Last weekend I took a flight onboard the SAS A350 from Copenhagen (CPH) to San Francisco (SFO) in SAS Plus, their premium economy cabin. I’d flown the SAS A350 once before, shortly after its introduction at the airline last year, from Copenhagen to Chicago. Most who’ve flown the A350 will agree, this is a marvelous airplane. Comfortable, quiet and solid, with a superb passenger experience overall. And SAS has outfitted its A350 with nice, understated finishes and color palettes in line with its brand. Overall, it’s an aircraft worth seeking out in whatever class of service.
But the A350 has been hard to catch at SAS. Its introduction came just a few months before the global pandemic took hold, and no sooner was the plane impressing passengers on Chicago flights than it was once again grounded, as the whole world stopped flying. It was sad to see these brand new planes sitting parked. So it’s good news that they’re starting to come back more and more. In this post I thought I’d take a look at what the A350 experience is like on SAS, and then look at what the airline’s plans are for the A350 in the coming months.
Flying on the SAS A350
The common pandemic-era caveat applies here – the plane to SFO was almost completely empty, so it was naturally more comfortable as a result even if that’s bad news for the airline’s bottom line. There were a total of three passengers in SAS Plus, around two in Business, and as an estimate, maybe 15 in Economy.
However SAS Plus would be a solid choice for a long flight like this even with more passengers on board, especially westbound during the day when you’re less likely to want to sleep. The seat is well-padded and features a legrest and plenty of legroom to not feel confined – fairly standard for long-haul premium economy I would say.
The cabin is, of course, airy and bright, with big windows, nice greys and natural tones in the fabrics – alongside big, high-resolution screens in the seatbacks. Some will be dismayed to learn that there are no individual air vents – and it did get a little hot in the cabin on the left side thanks to the sun’s position. The screens are also a little glossy, if I’m being picky – that creates a lot of reflections. On the other hand there are USB-A and universal power outlets at every seat.
Many passengers bring their own entertainment these days, and that’s a good idea on SAS as well, despite the good quality screens. I struggled to find a film I would actually want to watch, and the television section was poorly thought through. Why, you might ask? SAS does the unfortunate thing that some airlines do of loading just one or two episodes for most series. Worse, sometimes it has simply loaded up, for example, episode 4 of season 3. First of all, what are the odds that someone will have reached exactly that point in a series or will feel it’s fine to pick up a new show several episodes in from the start? And second, one of the best ways to pass the time on a long flight is to binge watch a whole season of a good show. Loading entire seasons ought to be standard practice.
There is WiFi though, which is free on one device for SAS Plus, Business, and Gold and Diamond Eurobonus elites. And it was occasionally fast enough to stream video, which is a very rare thing indeed. However, that was inconsistent, so make sure to load up some favorites offline on your device beforehand. For getting most types of work done, on the other hand, the setup is very good. And it’s only $19 to connect a second device if you plan to be a power user.
Food and drink
SAS continues to have a reduced service but on this flight I found it quite adequate. There was a lunch service that was adequate, and various snacks brought around throughout the rest of the flight, plus a smaller meal before landing. Plenty of Marabou chocolate on offer too, which was appreciated.
Though I’d been told in advance there would be no alcoholic drinks, there was in fact a basic bar service of beer, wine and cocktails (but without some of the more fun and unique options the airline usually carries).
Flight attendants were all pleasant and friendly. They did tend to disappear from the aisles for long stretches but it was never a problem to find one if the need arose. In the second half of the flight they seemed to step up the pace with which they came through with snacks and drinks on trays.
What’s the status of the A350 fleet?
SAS have in fact taken delivery of five A350s so far. SE-RSA and SE-RSB have been back up in the air for some time already, while SE-RSC and SE-RSD have been parked since last year. SE-RSE, number five in the fleet, was just delivered from Toulouse in March. For the moment it is also parked.
The A350 has only recently started showing up on some passenger flights to San Francisco. SK935 from CPH to SFO runs on certain days only and SAS is using a mix of A330 and A350 as of now. The first A350 flight of this year on the route was on April 1. Otherwise we’ve seen the two active A350s mostly shuttling between Copenhagen and Chicago (ORD), with occasional runs to places like Shanghai (PVG) or Sao Paulo (GRU) thrown into the mix.
The airline has a total of 8 A350s on order, though it will be some time before it has them all.
When will we see more of them flying?
SAS says that it plans to activate A350 number 3 and 4 (presumably SE-RSC and SE-RSD) in June/July. According to Freja Annamatz, Head of Media Relations at SAS, they will be placed “primarily on US routes, where we are steadily increasing our traffic, with a strong cargo demand as a driver but also an increasing demand for passenger traffic. These will also be used for service to Asia, for our flights to China (Shanghai) and Japan. Tokyo is scheduled to restart in time for the Olympic Games.”
For aircraft number 5 and 6 (the 6th has yet to be delivered), plans are less concrete. Annamatz says they “will be introduced within the next 12 months depending on demand, capacity and our traffic program.” So it’s all down to what kind of recovery we see going forward – but it’s unlikely we’ll see them this summer.
Asked what might affect the timeline, Annamatz gave the kind of answer we’re getting from most airlines in Europe these days. “The demand for travel is entirely dependent on how fast the reopening processes will be and the how the travel restrictions are affected, in Europe and globally. Our outlook from Q1 estimates that travel in summer 2021 will be about 50 per cent compared to a normal summer, from July and onwards.”
Here’s hoping there are more passengers to justify more active A350s as soon as possible.