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Airlines face off with new routes

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and its arch rival in Norway, Norwegian Air, are both planning new routes when intercontinental competition heats up next year. The plans include the return of SAS to California, more than 20 years after it stopped flying to Los Angeles.

SAS and Norwegian will soon be competing on intercontinental routes to the US and Asia, in addition to within Scandinavia and Europe. PHOTO: Avinor

SAS has begun selling a new, non-stop route between Copenhagen and San Francisco that will take off next spring. The route will be operated six days a week, beginning April 8, with connections to and from Oslo and Stockholm. SAS also plans to add a second non-stop route between Copenhagen and New York (Newark) from April 1 and may start running flights to Houston.

“Everyone sees that traffic to the US, not least from Norway, is growing strongly,” Eivind Roald, the Norwegian executive who recently took over as director of sales and marketing for SAS, told newspaper Aftenposten. “There’s been a need for a direct route from Scandinavia to the (US) west coast for a long time.”

SAS ran non-stop flights between Seattle and Copenhagen for years, and, also once flew to Los Angeles as well. The airline cut back on its intercontinental non-stops when airline deregulation and the rise of low-cost carriers set off severe fare competition that led to heavy losses for SAS. The Stockholm-based airline that’s still partly owned by the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway lately has offered non-stop service from Scandinavia only to New York, Chicago and Washington DC (Dulles). SAS’ only non-stop intercontinental flights from Oslo are to the Newark airport outside New York, with most of them running full every day.

Passengers to and from Norway will still need to connect to the Chicago, Washington and, eventually, San Francisco flights through Copenhagen or, in some cases, Stockholm, but SAS does offer one non-stop daily flight to New York from Oslo and now is considering non-stop service from either Oslo or Stavanger to Houston, a frequent destination for those working in the oil industry.

“The oil industry is generating strong traffic, and since Norway is an oil nation, it wouldn’t be unnatural to simplify the trip between our two markets,” Roald told Aftenposten. He said the “market will decide” whether a new non-stop route to Houston would run from Oslo or Stavanger, the main base for offshore oil operations in the North Sea.

SAS’ partner in the Star Alliance group, United Airlines, recently took over Continental Airlines, which in turn had taken over SAS’ initial Oslo-New York non-stop route when SAS even dropped it after heavy losses a decade ago. SAS eventually restored the route, meaning that there’s recently been two daily non-stop flights running between Oslo and Newark. Now the former Continental route is operated by SAS partner United, which SAS also relies on for domestic connections within the US. As Star Alliance partners, the two also offer reciprocal frequent flyer benefits.

Low-fare rival plots own strategy
Norwegian Air, meanwhile, will be adding to the intercontinental flight options when it launches non-stop service next spring between Oslo and New York using the JFK airport on Long Island. Norwegian will use its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, with 291 seats in two classes of service. SAS uses an Airbus A330 that can carry 264 passengers in three classes of service on its Newark flights, while United (formerly Continental) uses a single-aisle Boeing 757 with 175 seats.

Norwegian also is launching non-stop service between Oslo and Bangkok, competing against another Star Alliance carrier, Thai Airways, and SAS. Norwegian also plans to offer non-stop intercontinenal service to Bangkok and New York from Stockholm.

Anne-Sissel Skånvik told Aftenposten that Norwegian, known for promoting low base fares but charging extra for services that SAS includes in its fares, wasn’t concerned with what SAS was planning. “We focus on our own routes and don’t run them after what SAS is doing,” Skånvik claimed. When asked whether Norwegian planned more routes to the US beyond its initial flights to JFK in New York, she said “yes.”

While SAS already has started promoting its new service to San Francisco, Skånvik said Norwegian planned to start selling tickets for its New York flights this fall.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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