The furious Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) chief executive didn’t mince words when he met reporters in Stockholm on Monday, just after SAS pilots in Norway, Sweden and Denmark continued their long-threatened strike. “We are truly devastated,” said Anko van der Werff, calling it “shameful” that the pilots are ruining the summer travel plans of tens of thousands of SAS passengers. The striking pilots disagree.
“This is, of course, very bad news… mainly for our passengers,” said the SAS boss who could not reach a settlement with pilots unhappy with the way SAS management restructured the airline. company into new operating units that do not pay pilots as much as they received before the pandemic.
“It was supposed to be summer (when) everyone was looking forward to traveling again,” van der Werff continued. “It’s also bad news for the company. There are a lot of people in the company (who) don’t want to go on strike, (who) want to take care of our customers. He noted how SAS, like many other companies, suffered from “the worst pandemic of our lifetimes” and “received a lot of taxpayers’ money”.
“I find it truly shameful that this is how the pilots choose to repay the generosity and patience that all (Scandinavian) countries have had over the past few years with the company.”
The governments of Norway, Sweden and Denmark all provided capital and state guarantees for the loans to stave off airline bankruptcy, and even to fly the necessary domestic routes at heavily subsidized fares. While some pilots have been retained and others temporarily laid off, some have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Many pilots had to reapply for their jobs in SAS’s newly created operational units, competing with other non-Scandinavian pilots eager to work for lower wages. This angered pilots organized in various pilot unions in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. After marathon negotiating sessions that have been extended three times reached a deadline at midday last Monday, they have called a strike that removes 900 SAS pilots from the cockpit.
“We had the ambition to get secure jobs and contribute to SAS Forward (one of the new business units), but we didn’t achieve that,” one of the union bosses told reporters. pilots, Martin Lindgren. “We blame SAS. SAS did not want a settlement. SAS wanted a strike.
SAS chief negotiator Marianne Hærnes denied this, saying the pilots had returned to their jobs, but not with the parent company, and would not accept the “pay and flexibility” offered by SAS.
The strike will force the cancellation of around 250 SAS flights each day just as summer vacation begins. Some flights were still taking off on Monday, but unionized pilots will be phased out of duty when they return to their home base. Most SAS flights are due to be canceled within the next 24 hours.
Around 45,000 SAS travelers will be affected. Strikes and the costs they may incur for passengers are generally not covered by travel insurance, but SAS remains obligated to try to arrange alternative transport on the earliest available flights. Given that SAS dominates the market in Scandinavia, with most international and intercontinental routes departing from its hubs in Copenhagen and Stockholm, arranging alternative transport will not be easy.
Passengers have the option to change the dates of their trips until the strike is over or get their money back and arrange their own transport to their destination. The demand for passenger assistance is expected to be massive. SAS and Norway’s public airport agency Avinor set up a special waiting area at Oslo’s main airport in Gardermoen on Monday, “to help people who cannot get home, people from abroad and those who are going to lose their air connections,” Avinor spokesman Øystein Løwer told the NTB press office. It will not, however, be possible to rebook SAS tickets at the airport.
Passengers invited to wait for a message from SAS
Around 70 flights had already been canceled departing from Oslo by mid-afternoon. The Norwegian Consumer Affairs Council advised SAS ticket holders to wait and arrange alternative transport themselves until they receive confirmation from SAS that their flight is indeed cancelled. SAS is then obliged to offer various available alternatives, including rebookings. Passengers should also be offered food, drink, transportation and overnight accommodation if they have to wait a long time for the next available flight.
“If you have to pay for some of this yourself, you can demand reimbursement of your expenses in addition to the standard compensation,” said Thomas Iversen of the Norwegian Consumer Council. (Forbrukerrådet) told public broadcaster NRK. He pointed out that consumers were better protected if they waited for SAS to take action. “Passengers are taking an economic risk if they book their own alternative transport and pay for it,” Iversen warned.
If SAS is unable to get its passengers to their destination, then passengers can self-book into a hotel and seek refunds later, he added. Passengers in Norway were also advised to log on to SAS websites at sas.no or flysas.com, for information on their specific flights. Wait times on phone lines were likely to be long.