Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has carried out the same over-sell tactics that got its arch rival Norwegian Air in big trouble last summer: selling more seats on more flights than the airline had crews to operate.
SAS director Lars Sandahl Sørensen admitted on Friday that the airline was “too ambitious” when it planned its summer route schedule. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reports that the airline sold tickets without having full control over its staffing.
That’s the reason the airline has had to cancel more than 700 flights during the past two months. Most of the cancellations, including 33 just last Saturday, have been blamed on “internal staffing problems” involving both pilots and cabin crew.
“We have been too ambitious when planning the route program this summer,” Sørensen told DN. “When we see the result, I wish we had been more careful.”
Crewing agency trouble
Sørensen is SAS’ deputy CEO and operating director. Many of the cancelled flights, as many as 80 percent, were reportedly supposed to have been operated by SAS’ new Irish unit SAS Ireland (SAIL), which does not need to adere to Norwegian salary levels or working conditions. It has bases in London and Malaga and uses crews hired through external agencies.
News service ABC Nyheter reported that many of SAIL’s staff have quit their jobs, apprently in protest of low pay and excessive work hours. It’s thus been difficult for SAS itself to find replacement pilots and cabin crews.
ABC Nyheter has reported that pilots for SAIL sent letters to SAS in which they warned that they were being pressured, apparently by the external crewing agencies used by SAS, to work such long shifts that it threatened flight safety. They’ve also complained that their work contracts are “terrible.”
“It has been a demanding situation and it’s of course not satisfactory,” Sørensen told DN. “The problems are being taken very seriously and I’m sorry that we have not delivered in accordance with expectations.”
Norwegian Air landed in similar trouble last year, when it sold seats on far more flights that it had crew to operate. That left thousands of angry passengers stranded at airports both in Norway and abroad. Sørensen stressed that many of SAS’ flights were cancelled in advance of departure day, and SAS was able to re-route passengers onto other flights. He claimed he was “incredibly proud” to see how SAS’ own employees have managed to help get passengers to their destinations.
Sørensen also said that SAS was working on changes in its contracts with personnel abroad, and that’s expected to lead to better pay and work conditions aimed at luring staff back. Flight cancellations were likely, however, to continue through the summer season.