In a nutshell: SAS A330-300 business class is a fine transatlantic premium cabin experience. The Thompson Aero seat is solid, offering plenty of space when both upright and fully-flat, reasonable privacy, power, and crisp IFE. The catering lags behind some of the competition, and the crew were less attentive than expected, based on my experiences with other European carriers. All things considered, however, I’d happily fly SAS business again.
A Three-Stop Itinerary? Why Not.
When you’re traveling from a tiny, regional U.S. airport to one of the least visited countries in Europe, any itinerary will have multiple stops. My destination? Kosovo, the tiny, landlocked, contested state in the Balkans. Friends of mine relocated to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, earlier this year. I decided to visit them for a week, tacking on a quick visit to both Tirana, Albania and Athens, Greece at the end.
The most direct itinerary from northern California to Kosovo is via either Frankfurt or Zurich. You could also fly on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, but the timing is sometimes awkward. These would at least keep you to two connections. I struck out trying to book a Turkish Airlines itinerary out of SFO with Miles & Smiles, which meant I had to broaden the horizons to other options.
Multiple business class itineraries were available using United miles on my ideal travel day. I’d already flown on a Lufthansa A340-300, and although I enjoyed the experience, the appeal wasn’t great; I like trying new products. Two domestic connections would let me fly the Lufthansa A350. A decent idea.
Alternatively, and unexpectedly, I could book an itinerary including SAS A330-330 business class. The downside is that I’d have two intra-Europe segments on Austrian Airlines. I try to avoid connections after a long-haul. But it won out. New carrier and new business class product. I’m in.
After some confusion on the entry requirements for Kosovo, my day of travel arrived. A short hop to SFO, and I had a few hours to kill before my SAS business class flight.
- Flight: SK 936
- Equipment: Airbus A330-300
- Seat: 8H (business, window)
- Route: San Francisco to Copenhagen
- Price: 77,000 United miles and $11.70
One bummer of the trip was that the Polaris lounge is still closed. This is my first time flying Star Alliance business class out of SFO in years, and it would have been a great opportunity to see this new lounge. Even with travel returning, the COVID-19 closures are still here. The United Club in Concourse G is closed as well. International travel isn’t the same yet.
My remaining options were to head to either United Club in Concourse E or Concourse F, or enjoy the Centurion for maybe the last time before I cancel my Platinum Card. Given the proximity to Concourse G, the latter was my preferred option.
Amazingly, the Centurion was not especially crowded. During pre-COVID-19 times, this lounge was sometimes a madhouse, to the point that not visiting was almost preferred.
A couple hours of work and a glass of bubbly later, and it was time to head to the gate.
SAS Initial Impressions
The Airbus A330 is a fairly rare specimen at SFO. You can expect far more 777s, 787s, and A350s. As SFO is a United hub and Delta and Hawaiian are the only U.S. airlines operating the type, they aren’t a common sight in the Bay Area. Off the top of my head, the only other airlines that I know operate an A330 to SFO are Iberia/LEVEL and TAP Portugal (the A330-900neo). Oh, and Finnair when they were flying here. The SAS A330-300 service between CPH and SFO is one that I’ve overlooked.
I’ve been on quite a few completely full flights during the pandemic, even when flying internationally. So it was a bit surprising to see so few passengers waiting for the SAS flight to Copenhagen. My guess is that the 262-seat SAS A330-300 was barely a quarter full.
Boarding started right on time with pre-boarding and then business class. The only thing that surprised me is that SAS did not check whether I had a COVID-19 test or not. You need either a test within 72 hours or a vaccination card to enter Kosovo. It was a good thing I knew the requirements.
I had to exchange my mask upon entering the cabin. Other who did not have flat, surgical masks had to do the same. Some European airlines have made this a requirement. I remember getting eyed by a KLM flight attendant until she asked me if I had another mask. I was unaware of the policy at the time.
The SAS A330-300 business class cabin was appealing upon first glance. It offers 32 Thompson Vantage seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, all with direct aisle access.
I did note that none of the seats are true “pairs” that would be ideal for traveling with a companion. The dividers wouldn’t make conversation impossible, but it isn’t the same as some products where you can book seats where you feel like you’re traveling together.
With only 17 people in business class on my flight to Copenhagen, everyone was settled quickly. By picking a seat in the back of the cabin, I’d unknowingly segregated myself from everyone else. Row 5 and forward seemed to be the place to be.
I have a thing for seats in the corner of the business class cabin. Being at the very front can be nice, but it always depends on the seat and window configuration. Lately, I find myself selecting a seat at the back of the business cabin. SeatGuru told me that the proximity to the galley and lavatories might be annoying in the back row, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all.
SAS A330-300 Business Class Seat
The Thompson Aero SAS A330-300 business class seat is nice. The colors are a bit plain, but the cabin is still appealing. I believe they are the same seats offered on their newer A350 aircraft. I’d selected a true window seat, where the divider blocks the aisle and you’re adjacent to the windows. The one downside to seat 8H is that you’re missing a window with the bulkhead right behind you.
I really like the seat style. The business class seat is comfortable, reasonably wide, and the true window seats (choose A or H) offer the most privacy. You obviously have all the legroom you need. This might be an odd comment, but I actually thought the seat would be most comfortable if the back was a couple degrees closer to vertical when in the upright configuration.
SAS business class offers over-ear headphones (not noise canceling) and an amenity kit. They also have a bottle of water waiting for you.
The power outlets, headphone and USB plugs, and in-flight entertainment controls are all easily accessible. The seat control is directly to the side, and you can adjust leg rest independently from the rest of the seat. The reading light is in an slightly awkward spot, but it works well enough if you put a book on the tray table.
If you’re ever confused what aircraft you’re flying, check the safety card. I’m obviously meticulous when booking most tickets and always review the aircraft type. Even in economy class, some airlines and aircraft offer a far better experience, and it can be worth looking into ahead of time.
The SAS A330-300 business class seats also come with a three-point harness. I noticed this when I sat down, but then spaced when it came time to depart. The crew had to kindly remind me to fasten it.
Departure from SFO
Boarding finished after just 21 minutes, far ahead of schedule. The captain greeted us over the intercom in both Danish and English, and we pushed back soon after. There was no predeparture beverage service or introductions by the SAS crew, although they had plenty of time for this. Either it’s not part of their service, or it is suspended due to COVID-19. With little traffic at SFO, we were quickly cleared for takeoff.
I love departing SFO. You get some of the best views, although the smoke from California wildfires was unfortunately impacting visibility that day.
We still got an excellent view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I may have my gripes about the City by the Bay, but its setting is certainly not one of them.
The SAS wasted no time beginning meal service, placing tablecloths and serving an aperitif within minutes once they could move about the cabin. SAS did not have menu cards, nor did the crew take meal orders during boarding, so the choices were a surprise. Whatever the options were, the smell coming from the galley made my mouth water.
As the one, lonely soul in the back of the business cabin, I was served last. Luckily, I still had a choice from among all three meal options: short ribs, lemon chicken, and a vegetarian option. I went with the chicken. The sides included a salad of mixed greens with jicama, cold vegetables and fish with a quail egg, and bread.
The chicken was juicy and flavorful, making the hot main dish a winner. Although simple, I liked the salad as well. But the cold vegetables were barely redeemed with a garlic sauce. However, the fish served with the cold veggies was terrible, to the point that I wondered if it was fake.
Rather than another glass of champagne, I opted for a red wine. It was at this point that I found the menu in the IFE. The red was a 2016 St. John’s Road Motely Bunch red blend from Australia. I thought it very good. The champagne served for the aperitif was a Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. The other options included a Sauvignon Blanc, and I forget the rest. The only beer option was Danish Carlsberg.
I finished things off with a cup of tea. SAS offered chocolates as well. On the whole, meal service was decent. My SAS A330-300 business class experience certainly wasn’t the best I’ve had, but I wouldn’t say it missed the mark in any way.
One area where SAS missed the mark is with their in-flight entertainment. The airline had a total of just 38 movie titles to pick from. Among those, there were only seven kids titles. This is enough for a ten hour flight, I guess. On a flight like this, my kids would easily plow through at least four if I let them. I watched X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which I’d seen once before, quite a while ago. Beyond that, there really wasn’t anything that interested me.
The airplane does have an external camera which points straight down and lets you watch the landscape rush by. This is a pretty cool feature, especially as we passed over the Canadian Rockies.
Unfortunately, SAS has yet to install WiFi on this A330. With a limited IFE selection, this isn’t a good look. I’d brought three books to read, which occupied most of my time when I wasn’t sleeping.
I should have gotten a better photo of the seat in lie-flat mode, but I didn’t snap a shot before the cabin was completely dimmed. SAS provides a thin cover for the seat, plus a blanket and pillow. While the seat itself is spacious enough and comfortable for sleeping, the bedding is terrible. I had to fold the pillow in half for it to be semi-comfortable. The armrest to the side of the seat slides down, which gives you a hair more space and is still comfortable for the window seat.
I got maybe three hours of broken sleep, which would be enough to function through the following day. It was less than I’d hoped to get, though. After I sat up, a flight attendant came by with snacks and water. They would return routinely offering juice and water. Staying hydrated is a must when flying.
The SAS A330-300 business class lavatory on the right side of the aircraft is spacious, more spacious than the other. Staff kept it nice and clean and stocked with towelettes.
Arriving In Copenhagen
I managed to get a few hours of broken napping in during the flight. Ideally, I like to have one full sleep cycle, which is 3.5-4 hours for me. This didn’t happen. I knew it was going to be a brutal day finishing my trip to Pristina. I’d tried to walk back my wake up time to adjust early, but I didn’t get to earlier than 4:00 AM before I left.
The crew turned the lights on with about 90 minutes left in the flight. They we on low, matching the color just starting to appear in the sky. It was breakfast time.
The breakfast offered in SAS A330-300 business class is sub-par, in my opinion. Cold cuts and cheese don’t slice it for me, and this was the only option offered. You also have muesli, yogurt, bread, and a few pieces of fruit. This is closer to something I’d expect for a decent economy class meal.
I finished quickly and enjoyed the sunrise. Given our flight path, I went and sat at an empty window across the cabin at soaked in Norway. How I want to visit. It’s high on the list.
By the time we circled around and landed at Copenhagen, it was fully light and Denmark was looking gorgeous. I said goodbye to SAS and the excellent business class seat, exiting into a rather quiet and subdued Copenhagen Airport.
SAS A330-300 Business Class Review: Final Thoughts
The Thompson Aero seat offered by SAS is a very nice hard product. If your main goal is getting some sleep on your transatlantic flight, I’d definitely consider flying SAS A330-300 business class. For eastbound long-haul flights, this is the most important factor to me.
However, the experience is missing a few of the touches that would really make it stand out. The SAS crew, while pleasant, didn’t provide the same level of attention as I’ve had with most other carriers, and no one ever addressed me personally by name. Not that this is necessary. I definitely notice it, though, and it demonstrates a high attention to detail by the crew. The catering doesn’t quite hold up to the competition. I’d say that the SAS experience compares to my KLM business experience, but definitely lags Lufthansa and Finnair. The lack of IFE options is also a drag.
All things considered, I’d fly SAS A330-300 business class again, but I’d likely prioritize many other options over them.