SAS Proves Its Value When Things Go Wrong

It was a travel week for me, attending the World Low Cost Airlines Congress in London. While the event was great–and I learned loads–getting there and back was a trial which involved long delays and lost luggage.

But SAS’s various automation features made the tricky bits easier to manage. Here’s my harried trip report, which highlights the best of SAS’ seamless travel features.

BOOKING

I always search on Kayak first to compare fares and schedules, but book on the airline’s site–hoping that site is not a nightmare to navigate.

SAS’ website is straight-forward, and as a EuroBonus member my data is already updated so I don’t have to enter my details again. (While I write for a living, I hate excess typing for silly things like passenger-data forms.)

Because SAS has a clean digital platforms–that work seamlessly from desktop to mobile to Apple Watch–I am even more likely to book directly with them. All my devices update at the same time, which is a big plus.

But I book based on fares, and have found Kayak a great help in comparison shopping. I must be honest. Should another airline (with trip management systems on par with SAS) have fit my schedule needs, and offered cheaper tickets, I would have booked it without hesitating.

Not considered in my booking decision was the cabin experience. These were short flights, and I don’t see any significant differentiation in Economy in my market.

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Key Takeaway: technology matters, digital matters–and not just at the time of booking.

 

 

OUTBOUND

The SAS Lounge makes the wait better

I flew out of Billund and connected through Copenhagen to Heathrow. Effectively, I had to fly the wrong way for a bit to reach my destination. I do wish there were more direct flights from Billund to London which met my schedule needs at low fares.

However, the lay-over in Copenhagen was made more pleasant by the reasonable DKK200  (€22/$30/2500 EuroBonus Points) fee to access the SAS lounge with a day-pass.

That’s an option available to anyone flying with the network, and doesn’t require a high-tier EuroBonus membership. SAS’ lounges are simple and very comfortable, though often crowded (one goes with the other). There is free WiFi, a healthy buffet, free beverages, including wine and beer, and all the apples, bananas, and oranges you could want.

There are also great business desks–if you can find one unoccupied. Otherwise, there are plenty of works surfaces on bar tables and dining tables around the lounge, power outlets literally everywhere–including right by each easy chair. It’s a very functional place to work and rest between flights, and I recommend it if you’ll be at the airport longer than an hour (and don’t want to get lost browsing through the many, many shops at the terminal or enjoying a nice meal at one of the excellent restaurants).

Flyers on other carriers can buy a day pass to CPH’s apartment lounge. I haven’t been–as I always use the nearest SAS lounge–but I suspect it’s nice too.

The Queen’s Terminal

I flew into Heathrow Terminal 2, the new Queens Terminal, and found it lovely, but was particularly impressed with the automated passport scanners at border control. I’ve tried to use the ones at JFK and LAX, and found them glitchy. The units installed at Heathrow Terminal 2, which scan passport and use facial recognition to open the glass gates and let you through, worked perfectly–on the first try. Lovely.

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Key Take-Away: Everyone should offer a day-pass to lounges, and every airport should have a buy-a-pass lounge. It’s a great revenue source–productivity flyers will pay for a private place to work, even if they won’t pay for more leg room.

RETURN

First, you can’t fault anyone for the weather and it was raining buckets on Wednesday afternoon in London. That might explain the ordeal.

Mobile saves the day

I had already checked-in on my iPhone, so I was set with boarding passes, but decided to check my practical little bag because it was heavy with handouts from the conference.

On the way to the airport I got an SMS from SAS letting me know my flight was delayed 45 minutes. Not the best news, as I was already due to arrive home late, but at least I knew what to expect when I arrived at the airport.

Kiosks sometimes get the better of me

I had a little difficulty figuring out how to print the baggage tags at the Start Alliance shared kiosks, but there was someone there to help. I had to make the line to drop off my luggage because there are no automated bag drops, but that was not terrible.

Clearing security was a breeze. Everything is automated there too: scan your passport to get in. You’ll find nice security personnel minding the trays and conducting inspections.

Terminal 2 is light on shops and restaurants, heavy on duty-free

Compared to Copenhagen airport, or Amsterdam, or Charles de Gaulle, or even other Heathrow terminals, the selection of restaurants and shops at T2 is a let down. There are big duty-free shops and a Dixons. I’m just being picky.

It wasn’t clear that I could buy a pass at the group lounges. SAS’s signage wasn’t displayed, so I assumed no. I spent the time wandering around trying to find a quiet place to work (and some treats to bring home–the selection was poor, but I did bring back Jelly Babies!).

Load of work to get some work done

Finding somewhere where I could be productive was not as easy as it should have been. Most of the cafés were crowded and loud. Like at many airports, working on the chairs at the waiting areas and gates is impractical. I finally settled on La Salle, which was a good choice.

Timely Information

Between TripCase alerts and SAS sending me SMS updates (both of which immediately popped up on my iPhone and Apple Watch) I was well aware of later delays, even before they showed up on the screens at the airport.

Flight Checks FAILUnfortunately, I still needed gate updates and those don’t show up on the SAS mobile app. Why? Not sure. They should do..there’s the little blank space there hinting that they might..but they don’t.

TripCase does report on gates (awesome), but there can be a slight time delay. Just in case, I kept an eye on the screens. An added advantage of TripCase was that my husband received email alerts about delays too, so I didn’t have to worry and neither did he.

Too close for comfort

Yes, the cabins were crowded, but I’m short and don’t really notice (much).

Cumulative delays made the connection to Billund dangerously close, and that was a strain.

In fact, we landed when my next flight was already boarding. We had to clear passport control (flying back from the UK requires it, raising questions over what will happen to seamless travel if we impose checks throughout Europe). There was a very long queue, despite the late hour, and my connection to the regional flight was at the other side of the airport.

The screens said my gate had closed, but fortunately I ignored them and kept walking. There was one SAS representative manning the transfers desk, and she was kind enough to call the gate for me when they called out my name on the passenger paging system. (Frankly, I was relieved to hear my name called, as I thought I was really too late).

The gate agents rushed me along a bit, but who can blame them. I didn’t delay the previous flight by over an hour and a half, but they were looking after the needs of the other passengers waiting onboard our ATR to Billund.

I had my chance to be ‘that passenger,’ but fellow passengers were stoic. That’s one of the lovely things about travelling in Scandinavia. People might be fuming, but they’ll generally keep it to themselves. The greatest telling-off you’ll get here is a stern look and a prolonged silence.

Lost

I can tell you that I was not at all surprised when my bag wasn’t at baggage retrieval, but I was delighted when the claims clerk pointed out to the seven of us stuck without our bags that the baggage claims kiosks could help us avoid the little queue.

The system interface was reasonably easy to get through, and produced a nice receipt of my claim. Satisfied, I headed out for the hour’s drive home.

Found

On Thursday morning I got a call from a representative at Billund Airport saying my bag would be delivered on Friday. By Thursday night it was at my door. Under promise, over deliver is always a good customer policy.

My favourite piece of luggage was in tact. I had all my things. Life is beautiful.

Of course I would fly SAS again–in a heartbeat, if the fare is right. (Can’t fault me for being honest, or frugal). 

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CONCLUSION: 

The fact is traveling by air can be tiring, and things go wrong despite everyone’s best efforts.  But it is during service issues that airlines reveal their true competencies, SAS certainly did.

I never once had to call SAS customer service, nor even contact them on Social Media to ask for help. I knew what was happening at every step of the process.

Anticipating questions is far better than answering them, I would say. I wonder how many airlines around the world would be as user-friendly during a disruption.

All of this confirmed that I’d made the right choice by booking with SAS. 

Barring a huge fare difference, or a schedule/route conflict, SAS will keep its place among my first-choice airlines. It’s not because it’s the region’s carrier, there is stiff competition in this market, but you can’t beat that seamless service.

Featured Image: SAS We Are Travelers site. (I look nothing like that.)

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