Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) said Friday it was forced to cancel five intercontinental flights over the upcoming long holiday weekend because of a strike by one of its pilot unions in Norway. SAS’ other pilot unions in Norway, Sweden and Denmark settled on new contracts so most other SAS routes are operating as normal, at least for now.
“We are of course very sorry about this,” SAS spokesman Knut Morten Johansen told news bureau NTB. “Every cancellation affects around 500 passengers.” That’s because cancelled flights also mean the aircraft won’t be able to make a return trip with more passengers.
Among the flights cancelled is SAS’ only non-stop intercontinental flight from Oslo, SK907 to Newark (New York), on Sunday. That means the return flight, SK908 won’t operate either.
Four more long-haul flights were cancelled from Copenhagen, including those to Shanghai on both Saturday and Sunday, to Chicago on Sunday and to San Francisco, also on Sunday.
The pilots’ union Norske SAS-flygeres Forening (NSF) was alone on Thursday in deciding to call a strike against SAS and pull six of its pilots off the job, plus another four during the weekend. They all fly long-haul routes, so that’s why the flights to Newark, Shanghai, Chicago and San Francisco are affected.
SAS stressed that its domestic routes within Norway and its flights within Scandinavia and Europe were unaffected, not least after the Swedish pilots’ union decided not to strike. SAS’ other pilots union in Norway, SAS Norge Pilotforening (SNP), settled on a new contract last week and Danish pilots settled in April.
NSF, however, is holding out for better working conditions, arguing that pilots’ longer work hours are threatening safety and leading to health problems among its pilot members. SNP had a different view, arguing that the airline industry is facing huge challenges and that secure jobs, if only with “sensible” working conditions, was most important. Its leader, fresh from a bitter strike against rival Norwegian Air earlier this year, also told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week that its members understood SAS was “flying in a demanding market,” and that it needed a collective bargaining agreement that could allow it to compete against other carriers.
SAS pilots have thus not been unified in their demands. NSF was undaunted, and has threatened to call more of its roughly 300 members out on strike. It declared Thursday that it would not allow SAS to “dictate” terms of a new contract. NSF leader Rune Sundland said the union had faith it would be able to retain built-up benefits through ongoing negotiation, although it broke off talks early Thursday morning. No new talks were scheduled on Friday.