Strike hit SAS and its customers hard

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Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), all but grounded by a recent pilots’ strike, is reporting double-digit declines in traffic and passengers for the month of April, with heavy losses expected as well. Customers, meanwhile, have filed a record number of complaints and most still haven’t received compensation for disrupted travel.

Some passengers feel SAS is turning its back on their complaints and claims for compensation after SAS’ pilots’ strike. SAS insists it’s following applicable regulations. PHOTO: SAS

The recent week-long strike by SAS’ pilots that extended into early May resulted in a 15.4 percent decline in passengers in April, to 2.2 million, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Traffic, measured in terms of kilometers per available seat, fell by 15 percent from the same month last year.

DN also reported Thursday that SAS only carried out 88.4 percent of its scheduled flights in April, down from the normal 99 percent. That was a sharp turnaround from recent months of flying with fuller flights and being able to charge slightly higher fares.

The strike that began April 26 changed all that, and it didn’t end until just before midnight on May 2. More than 400,000 passengers were affected by cancelled flights and the uncertainty over whether to cancel themselves or risk hoping their flight would be spared.

Many of them are now even angrier with SAS because of slow response on compensation for disrupted travel plans during a period that involved two weekends and the May 1st Labour Day holiday in between. “We have had huge demand this week,” Johan Fogmann, director of a company that assists stranded travelers. It has received as many as 600 complaints just in one day, reported radio station P4.

Fogmann was quite sure passengers can expect compensation, since the European Union has ruled that strikes give passengers a right to it. SAS, however, can respond that it did its best to reschedule passengers on other airlines, provide food and drink during long waits at airports and put up stranded passengers in local hotels.

SAS also offered full refunds to all passengers who cancelled flights because of the uncertainty over whether they’d be re-routed. The airline has sent out notices that refunds are being processed. SAS has also claimed, however, that a strike is an “extraordinary” situation and that passengers affected can’t expect the EU’s standard compensation of up to EUR 600 per passenger.

“We operate in accordance with applicable laws and regulations,” SAS spokesman Knut Morten Johansen told news bureau NTB this week. It can many take months to sort out complaints and claims for compensation, said Anne B Lea at Norsk Reiselivsforum, which functions as the secretariat for state authorities handling transport and package tour complaints.

Analysts have predicted that the strike may result in a loss of as much as SEK 500 million. DN reported earlier this week that the airline, however, may try to get a large portion of the losses covered by two “crisis funds” managed by state employers’ organization NHO in Norway and by its sister group Svenskt Näringsliv in Sweden.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund