When Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was stuck in its worst of many financial crises over the years, state government officials raised the possibility of selling SAS to arch rival Norwegian Air. One proposal would have let SAS retain business travelers, while Norwegian would appeal to the holiday and personal travel market.
The proposed deal in 2011 has been revealed by Norwegian Air’s CEO, Bjørn Kjos, in his new autobiography released this week. Trond Giske, Norway’s trade minister at the time, confirmed that he had run into Kjos at the Opera in Oslo and Kjos jokingly asked Giske if he’d found any buyers for deeply troubled SAS, in which the governments of Norway, Sweden and Denmark held large stakes.
“Wouldn’t you like to buy it?” Giske responded in a tone he also called “a bit joking” but also serious. “We were looking for industrial buyers for SAS,” Giske told newspaper Aftenposten. “Norwegian could have been a buyer, but we also would have looked at others first.”
Norwegian Air’s chairman, Bjørn Kise, was intrigued at the prospect of taking over SAS “very cheaply,” and cornering the market in northern Europe. Kjos was skeptical but proceeded to examine the values of SAS fleet, which he found to be old and expensive to operate. He wrote that his wife Gerd, a former SAS flight attendant, also warned against buying SAS on the grounds it was all but run by its powerful labour unions at the time. The deal was dropped after a meeting with SAS’ larget private owner, Jakob Wallenberg, and SAS was later bailed out by state guarantees, which Kjos has complained about.
Norwegian, meanwhile, could claim on Wednesday that it offers the “best and cheapest” service between in Oslo and London, a popular destination for Norwegians especially in the run-up to the Christmas holidays. A comparison conducted by Aftenposten of average round-trip ticket prices, added costs for baggage, seat reservations and coffee on board and ground transport found that passengers would pay a total of NOK 3,270 (USD 384) on Norwegian, NOK 3,401 on Ryanair and NOK 3,843 on SAS. Norwegian was also fastest, getting a traveler from downtown Oslo to Trafalgar Square in the center of London in six hours and one minute, compared to six hours and two minutes on SAS and seven hours and two minutes on Ryanair. Norwegian flies into London’t Gatwick Airport, SAS uses Heathrow and Ryanair lands at Stansted.