, preparing a calendar for me to cross the days in the run-up to the summer holidays and the moment when I would finally set foot on an aircraft, an MD-80, again.
In later years, Swissair brought relief to us with the introduction of flights to Malta, also with the MD-80 of course. To begin with Swissair too operated on a trice-weekly schedule, which was later increased to daily except Tuesdays.
So perhaps you will now understand how the MD-80 came to be linked so closely to those adolescent, carefree memories of mine of summers suspended in the warmth of the summer sun. Perhaps you will now also understand why I wanted to take one last trip with the MD-80, to pay homage to this excellent aircraft before it disappears from Europe forever.
Planning the Trip
There are already not that many airlines left in Europe that operate the MD-80. I deemed charter flights to be too complicated because I only had a weekend to do the trip. Most tour operators only sell packages for at least one week’s stay somewhere. And Alitalia seemed like a bit of a wild card. Thus, very early on during the planning phase for this trip, it became apparent that SAS would be the easiest, most convenient option. There was however one complication that needed to be considered: the coolest thing about the MD-80 is of course the possibility to board/deplane through the rear exit, to the death defying, agonising roar of the running APU. Therefore, it was not simply a question of finding a flight operated by SAS with the MD-80 but also of finding a destination which did not have any airbridges, thus increasing my chances of availing myself of the peviously mentioned aft stairs.
Eventually, I decided on the following routing: Zürich-Stockholm-Skelleftea-Stockholm-Zürich with SAS. On Friday evening, 10 June 2011, I would fly from Zürich to Stockholm on an MD-80. I believe it was Björn Viking, a sprightly 26 year old. I would then spend the night at the Radisson Blue in Arlanda’s Sky City. The next day, in the morning of Saturday, 11 June 2011, I would fly to Skelleftea and back on the same plane, Olav Viking. After another night in Stockholm proper I would then fly back to Zürich on Sunday afternoon, 12 June 2011. This report covers the flights from Stockholm Arlanda to Skelleftea and back.
Date: 11 June 2011 Airline: SAS – Scandinavian Airlines From: Stockholm Arlanda To: Skelleftea Aircraft: MD-80 Seat: 26F
I awake on Saturday to the sight of a magnificent Thai Airways B 747-400. After a quick coffee and a shower I check out of the hotel and make my way to Arlanda’s terminal 4, from where my flight to Skelleftea will be leaving.
The domestic terminal is very functional. On this Saturday morning it is also very empty. I go through security, where the staff on duty seem happy to see a ‘client’. I then make my way to a coffee shop and have breakfast, which consists of a cinnamon roll, or Kanel Bollar, and a coffee.
The boarding gate has one attended queue and an automatic one, which I try and which works perfectly.
And then from there I walk down the gangway to my aircraft.
Judging by the condition of the cabin you’d never guess the age and hours on this bird!
With only 30 passengers on the flight, I couldn’t really say we take off. In actual fact I think blasting off or rocketing off would be more appropriate…
Generally, SAS has buy-on-board service in Economy Class. However, on morning flights that leave before 09h00 they still serve a complimentary breakfast, even on our short flight of 55 minutes. The breakfast hits the spot. It consists of orange juice, blueberry yoghurt with müsli, two buns, cold cuts, cheese, tomato and salad.
I’m still sipping my coffee when the captain comes on the blower to inform us that we’re about the start the descent into Skelleftea. Outside the views are of very flat land, lush green vegetation and water. Skelleftea is a mini airport. So far Ronne airport on the Danish island of Bornholm has been the smallest airport I have ever visited, but I think Skelleftea takes the biscuit.
My plan works and I am able to deplane through the back, which I greatly enjoy. I feel like a little kid again, emerging into the bright sunlight under the magnificent empennage of the MD-80. The only thing missing is the noise: alas the APU is not turned on as the aircraft had been plugged in to an external power supply.
As I make my way to arrivals I keep stopping to take pictures. The nice thing about this airport is that none of the staff actually seem to mind.
Date: 11 June 2011 Airline: SAS Aircraft: MD-80 From: Skelleftea To: Stockholm Cabin: Economy Class Seat: 28F
I am the last passenger to enter the terminal. I now have 20 minutes to ‘connect’ to the return flight. Theoretically, I could turn right at arrivals and go down a narrow hall that would bring me to departures – the terminal is like somebody’s country house – but instead I decide to step outside and enter the terminal again on the departures side. I guess in a way my reckoning being that by doing so I can now say that I actually was in Skelleftea proper and not just changed planes there, which technically would not be quite true either, given that I return to Stockholm on the same plane with which I had arrived…
Skelleftea has one boarding gate, so while your boarding pass is scanned for you to go airside, you’re also reporting for your flight. Boarding starts rather unceremoniously. There is the sound a bell, then the doors open and we are free to get on board again. No announcement is made.
The flight attendant’s expression as she sees me coming back on board again is priceless. It’s a mixture of incomprehension, surprise and alarm. So I quickly show her my boarding pass and explain that I am undertaking the trip specifically to fly the MD-80 and not because I have any particular business in Skelleftea. This proves to be quite an ice breaker and throughout the flight, the entire cabin crew keep stopping at my row to talk to me about why I like the MD-80 so much, some of them also give details about how long they’ve been with SAS and why they like working on the MD-80.
With only 70 passengers on the return leg, boarding is soon completed, we make a quick taxi, backtracking to the end of the runway, and blast off from runway 10.
Feeling gratified by the mission successfully accomplished, I am able to lean back and enjoy the views outside.
Just before landing the lead flight attendant comes by to inform me that the captain has been informed about me and would like to invite me up to the cockpit after landing to have a look around. I think this is really nice and indeed, once we land and everybody has disembarked and I make my way to the forward exit, where the cockpit crew is already expecting me. The first officer offers me his seat and takes a few picutre. We chat a bit about what a great aircraft the MD-80 is to fly. According to the first officer the last aircraft is expected to leave the SAS fleet by 2012 and he confirmes that this was much to the regret of many of the staff at SAS.
Eventually I manage to tear myself away, after all these kind people have work to do. So I thank them for their kindness and, with a heavy heart, I bid my last farewell the elegant MD-80.
All in all, this trip was really worth it and certainly one of the more memorable ones. I really enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to get one last flight with the MD-80. So I will have more fond memories of this aircraft to add to those of my childhood.
As for SAS, the kindness and friendliness of their crew really are the airline’s biggest asset!
At the end of May 2011 I decided to have a break and spend a few days in Beijing sightseeing. My residence during my stay in China’s capital city was the Aman at Summer Palace, a lovely hotel which sits adjacent to the Imperial Summer Palace and was built in what used to be one of the palace kitchens.
Date: 04 June 2011 Flight number: SK996 Aircraft: A 340-300 From: Beijing To: Copenhagen Cabin: Business Class Seat: 2A
Getting to the Airport
I leave the hotel at 12:00. The journey to the airport takes us a little less than one hour, mainly due to the fact that traffic in Beijing is really bad and crawling most of the time. Having said that, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Chinese drive live mad men. The day before my departure I visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu. As soon as we left the inner city behind us, traffic became lighter. My driver kept swerving in and out of the traffic and left me wishing for a traffic jam to slow him down. But all that is another story.
In any case, upon arrival at the airport I am already being expected by a young lady from the hotel’s escort service. She takes my bags to the SAS Business Class check-in counter and then guides me to the shuttle to take me across to the satellite of terminal three, from where all international departures seem to leave. The journey is quite long and really impressive. The new Terminal 3 at Beijing really is amazing. Once we arrived at the satellite, my escort shows me the way to the immigration counters where she bids me farewell and a safe journey home.
Immigration takes about 10 minutes to complete, as there is quite a queue. At least behind immigration there’s an express line through security. In order to take advantage of the express lane at security though, you need to show your boarding pass to some official, not sure who he works for, who stamps your boarding pass no less than 4 times with the same stamp before letting you through.
Once you pass security there really isn’t that much to do, except gape in awe at the magnificent and impressive architecture of the building.
The Air China Lounge
There are a few shops, but there is not really anything appealing there so I head to the Air China Business Class lounge one floor up. The lounge is okay, nothing special but with a good selection food and beverages. By the time I leave to get on my flight it’s getting rather busy and the reception area is a complete mess, with people pushing and shoving their way forward to be served first. What fun!
I arrive at the gate where boarding has already started. There is a dedicated line for Business and Economy Plus passengers and a separate airbridge for premium passengers. I am greeted at the door by an elderly but ever so stylish flight attendant. As soon as I settle in, a male flight attendant come round offering orange juice, water and champagne.
The cabin on this bird shows some signs of wear and tear but is still generally in good condition.
Our A 340 has rather unusual overhead bins over the middle row of seats. They’re same ones Royal Jordanian has on its A 330. They dropped open, pretty much like the bins on the Tripple Seven. As we taxi to the active runway I suddenly spot a large dot gradually growing bigger. At first I figure it must be a B 747. A look through the lens of my camera however reveals it’s an A380. ‘What a great location for a photo’, I think. But alas, as the aircraft draws nearer I get tangled in the strap of the camera and by the time I free myself and have an opportunity to take a picture, the thing is already too close and too fast. And this is the outcome.
Take-off is another one of those painfully undignified A 340-300 departures. Such a lame duck! Accordingly, it takes us a while to climb through the pollution of Beijing.
Once we are airborne, the crew come round handing out earphones, slippers, menus and vanity kits.
They then distribute the much appreciated hot towels. Check out the rather funky decoration with dry ice smoke coming out of the glass with the flower.
We begin with a drink run, served with dry pretzels and a shrimp and scallop on a toothpick with veg. The presentation in the plastic cup is not exactly the epitome of the much acclaimed Danish and Scandinavian design, but what will you?
What impresses me most about the service is the timing of the crew. Throughout the flight they make sure that they pass through the two aisles at the same speed, rather than having one side served way ahead of the other, as often happens on other carriers.
The meal tray duly arrives and has a a mixed salad on it, which comes with a bottle balsamico and olive oil.
The First Course
The first course is Gravad Lachs with cucumbers marinated in dill. There is also a plate with cheese for dessert on the tray. But I demolish that before the main course arrives. Which however, does not mean that service is slow. Quite the contrary, it is very well timed.
The Main Course
And then comes the main course. I have the chicken in a tomato and basil sauce with polenta and grilled vegetables. And it isn’t bad either. My neighbour has the ravioli with mushrooms and vegetables and says it is also very nice. Thanks for letting me take a picture.
After the meal I have a lovely port.
This is followed by dessert: apple and rhubarb pie with fruit and vanilla cream. I have a Sauterne and coffee with this. Lovely!
After the meal the blinds comes down and the lights are switched of. This is also when the crew set up the tremendously well stocked self service bar. Even so,the crew pass through the cabin regularly with drinks, sandwiches and ice cream.
I don’t usually ‘do’ a section on the toilets in my trip reports but I think I’ll have to make an exception this time. The SAS A340toilet is absolutely huge. There are even two windows including a shade for those of us who worry that they might be seen in an unflattering position by another aircraft passing close by…
The Second Service
And then, surprisingly quickly, it’s already time for the second service: we have a beef salad to start, followed by a buffet with a choice of either chicken or pork with rice and vegetables. The portion of the second serving is rather substantial!
As they say, time flies. Shortly after clearing the trays from the second service, we’ve already started our descent into CPH. We make a beautiful approach over the Öresund, with the bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden coming into view just before we touch down.
In Copenhagen I have a connection onto the Swiss flight to Zürich. I have two hours to kill. The lounge in Copenhagen is nice and very typical of what I would call Scandinavia design. But perhaps all I’m trying to say is that it reminded me of an IKEA show room.
I was going to include my connecting flight to Zurich in this report. But as things turned out, I think I’ll save them the embarrassment and not comment. Save to say the flight was not one of Swiss International Air Lines’ finest moments.
I must say that SAS was a big surprise. I was not really expecting anything much but found their service to be excellent and very professional. Sure, it is not fancy and more functional than elegant. But they get the job done and rather well at that. I would choose them any time for another long-haul trip. In fact it’s a pity their network is not that extensive.