Transatlantic Flight on Scandinavian Airlines Airbus 330-300 Economy Class [Trip Report]

Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) barely has presence in Singapore; through a joint venture/codeshare with Singapore Airlines, you can “fly” SAS out of Singapore into Scandinavia, so you will be technically flying out on Singapore Airlines. That would also be the reason why the cost of flying out of Singapore via SAS is nowhere competitive than other European carriers like KLM and British Airways.

Therefore, how in the world did I end up on a SAS plane?

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It started with a simple objective of trying to reach USA using the lowest price and flight duration combination. It turned out that doing a kangaroo hop from Singapore via Bangkok via Oslo via Copenhagen can get us to the States at only about 8 hours more than travelling on Singapore Airlines “direct” (but with one-stop at Frankfurt/Hong Kong/Tokyo/Seoul) flights, or a mere 4 hours more if we take other full service carriers.

SAS therefore became the carrier of choice from Oslo to USA via Copenhagen.


Trip Overview

OSL – CPH
Flight: SK1455
Aircraft Type: A321
Cabin Class: Economy
Seat Configuration: 3-3
Flight Time: 10.18am – 11.25am
Flight Duration: 1h 7m

CPH – IAD
Flight: SK925
Aircraft Type: A330-300
Cabin Class: Economy
Seat Configuration: 3-3-3
Flight Time: 3.58pm – 6.59pm (Delay of 3.5 hours from STD of 12.20pm)
Flight Duration: 9h 1m

BOS – CPH
Flight: SK928
Aircraft Type: A330-300
Cabin Class: Economy
Seat Configuration: 3-3-3
Flight Time: 5.20pm – 6.20am
Flight Duration: 7h 0m

CPH – OSL
Flight: SK1462
Aircraft Type: A321
Cabin Class: Economy
Seat Configuration: 3-3
Flight Time: 8.12am – 9.22am
Flight Duration: 1h 10m


First, why Copenhagen? If you read my other article, our first leg involved a flight on Thai Airways via Bangkok; it would be entirely possible to fly Bangkok to Copenhagen straight away, and then to set off from Copenhagen to the States.

However, SAS with its hub at Copenhagen would want to direct traffic to CPH to feed its onward flights, and in this case, to the States. Therefore, if we were to fly to Oslo, it would cost us less to get to USA via CPH, than if we were to take TG950 direct to CPH.

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The cost of the savings would translate into a 1-hr flight and 2 hours of transfer, which did not really matter, as the next plane out of CPH was 5 hours after touch down at CPH on a TG flight. And interestingly, the flight time to Oslo was shorter than to CPH, so that in a way also negated the “extra” time spent on transferring.

To add to the complexity of the trip, we flew from CPH to Washington DC (IAD), but left USA from Boston (BOS). All in all, the flight duration across the Atlantic did not differ much, since Boston and DC were not far apart. Additionally, since both sectors were flown on an A330, my trip report will combine both trips (like I did for my TG trip report).

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Seats

Well, despite numerous “complaints”, I actually found the SAS Economy Class seats to be rather decent. Perhaps Asians with our smaller statures could fit into such seats more comfortably than the European/American biggies?

To be honest, the seats did not look comfortable; it has that synthetic feel that made it look hard and cold (the colour scheme of the seats did not help too). However, the seats were good to sit in and did not feel as hard as they looked like. Seat and pitch wise, they felt more cramped compared to SIA, or even TG. However, since the cabin sported a 2-4-2 layout and we scored ourselves the window seats, N and I each had some “extra space” at the window and at the aisle, which made the journey more bearable.

Cabin interior of our shuttle flight between CPH and OSL on an Airbus A321.
This is actually the cabin interior of our shuttle flight between CPH and OSL on an Airbus A321.

SAS is actually one of those airlines that chose to have all the ports at the back of the seats in front and in the case of our flight, they were on the bezels of the IFE screens. While everything was in sight, such arrangements bothered me quite a bit.

First, the earphones had to be plugged into the seat in front. Whenever someone has to access the aisle, that wire is sure going to get in the way. There was once when N forgot about it when I tried to get to my seat and he pulled the earphones out of the jack with the buds still in his ears. The worst case scenario could end up with a broken wire (with no replacements). Even worse, if you are using your own headphones.

The other was the part about charging phones. Technically, the same scenario like the earphones could happen if you are using the phone while charging it; however that is less likely to happen when compared to the earphones. Instead, it was a matter of where to place the phones when charging them.

Initially, I thought the seat pocket was very well designed. Unlike other airlines that put the pockets at knee level, SAS had their pockets right beneath the screen, which I thought was a great idea. I could keep my phone in the pocket, I thought.

The issue came when I realised my phone slipped into the “depths” of the pocket. The pocket was not a fabric pocket; instead, it was formed out of the space between the folded seat tray and the back of the front seat, hence the “mouth” of the pocket was actually rigid. At that point of time, I was thinking… Good luck on trying to fish my phone out of it. That was the first negative I found about the pocket – the space was very rigid (you can’t put in a lot of stuff) and it was difficult to reach for things dropped deep in it (only a very small hand can fit in).

The surprise came when I opened up my tray to find out that the pocket was not exactly a pocket! Like I mentioned, it was a space between the tray (when it was folded up) and the seat back. However, it was not a fully covered up pocket. Instead, there was a strip of plastic extending from the opening of the pocket to the bottom of the pocket, somewhat like a jockstrap for a seat pocket.

The surprise was that I could actually fish out my phone easily, by opening up the tray, without trying to force my hand into the top opening! However, that means that if you put anything inside the pocket, you got to be very careful when unfolding your tray table, since those things can fall out easily. To me, it was an interesting design that possessed both extremely good and bad elements.

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Meals

Well, enough of the rant about the seats. One of the things to look forward to when being cooped up in a tin can for over 6 hours would be food. SAS does not offer food that is better than that of Thai Airways or Cathay Pacific, but the food was decent nonetheless; definitely not like the horrific stuff that I read online.

Here is the order of the food that I ate:

  • Fish with something that looked like whipped potato, but tasted like corn (Lunch for CPH-IAD)
  • Pickled Vegetable Lattice Pastry (Snack for the CPH-IAD; this was the fancy name for “Vegetarian Sandwich”)
  • Curry Chicken with Couscous (Dinner for BOS-CPH)
  • Cheese with Hard-boiled Egg (Breakfast for BOS-CPH)
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As could be seen from the photos, the food presentation was definitely not on par with the Asian airlines. We could choose from 2 options for dinner, but for breakfast, it was “take it or leave it”.

The 2 observations I had, coming from someone who is very used to taking Asian carriers, were the choices of food items and utensils.

For our mains, the serving of salad was huge. It did not look huge just because the vegetables were loosely tossed in there, but it was plain huge. Given that our meals were served on a small, square tray (equivalent to the size of the trays used to serve breakfast/supper on SQ), the dish for the salad took up almost a quarter of the tray and that indicated just how healthy-conscious Europeans are. For comparison, Asian carriers’ salad were more for decorative purposes and at most took up 1/9 of the tray.

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Similarly, our breakfasts (even though we had no options to choose from) were meatless. The breakfast from Oslo was totally without protein, while on the return trip, we had at least cheese, yogurt and half an egg. I guess this was because they had to cater to the preferences of Americans?

Ironically, the bread/pastry/buns served on SAS were disappointing (compared to the croissants served on TG and CX, which I asked for second servings!). They were either bland or tough. Needless to say, for my breakfast into Oslo, I only took the yogurt and egg (I even skipped the cheese, because I’m not a cheesy person).

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The other observation I had was the choice of environmentally-friendly utensils. Whether it was the single-use trays for the mains, the plastic ones for the sides, or the cutlery, they were all super light compared to those used by Asian carriers. SAS really went the extra mile to reduce their take-off weight to reduce the fuel burnt!

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Service

I feel we should not compare services between European carriers and Asian ones, since it was an open secret that the Western carriers don’t focus on service. I mean, the only times I saw a cabin crew in the cabin were during meal services and when someone pressed the call button. There was no patrolling seen during lull periods.

However, for the times when I did see them in the cabin, they were not the curt crew that many people made Western cabin crew out to be. They still wore smiles on their faces, though not as often or warm as those on Asian cabin crew… Let’s just say they were professional.

Kudos to the crew I took a picture with; if I didn’t remember wrongly, we had her on both our trips in and out of CPH. We can say she’s the crew with the most smiles and I loved how her eyes twinkled!

I wouldn’t say that SAS’ crew put me off with black faces, because I saw none, but neither did they make me feel like I must fly with them again like Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific or Asiana made me feel.

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Duration/Tips to Survive

Our CPH-IAD flight took 8h 55min, taking off at noon and arriving in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed (multiple times) so we set off nearly before dinner time! Communication was terrible for the delay. For the second time that the flight was delayed, the ground staff offered meal vouchers for the passengers. However, they did not make a good announcement; it depended on your diligence to check the display to find out the flight was yet delayed again, and for you to go and ask the ground staff, “What next?” and that was when we were told we could claim our meal vouchers at the customer service centre in the middle of the terminal.

The quantum of the meal vouchers wasn’t fabulous, but it could pay for the cheapest meal we could find in the terminal. That was a little bad, because on our flight from Oslo to CPH, we were only given peanuts; the last meal we had was from our Thai Airways flight 8 hours ago, so whatever we could buy with the meal vouchers could not be regarded as a decent meal (which I classify as lunch). Luckily for us, we were not cash-strapped backpackers, so we could still pay a little extra on top of the meal vouchers.

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On our trip back, the flight duration was 7h 20min, taking off in the evening and landing in the morning at CPH. This was the craziest part, because we were supposed to sleep and wake up to a brand new day at CPH, but we took off way before bedtime and the meal services took away about 4 hours off the time available for sleep. So in practical terms, we landed in CPH like we just woke up at 2am.

The seats were not the most comfortable ones I’ve ever sat in. The downside was most pronounced during the trip from BOS-CPH. As mentioned just now, we were supposed to catch up on our sleep on that sector, but the seats were not so comfortable that we could doze off immediately after shut-eye. I estimated I only caught about 2 hours of sleep during that flight and I grew to appreciate the importance of good seats for scenarios like this!

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Service standards on SAS wasn’t all that bland; there was one aspect that stood out: bottled water for the transatlantic flights! Yes, on Asian carriers, passengers do not receive bottled water on economy long haul flights. If you wanted plain water, it will either be served to you in plastic, disposal cups, served together with you in a pre-sealed cup, or if you offer them your empty bottle for refills.

On SAS, I was quite delighted to find bottled water at my seat! In fact, it was the first time I took a flight on economy class when I received bottled water without having to ask for it. For someone who really craves for plain water all the time, that was something that I liked and appreciated a lot!

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Bonus!

Like I mentioned earlier, our SAS experience actually included a short shuttle from Oslo. From Bangkok, we landed in Oslo in the morning to transfer for a 1 hour flight to CPH to catch our onward flight across the Atlantic. On the return trip, we had to transfer from CPH to Oslo to catch our TG flight back to Bangkok.

The flights were serviced by A321 with a 3-3 layout. The seats were nothing to rave about, very apparent from my lack of pictures taken on board! Like all short haul flights on narrow body aircraft, there was no in-seat IFE to speak of; if you wanted, you could watch some silent comedy/cartoon off the public screens hung from the ceiling.

I was quite surprised we were served peanuts during that short flights, though drinks and other snacks had to be purchased. I was fine with that, since for the Oslo-CPH sector, we were well-fed by TG and on the CPH-Oslo sector… well, I shall elaborate shortly.

Somehow, we were assigned the EMEX seats on the return sector, which I found to be a blessing in disguise (I typically hate EMEX seats). We were so sleep-deprived from the previous flight from Boston (and we could not catch up on sleep at the terminal because there was literally no place to rest during the 2-hour layover) that we were knocked out the moment the doors were closed and armed! We slept through the entire flight (2 hours in total when you include taxiing), ignoring the flight attendants distributing the peanuts, not to say wanting to purchase something to eat!

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When we alighted, N and I were surprised to learn from each other that we totally zonked out during the flight and we agreed that those were 2 hours well-slept. That was despite the uncomfortable short haul seats, and the fact that we were at the EMEX row, where our gaping mouths were “exposed” to the cabin crew. One of the reasons why I disliked EMEX seats was because the seat in front was too far from me and there were no foot rests, so if I were to sleep in those seats, I would slump too far down and get uncomfortable. Amazingly, I could sleep throughout the flight half-slumped in the seat like a drunkard…

My only hope was that no one took pictures of us in that miserable state!

Now for conclusion, I asked myself if I would take SAS again. I think considering the price, I don’t mind flying on SAS. However, I would avoid red-eyes. I will be fine to take SAS on their A321 or for short, 5-hour flights.

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This post is part of my series to document my trip to US East Coast, which started with my trip report on Thai Airways via Boeing 777-300ER, heartfelt experience at Washington DC, adventures in the neighbourhoods of New York City and Brooklyn (Part 1), exploring the skyscrapers of the Big Apple, and my immersion of old English ambience in Boston, including an overview of the Lobster Rolls I found in Boston. Subscribe to my blog for further updates of my trip!

If you enjoyed reading this trip report, please like and share my post to your friends!

Till then, happy travels!

All photos and videos were taken using Olympus TG870 and Google Pixel XL, and edited with Snapseed.

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