I recently traveled on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) between the United States and Sweden, flying premium economy from Chicago to Stockholm on the way to Sweden and business class from Copenhagen to Chicago on the way back. It was a good journey.
It will not come as a Stop the Presses moment for frequent fliers to read that business class is better than premium economy class on the same airline. That said, SAS's Economy Extra is a superior example of an increasingly popular type of service perched midway between biz and coach class. This past week, SAS won the annual award for best long-haul premium economy in a poll of frequent fliers for the U.S. monthly magazine Global Traveler (www.globaltravelerusa.com). It's not hard to see why. Unlike offerings by airlines that serve up premium economy with heavier doses of economy than premium-quality product, SAS features service that borrows more from Biz.
As the airline notes, "Economy Extra passengers on SAS's long-haul routes are seated in a separate cabin in seats that are one inch wider and offer six inches more legroom than in Economy. Other features include laptop computer power outlets at every seat, greater choice of meals and drinks and personal video screen with audio and video on demand. Economy Extra customers may use the Business check-in, have an increased baggage allowance, and access to Fast Track security, where available, and earn more EuroBonus points.''
Speaking of business class: It's good. I flew SAS biz class once before, in May 2007. It was fine then, but seems to have been upgraded, with better in-flight entertainment choices and enhanced food and drink menus. Surveys of frequent fliers show that most people care most about their seat and about on-time arrivals and departures. I care about those things, too. But on flights that can last 10 hours or so, I also care about amenities that some travelers consider frills: Namely, food and drink and ways to make the hours fly by when you're not sleeping or working: music, movies, games, TV.
As a corporation, SAS is a rather ungainly bird. The airline - which flew 25.3 million passengers in 2010 and was rated the 10th-best airline in the world by Skytrax (www.airlinequality.com) that year - is jointly owned by the governments of Norway, Sweden and Denmark with 50 percent of shares plus one more share. The rest is privately owned. None of this matters in the sky, where service from a smoothly multilingual staff nicely strikes a tricky balance between attentive and unobtrusive, polite but not fawning.
About those food and drink offerings: SAS stocks the caraway-flavored Scandinavian liquor aquavit (Aalborg Jubilaeums), savory meat (lamb on my flight), fish and vegetarian entrees and open-face sandwiches. The wine list was short but well-chosen: One of the two whites was the French product Alain Grignon Viognier 2010; one of the two reds was a good pick from Chile: Falernia Reserve Carmenere 2009.
One more thing: SAS was cited as Europe's most punctual airline in 2010 by the respected research outfit FlightStats, which tracks such things.
In sort: Good airline, good ride.
For more information: www.flysas.com/us.