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SAS MD 81/82 Economy Extra
BACKGROUND Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), a founding member of Star Alliance, serves London Heathrow to Stockholm up to six times a day.
After successful trials earlier in the year, the carrier launched its mobile boarding pass in autumn 2009, which means passengers with mobile internet (WAP) can check-in via SMS or the SAS Mobile Portal. Check-in confirmation is sent directly to your phone, and will contain a web link, which, when you click on it, will display your mobile boarding pass with your flight and seat number, departure and arrival time, and bar code.
To register baggage, scan this bar code over the screen at one of the self-service kiosks at the airport, and follow the instructions. To get through immigration, fast-track or into the lounges, pass your handset to the official who will scan it for you. Remember – make sure your phone has plenty of power in it otherwise you could have problems if it dies midway through the process.
CHECK-IN As I had a day of presentations and seminars to attend at Stockholm Arlanda airport, I checked in at one of the self-service kiosks within the terminal earlier in the day. My flight was SK533 departing at 1815, and I chose seat 8F in Economy Extra (premium economy) and printed out my boarding pass.
Economy Extra passengers get a range of benefits including business class check-in and fast-track security, and a cold two-course meal with free alcoholic and soft drinks. (Economy passengers have to pay for snacks and drinks on board.) Legroom is the same as you would get in economy class – 30-32 inches.
Fast-track security was on the right, and I was through in couple of minutes as there were no queues (belts off, laptops out). Business class passengers have access to the fourth-floor SAS/Star Alliance lounge, which is accessed via a lift a short walk from the airside shopping area just after security.
BOARDING At 1720 I made the ten-minute walk to Gate F65 via passport control. Boarding started at 1750 and there was a long line of people waiting, so I took my time and did some reading until most of the people had got on the plane. I was in my seat by 1810 – the flight was very busy and it was a bit of a squeeze to find space in the overhead bins for my hand luggage.
THE SEAT Seats are upholstered in smart blue- and white-flecked fabric and navy blue leather armrests. On this flight, there were four rows of business class, nine rows of Economy Extra, and 20 rows of economy.
Compared with the outbound business class experience (click here for the full review), Economy Extra felt quite claustrophobic as the middle seat (E) is not kept free, and most people had big, hefty winter coats and newspapers on their laps that took up space. I was in 8F, a window seat on the right-hand side of the MD-81/82, which was configured 2-3 (A-C, D-E-F).
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? In business class, the best seats are either D or F, depending on your preference for being next to a window or the aisle, as the middle seat (E) is always kept free so you get more room. In Economy Extra, or economy, it is better to opt for A or C seats as they feels a little less cramped than being on the side with three seats. Seat E should always be avoided.
THE FLIGHT While taxiing, the female captain informed us that the journey time to London would be two hours and five minutes. At 1850, the meal service began, with my vegetarian option being served first. Economy Extra food comes in a neat plastic lunchbox as opposed to on a tray as in business class, and mine contained a tasty cold salad of asparagus (cooked just right and not at all stringy, surprisingly), cauliflower and cos lettuce, plus a small dish of shredded vegetables, papaya and herbs, and another of pickled peppers and what looked like tagliatelle, but tasted oddly different. There was also a sealed cup of water and a slice of sweet wholemeal bread.
During dinner, I was offered a selection of drinks, and I asked for a small glass bottle of white wine – Serame Viognier, 2006. As were the other passengers, I was also asked if I would like a second drink to go alongside it, but I declined. However, this token act of generosity was well received.
Choosing Economy Extra may well be worth it to business travellers, as the benefit of getting business class check-in, fast-track security and a decent meal on board is preferable to having to queue and then either get a bite at the airport or pay for something on the plane. (In economy, sandwiches are €8, coffee with a muffin is €5, tapas with wine is €14, miniature spirits are €5, mixers are €3 and snacks are €2.)
ARRIVAL We landed on time in London Heathrow at 1930 and I was through passport control within ten minutes of disembarking. From Terminal 3, it is a good 15-minute walk to the underground station.
VERDICT Economy Extra is a good compromise between business and economy, and one that seemed to be popular on both my flights. The food was enjoyable and service excellent.
PRICE Internet rates for a return Economy Extra class flight from London to Stockholm with SAS in January started from £564.50. A return economy class flight was £136.50, and a return business class flight was £709.50.