A nice improvement: A review of SAS business class on the new Airbus A350
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The Airbus A350 is one of the newest wide-body aircraft to grace the skies. Since its introduction in 2013, flyers around the world have enjoyed many of the plane’s passenger-friendly features. From oversized windows to quiet engines and increased cabin pressure, there’s a lot to love about this jet. The A350 has proven to be a popular choice to replace older long-haul planes.
Scandinavian airline SAS is the latest to commence service with a new Airbus A350. The plane just recently began flying on the carrier’s route from Copenhagen (CPH) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), and here’s my experience in business class aboard the airline’s new flagship.
SAS plans to add more A350 routes as it takes delivery of more of these fuel-efficient planes. Per its latest guidance, the airline will begin flying the A350 from its Danish hub to Beijing Capital (PEK), Hong Kong (HKG), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Shanghai Pudong (PVG), and Tokyo Narita (NRT) later in 2020.
SAS is a member of Star Alliance, so you have lots of options for redeeming miles. The prices for the CPH to ORD route with three of the major programs are as follows:
- Air Canada Aeroplan for 55,000 miles
- Avianca Lifemiles for 63,000 miles
- United MileagePlus for 70,000 miles (or more, since United has introduced dynamic award pricing.)
In my case, I chose to save some miles and book with Aeroplan. That turned out to be an annoyance, as I needed to wait three hours on hold with them twice. At long last, though, I had a confirmed ticket to fly the brand-new plane.
My time with SAS began in Frankfurt with a short flight from Germany’s largest airport to Copenhagen. We landed on time, and fortunately parked at a gate. Once off the plane, I was already in the sterile transit area, and just a few minutes away from Gate C36 in the C pier.
Copenhagen is one of Europe’s most manageable airports, and I wouldn’t hesitate to connect there again. The published minimum connection times are around 45 minutes, which would’ve even given me a few minutes in the lounge had I booked a tight connection.
However, I’d arrived at CPH about five hours before the A350 departed for Chicago, so I exited the terminal and started fresh for the sake of the review.
Check-in was completed at one of the multiple business-class priority counters. After answering some security questions — including whether I’d been to Mainland China within the last 14 days — I had my boarding pass issued for the flight to Chicago.
The friendly agent explained the location of fast-track security and wished me a pleasant flight. I went up the escalator to the departures level and immediately found plenty of navy-blue signs pointing in the direction of priority security.
This area was totally separate from the main security queue. With a quick scan of my boarding pass, gates opened into the two priority lanes. Within minutes, I was airside once again and found myself in a hallway that deposited me right in front of the SAS Lounge.
The SAS Lounge is located just before the international C pier. There are actually two lounges within the bi-level complex. Downstairs is the SAS Lounge and upstairs is the SAS Gold Lounge. The former is open to all Star Alliance biz passengers, while the latter is open to Star Alliance Gold members. There are a few other travellers who can access both lounges, so just be sure to double-check the entry rules.
Though there’s a welcome desk, a stop here isn’t needed unless the automated gates can’t read your boarding pass.
I spent two hours in the overcrowded SAS Lounge, which I accessed thanks to my biz ticket.
The lounge is split into two rooms.
The larger room, which contains most of the seating, is located just as you enter the space.
Connecting the two rooms is a short hallway lined with workstations. In the space at the back, there’s more seating, as well as three conference rooms that can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.
The biggest issue with the lounge was finding a seat. For the first 30 minutes, it was so crowded that I stood around waiting for someone to leave.
And when I finally managed to snag a barstool, the area was dirty since the lounge attendants couldn’t keep up.
Food and beverage is located at a buffet in the main room. Unfortunately, the only hot food available was a choice of two soups – chicken or tomato. The rest of the food was served cold on the salad bar.
To drink, there was Carlsberg beer, Chardonnay and Zinfandel on tap plus a soft-beverage fountain, as well as some coffee machines.
In terms of amenities, the lounge has free speedy Wi-Fi (50 Mbps download, 45 Mbps upload), computers for printing, a family room, European-style power outlets and six showers.
The shower rooms are quite bare-bones, but this was the first time I’d seen one with a Bluetooth speaker for playing your own music.
I didn’t want to waste my entire connection in an underwhelming lounge, so I spent some time roaming around the modern terminal. Before long, it was time to head to the gate for boarding.
Gates in the C pier handle international flights, so there’s a passport control just before entering the pier.
Even as departure time approached, the gate area was eerily quiet. As I boarded the flight, the gate agent mentioned that’s because the flight was only about 50% full.
Before heading onboard, I snapped a few pictures of the beautiful, months-old A350-900 that would be taking me to Chicago.
Cabin and Seat
SAS didn’t install a new biz product on the A350s. Instead, you’ll find a slightly improved version of the Thomson Vantage XL seats that fly on the carrier’s other long-haul aircraft.
The seats are split across two cabins and arranged in a 1-2-1 layout giving each passenger direct aisle access.
The larger forward cabin has eight rows, and the more private mini-cabin has just two rows. I’d do everything in my power to sit back there, since there are just eight seats.
Like other Thomson Vantage XL products, the single seats alternate between being closer to the aisle and the window. Interestingly, SeatGuru lists the bulkheads as being flush with the window, but that’s not the case on the plane. In odd-numbered rows, seats are closer to the aisle, and in even-numbered rows, they are closer to the window.
The biggest advantage to sitting in the bulkhead is the oversized footwells compared to the standard 15-inch wide and 11-inch high ones in the rest of the cabin. You’d be sacrificing some privacy in exchange for added wiggle room, so it’s a personal choice.
I was quite happy with seat 6H for my flight. This pod has two windows and offers a fair amount of privacy from the rest of the cabin.
Though window seats are slightly staggered from the centre ones, there’s limited privacy with Vantage XL seats. SAS could’ve definitely pulled a move from Delta’s book and installed sliding doors on this plane.
The centre seats aren’t ideal for couples since they’re not right next to each other. There’s a fixed privacy partition and an oversized armrest between seats, making it hard to talk to a travel companion.
If you’re left to choose from a seat in the middle, I’d definitely recommend one that has the large side table adjacent to the aisle.
The 22-inch wide seats are very comfortable. Like in United’s Polaris pods, there’s a shoulder harness to be worn during takeoff and landing.
When in bed mode, the seat goes fully flat and measures 78 inches long. The armrest can also be lowered to add a bit more width to the sleeping surface.
I loved the cabin finishes, especially the orange trim accents, which made me feel like I was in a luxury sports car. The seats are well designed, especially the built-in water bottle holder and headphone hook.
Aside from privacy, the other big issue is the lack of storage. The only place to keep loose items is on the shelf built into the seat dividers. There are no enclosed storage compartments, so be sure to keep track of all your belongings.
There is a small folder-sized shelf next to the TV monitor which could be a good place to keep a book or iPad.
There are two seat control panels, one right next to the tray-table and the other next to the reading light. The former has just five basic presets, but the latter has more fine-tune options, including lumbar support.
The tray table itself measures 20 inches wide and 13.5 inches long. It’s got a tablet stand and cupholder and moves forward and backward for easy egress during meal service.
I loved the oversized windows and large overhead bins, even though SAS decided to install them over the centre seats. The 24-inch-wide aisles allow for easy manoeuvring during the flight.
Sadly, SAS elected not to add individual air nozzles on this new bird.
There are just two standard-sized lavatories dedicated to the 40 biz passengers. On my flight, there was never a wait, but I’ve got to imagine that would change with a sold-out cabin.
Overall, I liked the cabin and seats. These aren’t my favourite or the most revolutionary biz seats flying around, but they get the job done. I just wish SAS found a way to add more privacy and storage.
Amenities and IFE
The business-class amenities were on par with what I’d expect for a daytime transatlantic flight.
Waiting at my seat during boarding was a Hastens duvet, thin mattress sheet and light pillow, as well as an amenity kit. I found the blanket to be really comfortable, but the mattress sheet and pillow were too thin for my liking. Thanks to the light passenger load, I doubled up on pillows and slept great for about three hours.
The bare-bones amenity kit was stocked with products from multiple Scandinavian brands, all focused on sustainability. It had a wooden toothbrush, earplugs, eye mask, socks and Verso face moisturizer and lip balm.
There were no pyjamas or slippers on offer.
The seat’s power outlet and two USB ports are located right next to the three-prong headphone jack and retractable touchpad remote.
While the 18-inch HD touchscreen had potential, SAS really dropped the ball with the IFE content it loaded. There were just 97 movies, including 17 new releases like The Current War and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Of the 129 TV shows, there were just a handful – including Big Bang Theory, Big Little Lies and This is Us – that had more than one episode.
There was no live TV, but there was an HD tailcam and forward camera which kept this AvGeek occupied throughout most of the flight. Unfortunately, the live map was on a loop and didn’t have any customized views.
While the IFE content was quite limited, the user interface was really responsive and quite advanced.
The noise-isolating headphones provided were just OK, so I’d definitely recommend bringing your own. Note that you’ll need a two- or three-prong adapter to connect to the audio jack.
Though a satellite dome has been installed on this plane, the Wi-Fi was inoperable on my flight. When it’s working, biz passengers get free, unrestricted access to the internet – a really valuable perk that other airlines should offer.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
While SAS didn’t really innovate with the hard product on this new jet, the soft product blew me away.
To start, beautifully designed menus illustrated by Japan-born Natsko Seki were handed out during boarding. The menu cover rotates every season, and the current one depicts the Scandinavian winter.
The menu had the most extensive and unique drink options I’ve seen in biz. There was a huge emphasis on serving locally-sourced liquors and beer, including vodka from Denmark, gin from Norway and Sweden and beer from Denmark.
The wines served focused on lesser-known grape varietals, which I really appreciated. There were over 10 cocktails, as well as a bunch of mocktails designed to enhance wellbeing. The small details weren’t overlooked either. Teas were provided by Dammann and coffee by Illy.
But the coolest part was the specials menu. I’ve never before seen an airline offer such a robust list of rotating drink choices. The menu also served as an introduction to new SAS offerings including salads catered by urban vertical farms and the launch of a new partnership with a Sweden-based coffee roaster who’ll be providing French press coffee on board.
When the drink cart came through an hour after departure, I sampled the Apple Must, which is renowned as some of the best apple juice. It was great. I also tried a refreshing gin-based cocktail from the special menu, called Above the Clouds.
Not only did the drinks taste good, but they were served in beautiful glassware, à la KLM. SAS even had the A350 logo embossed on the glasses!
The first course was served about 90 minutes after takeoff. The salmon roe starter was a nice treat for business-class catering. The side salad was plated at my seat and tasted quite fresh as well. Along with the starter, I was offered a selection of breads, from which I chose a slice of sourdough and a sesame roll. The bread was served alongside some delicious Danish butter.
At this point, I’d switched to drinking the signature Herb and Tonic cocktail, which was created with Stockholms Branneri Dry Gin.
The highlight of the meal service was the main dish of cod with black garlic, mashed potato, green beans and grilled peppers. It was simply incredible. I liked it so much that I ordered seconds.
After two servings of fish, I was quite stuffed. Fortunately, the dessert options weren’t too heavy. I had the choice of a cheese plate, two small brownies, lingonberry ice cream or fresh fruit. I had a bite of the brownies and some fruit to end one of the best meals I’ve had in biz.
Unique to the A350 is a snack bar right next to Door L2.
Flight attendants set up this area with some wines, packaged snacks and pralines after the first meal was completed.
There’s also an espresso machine on board.
The pre-arrival meal was served about 80 minutes out of Chicago. This pre-plated tray consisted of an open-face sandwich topped with chicken curry, served alongside some fresh fruit and chocolate pralines. I wasn’t hungry at this point, but my fellow passengers really enjoyed this dish.
All in all, SAS offers an excellent food and beverage service.
The crew provided excellent service throughout the flight.
Before departure, flight attendants handed out a selection of pre-poured beverages and newspapers. Once airborne, they sprang into action and hustled all the way until landing in Chicago.
Though there was a menu, no meal orders were taken. Instead, you chose your dish when one of the stewards came by with the meal cart. I really liked this setup, as I got a chance to look at the food before ordering it.
Furthermore, the entire first meal service was done without trays. All plates were placed directly on the tray table, a nice touch that made the service feel more personalized.
Throughout the meal, flight attendants were incredibly friendly and proactive about drink refills. All in all, a great crew.
With the introduction of the Airbus A350, SAS is charting an exciting new future. From a passenger perspective, the A350 brings modern enhancements, like larger windows and higher cabin pressurization.
In business class, the airline installed its signature seats, but added a few bells and whistles. Though I would’ve preferred if the airline introduced a totally new, revolutionary seat, these are perfectly comfortable for a transatlantic hop.
The highlight of my flight, however, was the soft product, including the high-quality meals and an incredible assortment of beverages. Combined with a professional crew, I had a great flight.
SAS’s flagship aircraft may not offer the world’s best business-class, but it doesn’t need to. It improves upon an already solid foundation and takes the carrier to new heights.
All photos by the author.
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