SAS flew into town to celebrate its turnaround at its most travelled route, between San Francisco and Scandinavia. The Scandinavian Airlines team came from Seattle and were bound for Los Angeles after visiting entrepreneurs at the Nordic Innovation House in Silicon Valley.
That Monday they were feted at a beautiful dinner hosted by Swedish Consul General Barbro Osher at her penthouse, with some four dozen guests representing various constituencies. The evening was as delightful as the food was delicious.
The guests of honor were Eivind Roald, SAS Executive VP and COO, Max Knagge, SAS General Manager for the Americas, and Joy Skaardal, SAS’s new representative for California. Roald spoke briefly about SAS’s dramatic turnaround in profitability and specifically about its inauguration that night, September 21, 2015, of its new long-haul Airbus A330-300 Enhanced route from Copenhagen to Chicago.
This, the Nordic airline’s 13th and newest long-haul aircraft, named Tore Viking, is the first of four new A330-300 Enhanced models that will be added to the SAS fleet over the next six months and 2016. In 2018, SAS will receive the first of the new Airbus A350-900 models, which will enable SAS to improve service to customers and fly longer distances with lower fuel consumption. This intercontinental offering with new aircraft is but one of the new routes to destinations with high demand.
Coming to SAS from Hewlett-Packard in 2012, Roald revealed in November of that year the company was within hours of dissolution. From 2003 to 2013, SAS had experienced a disastrous decline, including a period in 2012 when they had lost more than one billion SEK in three months.
Now, barely three years later, they have totally transformed Scandinavian Airlines and are celebrating the newly profitable and vigorous company, which has flourished on a completely revised strategy with dramatically increased traffic results.

SACC-SF/SV presentation
On Tuesday, September 22, the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce (SACC) hosted the SAS team at a breakfast meeting — with thanks to the hospitality of Lars Johansson — at the Embarcadero Center. SACC-SF/SV Chairwoman Helena Kristersson thanked Johansson, introduced the latest class of SACC interns and thanked SAS for supporting the chamber in its annual contribution of tickets to the Lucia Luncheon silent auction. Kristersson introduced each of the SAS team to applause and invited Roald to share the story of the success of SAS with SACC members.
He first came here three years ago to inaugurate the new SAS flight from Scandinavia to San Francisco. Since then SAS has transported 350,000 people on this route, making this its most successful route. Now he came to thank everyone for helping the company by significantly contributing to the company’s dramatic turnaround.
SAS has become competitive, and it is strategically investigating how to become dominant tomorrow. Their total long-haul traffic to Scandinavia has more than doubled in just 10 years. Today they are focused on young and modern frequent travelers.


The new SAS
Their strategy has focused upon the great number of Scandinavians in North America, many of whom travel to their ancestral homeland or continually commute for bilateral trade with Scandinavia. SAS has discovered the U.S. is still underserved by traffic between both areas; so, they have created many new destinations and will be expanding their service to new American destinations. They have been increasing the number of routes each year since 2010 and continue to bring new services.
There is much demand among Scandinavians for international trade, and a couple weeks ago SAS inaugurated their direct route to Hong Kong, now with flights five times every week. The Copenhagen-Chicago route opened up the American midwest and in March 2016 they will inaugurate their Stockholm-Los Angeles route. Soon will come a Miami route, alternately from Oslo and Copenhagen.
SAS must quickly adapt to changing times. With a decline in oil customers, they had to eliminate the Stavanger-Houston route. But an additional evening departure which allows clients to spend an extra day in Copenhagen or New York, will be operated by PrivatAir with a reconfigured Boeing 737 that most recently flew the Stavanger-Houston route. Tickets went on sale September 16. And, starting in late October, SAS will fly twice daily between New York and Copenhagen, enhancing its service for frequent fliers with more than 60,000 seats (an increase of 25 percent) on the Copenhagen-New York route in 2016.
They will be shifting all these long-haul flights to newly purchased AirBus AB330 planes and later the AB350. All this is part of their strategy to upgrade their entire fleet and more specifically to optimize those flights with the best of several planes in the fleet. These new planes are not merely more efficient and economical, but they also have totally new cabins. With these new routes they will have increased their flights by more than 400,000 new seats; that’s the largest expansion in SAS’s 44-year history.

The SAS transformation
New leadership turned the company around with these strategies and investments and by changing pensions and reducing salaries. No one has witnessed a turnaround as fast as theirs, but they are confident they can continue to increase their success and profitability: For three years in a row they have returned to profitability; this July they recorded their most profitable (almost SEK 1 billion) year.
SAS’s commercial strategy is based upon a bold — and now proven — vision of a membership program, investments in planes and technologies, enhanced service and a desire to reward loyal customers, and even new and infrequent customers. As another demonstration of solving customers’ concerns, in 2014 they became the second most punctual global airline. To accommodate their customers, when necessary, they even buy seats on other international airlines of similar rank.
They are focused on adding more than 50 routes, primarily from other regional hubs, not just Copenhagen. However, Roald pointed out that whereas the three Scandinavian countries amount to about 15-20 million people, other EU countries have larger populations. This behoves them to have routes to many of these important destinations, too.
They are also focused on corporate customers, the frequent fliers: They live by flight, their businesses thrive on flying and often travel from secondary hubs. On short hauls, most European corporations forbid their employees to fly Business Class, but SAS has been upgrading their other classes for these frequent fliers.
To further enhance their enjoyment and to reduce hassles for these frequent travelers, SAS is now investing a lot in Customer Products and Customer Service to improve service. This means increasing digitization to personalize service for each of these customers, analyzing procedures to fast-track people both in-flight and at the airport, increasing automation to speed up boarding and de-boarding, and improving lounge offerings.
Now customers can download SAS’s new app; more than 2 million have done so already. It provides all SAS customers with their flying history since 2003. This same history allows the company to individualize the customer’s experience, rather like an online news or music subscription can personalize media for the customer or recommend new items likely to be appreciated. The company’s research even uncovered that the top searches related to food, music and now travel. This also indicates a new focus on young customers, while still caring for longtime, older customers.

SAS: The membership airplane
SAS’s goal is to become a membership airline with a target of five million EuroBonus members. They intend to implement this vision by creating a more attractive bonus program and then establishing an “eco system” for these members.
All the amenities of the new SAS emphasize the comfort of the customer. Some have even said that SAS’s business class matches Lufthansas’s first class. SAS has partnered with the Swedish company Hästens, famous for sleeping products, to prioritize sleep for customers. Like other airlines serving Scandinavia, all SAS airplanes will have WiFi, and they are serving Scandinavian food, so that, like other national airlines, one feels welcomed to Scandinavia.
While investing in planes and services, another major field for investment is a wide range of personalized technologies. One example is wearable technology. They have developed a new SAS ring, to be worn only while traveling — a mere swipe of the hand at various monitors in the airport speeds a customer along.
Working toward their goal of digitization, they studied other industry leaders, such as Apple, the most profitable company in the world. SAS is among the first companies to create an app for the Apple Watch, which can identify one’s personal bag tag. By this November one can even buy groceries in flight on the way home to Scandinavia, and have them delivered before arrival. In other words, they are taking the responsibility for making easier the life of their frequent travelers.
Similarly, SAS is enhancing all their lounges with technology. Like a valet, this focus on digitization allows them to know a client’s preferences and location; therefore, they can anticipate what services to have ready whenever a client is at their airport, whether it’s a personalized beverage or preferred reading materials.
Since they have the potential to know you so well — and how long it takes you to commute to the airport according to current conditions — maybe someday they’ll even offer you a wake-up alarm and summon Uber for your ride, with your preferred demitasse of coffee awaiting you in their lounge before you board.
SAS is once again a leading entrepreneurial and transformative company, one that all Scandinavian-Americans can be proud of.

By Ted Olsson
San Francisco