On short flights across Europe and from other nearby destinations, SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) doesn't offer business class – instead, premium economy, sold under the brand of SAS Plus.
Packing in many typical business class perks like priority check-in and boarding, and in some airports, fast-track security screening and lounge access, the experience isn't that far from business class: although as is common in Europe, you'll still be flying in what's otherwise an economy seat.
Here's how SAS Plus shaped up on a recent flight from St. Petersburg to Stockholm.
- Frequent flyer program: SAS EuroBonus. As a Star Alliance airline, SAS flights can also be credited to other frequent flyer schemes like KrisFlyer and United MileagePlus, in many cases earning the same number of miles as SAS business class tickets (such as with KrisFlyer).
- Checked baggage allowance: 2x23kg bags as standard, boosted to 3x23kg for EuroBonus Silver and Star Alliance Gold members of all airlines, or to 4x23kg for EuroBonus Gold and Diamond members.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x118cm bag of up to 8kg, plus 1x85cm small laptop bag or handbag. Passengers connecting to or from SAS flights to Asia or the USA can also bring an extra 118cm, 8kg bag into the cabin.
- Airport fast-track: On this journey, priority check-in, boarding and baggage delivery. Fast-track security is available for SAS Plus passengers at some airports, although not in St. Petersburg. There's also no fast-track at Russian or Swedish passport control, although queues were minimal.
The SAS Plus package normally includes airport lounge access, but this is only provided in airports where SAS operates its own lounge, and St. Petersburg isn't one of them.
Instead, a Priority Pass card comes in handy, which was useful for a visit to the simply-named "Business Lounge" located after passport control, with plenty of natural light, airfield views and a selection of hot food.
The Business Lounge also welcomes eligible passengers of many international airlines including British Airways, Emirates, Finnair, Qatar Airways, S7 Airlines and more, so be aware that the space can get a little busy, although I didn't have any problems finding a seat.
SAS is the only airline offering non-stop flights between St. Petersburg and Stockholm, and you certainly wouldn't want to miss your flight, as the route runs just three times per week: on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Departing St. Petersburg at 4pm on those days, you're on the ground in the Swedish capital at 3:35pm local time after a journey of 1hr 35min, and winding your watch back by two hours, given the time zone change.
Here's where SAS differs from most of its European competition: on short flights, rather than selling what would otherwise be an economy class seat as 'business class' and keeping the middle seat vacant, SAS markets its better-than-economy experience as 'premium economy' (SAS Plus), but does sell the middle seat.
For example, this Boeing 737 flight has seats arranged in a 3-3 layout from tip to tail, and up to six passengers fill each row, even in SAS Plus – rather than the EuroBusiness approach of blocking the middle seat, and having passengers seated only by the aisle and window in the same type of cabin.
For something different, I put myself into a middle seat, 1B, to see how the experience stacked up from one of the 'worst' seats in the house, albeit as a premium economy passenger.
All things considered, I was reasonably comfortable, given the legroom in the dedicated SAS Plus rows is a little more generous at 32-33 inches of pitch, versus a tighter 30-31 inches further back in regular economy.
That was also helped by having nobody in front to recline – although the middle seats in the rows beyond would be less desirable – and although the storage pockets are mounted to the bulkhead wall down near your feet, they didn't get in the way and offered enough storage space.
Speaking of recline, that's the only thing you can do with your seat – there are no legrests here...
... and your tray table either folds down from the seat in front, or extends from inside the armrest at the bulkhead:
Power outlets are available on some SAS aircraft serving short flights, although weren't visibly present on this jet.
The airline describes its service on these flights as offering "a delicious light meal" in SAS Plus, which found a food box, bread roll and cup of water arrive on my tray:
Inside sits a description of the meal – handy for passengers with any allergies, although alternatives may be limited...
... and while the presentation wasn't overly flash by premium economy standards, the food was fresh, and I particularly enjoyed the fava bean cream with the brisket:
That said, the airline could do a much better job of explaining to its SAS Plus passengers exactly what's included on board, because only after taking subsequent SAS Plus flights did I discover that you can actually order anything available from the economy inflight menu at no charge.
I'd only spotted water and juice on the service trolley, so had opted for water – but could have enjoyed wine, beer, soft drink or one of the many other choices, had I known they were available and included, particularly as there was no menu in my seat pocket to hint that further items might be available.
My neighbour on this flight also didn't realise that other complimentary snacks were at hand, as there was no mention of them during the service or any announcement to peruse any menu for other choices, and having not really touched their main meal (which wasn't to their taste), simply returned it and left the flight feeling hungry.
Moving forward, the crew came through the cabin with offers of tea and coffee after meal boxes had been collected...
... and just before the seatbelt sign was switched on for landing, a trio of pralines were given to each SAS Plus passenger, which was a nice touch:
Entertainment & Service
On this aircraft, your only entertainment options are those that were brought with you, so I donned my noise-cancelling headphones and listened to a little music to help pass the time.
If you happen to find yourself aboard an aircraft with inflight Internet, your SAS Plus fare includes complimentary access for the duration of the journey: but there's no compensation or future access voucher if the plane that shows up at the gate doesn't offer the service.
All up, the main reason I chose SAS Plus on this route was because of its reasonably generous baggage allowance and my need to travel with several checked bags on this trip, which meant paying a little extra for the airfare at the time of booking but avoiding much higher excess baggage charges at the airport, for a flight that was still 'better than economy'.
In the future though, given that the seating in SAS Plus isn't much different to regular economy, the meals provided can otherwise be purchased from the inflight menu in regular economy, and that in most places there's no SAS airport lounge to visit – again, just like economy – I'd question the value of flying SAS Plus if priced significantly higher than economy class, unless the baggage allowance tips the scales in its favour.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Stockholm at his own expense.