This is the first in an eleven-part series covering my June/July 2019 trip to Slovenia and Venice.
SAS Scandinavian Airlines Flt. 926 Washington-Dulles to Copenhagen (IAD-CPH)
Business Class, A330-300
Sch. Dep. 5:15pm Sch. Arr. 7:15am+1
Act. Dep. 5:11pm Act. Arr. 7:07am+1
My big summer vacation this year was to Slovenia and Venice, as I discussed here. The start of the trip was an Avianca Lifemiles redemption, which itself was an adventure when I booked nearly a year earlier. The availability for the flight showed up online, and also on other Star Alliance booking websites. But when I tried to book, I got an error. When I called Lifemiles, they told me I had to email. It took 72 hours after my email for someone to help me, because it was apparently a “specialized department.” Thankfully, the availability was still there: business class from Washington to Copenhagen on SAS, and then economy on Adria from Copenhagen into Ljubljana. As a mixed cabin award, it was only 55,640 Lifemiles. Can’t do much better than that to get to Slovenia in peak summer. (There, of course, was drama, which I’ll address in my next post—none of it involved SAS.)
The 5A Bus dropped me off at Dulles at around 3:15pm and I made my way to the small SAS counter. There was already a bit of a line for the two agents, but there was no one else in the priority line. It was a little funny that the contract agent could not pronounce my final destination and had never heard of it. There was one single boarding pass for both flights, and she told me I had access to the Lufthansa lounge, and I was on my way.
SAS participates in TSA Precheck, so it was an easy trip through security and to the AeroTrain to Concourse B. As luck would have it, this was actually my second Friday in a row flying out of Dulles’s Concourse B. Although I generally only fly out of Dulles for international flights, a massive price difference had me fly Sun Country to Minneapolis the weekend before for Pride (airline #70!). Sun Country was completely fine. But I had a disappointing experience when I had attempted to access the Turkish Airlines Lounge. Although I initially really liked the lounge when it first opened 2.5 years ago, it really is just not big enough for Priority Pass and all the Star Alliance flights out of the terminal, and I’ve found it increasingly crowded on subsequent visits. (While other Star Alliance carriers use the Lufthansa lounge, but the Turkish lounge is nicer.) I had never been denied access, though. But this time, when I got to the front desk, there was a pre-printed sign that said “Priority Pass Access Resumes 4:45 PM.” (after some of the Europe-bound flights leave.) Priority Pass does not indicate that the lounge has limited hours of access, but it seems this must be a regular thing.
Unfortunately, all of the other Priority Pass lounges at Dulles – the Air France lounge, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, and the British Airways lounge – all have published rules excluding access in late-afternoon/early-evening, so there was a dead zone. (They now have also just added Sleepbox, but that’s a bed and no food/drink.) I killed about 40 minutes working at the Starbucks in the terminal, but by 4:40pm saw there was already a massive line forming at the lounge, so went over. The line moved quickly but the lounge was so crowded that it was standing room only. The food and drinks were fine, but you couldn’t really work or relax. So, when, on this trip, I approached the Turkish Lounge and saw this line, I decided to skip it and just do the sub-par Lufthansa lounge.
Priority Pass really needs another option for afternoons, and/or Turkish needs to expand the space.
I’ve been to the Lufthansa Business Lounge before and found it underwhelming; you can check out reviews here and here. In terms of the outdated, uncomfortable seating and layout, it remained the same. The Business Lounge is a level below the concourse, and has low ceilings and very little natural light. The main seating area isn’t very comfortable, and the dining area has no outlet space. There is a bar, but it isn’t regularly staffed, so you have to hail (or wait for) an attendant to appear. The food was actually better than I’d remembered, though. There were a range of salads, sandwiches, tomato basil soup, make-your-own doner kebab (chicken, pork, or veggie), cookies, and brownies. There were self-serve soft drinks, water, and an espresso machine.
The key part was that there was no line, and, although crowded, there were seats, and I was able to grab a table and finish up some work and snack. This being a summer Friday in the U.S., of course, an obnoxious guy asked the attendants if they had hamburgers. And was annoyed that it apparently was not a full cooked-to-order restaurant. I still think Lufthansa needs to remodel this lounge, given the number of Lufthansa group flights out of Dulles alone (3x on LH to FRA and MUC, plus 1x on SN, OS, and now a new flight on LX).
This flight was my first time in SAS long-haul, so I didn’t really have many expectations. (I’ve only flown it at all twice: once in 2003 when studying abroad in Copenhagen and on the very short hop from Hamburg to Oslo in 2017.) Boarding was a little bit confusing as they used two different “gates” – actually just doors that led to a single jetway. There were lines set up for zones by gate B40, where unaccompanied minors first boarded. Then at 4:30pm, a little after scheduled boarding time, they announced boarding for all priority passengers through B38, which was about 75 feet away, and hadn’t had an open door or even an open line to stand in. So, it was a bit of a mess, as there were a lot of Star Alliance elites. This was also the first flight I’ve taken where boarding involved a facial recognition scan.
The business cabin itself on the A330-300 was quite nice. The lie-flat seats were in a 1-2-1 layout, and were very similar to those on South African’s new A330, reviewed here. I had a “window-window”—with a flat armrest/table between me and the aisle. The cabin was fairly monochromatic, in white, black, and gray. At boarding, at each seat was an amenity kit, a Hastens pillow, and a Hastens blanket, as well as noise-canceling headphones and water bottle in the side cubby. The seat itself didn’t have a ton of storage, with a magazine pocket next to the large in-flight entertainment screen, and then an open shelf over the armrest. There was a USB port by the screen, and then another one and a regular power port next to the armrest.
The amenity kit was a very simple soft blue zippered pouch, designed by Swedish clothing company Filippa K. The contents were a little more interesting, with socks by Swedish Stockings—a sustainable company, Verso lip balm and moisturizer, two pairs of ear plugs, and a full-size toothbrush and small toothpaste by The Humble Co., an eco-friendly Swedish company. I appreciated it being a little different from the standard amenity kit contents.
There were a lot more Scandinavians in the cabin than I would’ve expected given that it was a summer Friday—I’d say about 75%. Near me was an American family of five, spread out all over the cabin; the kids were a little bit boisterous at first but settled down, thankfully.
The in-flight entertainment system worked right at boarding. There was a relatively small selection of TV and movies- a total of 66 movies, mostly American and fairly recent. With the window shade open, it was a little difficult to see due to the combination of glare and finger print smudges/dirt. I watched “A Star is Born,” which I had been avoiding since I find Lady Gaga exhausting. My impression was not altered by the movie. (He’s a DRUNK but she LOVES him.)
I had gone to the bathroom during boarding, and the flight attendant had passed my seat with pre-departure beverages while I was gone. She did not come back to me on her way back to the galley, or at any other time. When other people boarded right before the door closed, she came and served them so I was able to hail her on her way back. At that point, her tray of champagne, orange juice, and water had no champagne left, but she went and got me one.
In the interim, menus had been distributed. The menu itself was super pretty; Illustrator Natsko Seki designed four separate covers, one for each season. While “winter” is Scandinavia as a whole, the other three seasons each highlight of the SAS countries; this was “Norway in Summer.”
The drink menu stood out, with seven special cocktails, and spirits, wine, and beer that were all uniquely Scandinavian. There was also an espresso menu.
We pushed back at 5:12pm, a few minutes early. While an FA came around and had me stow my bag, blanket, and pillow for takeoff, no one took my empty champagne glass, so I had to hold it.
About twenty minutes into flight, wifi kicked in. Wifi was free for business class passengers and SAS elites, which was great. It started off good, became unreliable 90 minutes into the flight, and then unusable about two hours in, alas. About 30 minutes in, hot towels were distributed, followed by placemats, starting off a waaaaay too slow meal service on a redeye with a 7.5 hour flight time.
45 minutes into the flight, the drink cart came out. I had just a vodka tonic and nuts. Then another thirty minutes later, a second drink cart came out with a bread basket. At that point, the two flight attendants who had initially been working business class were joined by two other flight attendants who had been in economy at boarding, who were now wearing white chef’s coats. I’m not sure if they actually had any special qualification or if this was just a uniform. I had a choice of brown bread or olive roll – nothing exciting. A few minutes later, the white-jacket flight attendant came down the aisle with the first course, which was a choice of a cold beef or salmon starter, along with a salad plated tableside. I went with the beef, and it was really good, served with fingerling potatoes and truffle mayo. Service improved greatly from then on, though it still was slow; I got frequent water and bread refills without asking.
One hour and forty-five minutes into the flight, the cart with mains came down the aisle. Insane! No orders were taken, so they just had all of the options on the cart. While I was trying to be healthy, literally none of the main options were light: shrimp with blue cheese gnocchi and lobster sauce, turkey with sausage stuffing and burgundy sauce, short rib, or a parmesan vegetable medley. The short rib sounded most appetizing at least. The presentation was not great, as too much was jammed into a small dish. It was moist but underseasoned, and the accompaniments were clearly an afterthought.
Fifteen minutes later, my main was cleared and I was offered coffee or tea by the “regular” flight attendant. About ten minutes later, the Chef FA came down the aisle with a dessert cart, which had desserts, cheese, and dessert wines and liqueurs. I skipped the cheese cart, but asked to try two of the desserts – the ice cream and the raspberry cake. The cake was really good, but I didn’t taste any raspberry except for the raspberry mascarpone cheese on the side. It took awhile for the strawberry ice cream to soften up; it was fine, but I would’ve preferred vanilla or chocolate. I chased it all with a glass of dessert wine.
At 7:41, about 2.5 hours into the 7.5-hour flight, dessert was cleared and I made my bed and prepped for sleep. When I went to brush my teeth, I noticed a quite substantial snack bar that had been set up by the business class bathrooms, with lots of sweets, an espresso machine, and other snacks I never experienced. Back at my seat, the mattress pad and pillow were both very thin, but I used the blanket as an additional mattress since the cabin was quite warm. I slept fine for about three hours before the cabin lights were back on – 90 minutes before landing.
Hot towels were distributed, followed by the most complex breakfast I’ve had on a US-Europe transatlantic flight. The first cart delivered a fairly large cold plate – a charcuterie, yogurt, a packet of muesli, and a small fruit bowl. There was also a choice of an English muffin, roll, or brown bread from a bread basket. Next, there was a coffee/drink cart. Finally, the third cart dropped off a hot dish with sausage and a goat cheese frittata cube – which was delicious but so tiny. Although service was cleared an hour before landing, I never got a coffee refill. We were on the ground at Copenhagen-Kastrup at 7:03am, and at the gate just a few minutes later- about 10 minutes early.
The SAS business class experience was perfectly fine. I’d say the food was slightly better than average, but the service was a bit robotic and impersonal- nothing hyggelit about this flight. The dinner service really should have been sped up and I never felt like a welcomed guest. But the seat is pretty solid, and everything worked and got me where I needed to be.