SAS shakes off embarrassing past

As SAS faces increasing pressure from its flight deck and cabin crew unions for wage rises, its president and chief executive Joergen Lindegaard (pictured) is happy to listen to reasonable demands provided productivity improvements are part of the negotiation.

“I need more hours,” he told Airline Business last week in an interview in London. “I don’t mind paying more if I get more.” Achieving these extra hours is likely to be more about getting more flexible working practices than anything else.


This means redesigning the Scandinavian carrier’s flight programme to take into account seasonal differences in traffic demand. Amazingly, as little as five years ago, the rigid “round trip management programme” that pilots flew at SAS had exactly the same number of legs regardless of whether it was summer or winter.

“It’s always embarrassing to talk about it,” concedes Lindegaard, who is frustrated with how long it is taking to change such an inflexible system that meant his carrier was saddled with flying too many unprofitable routes. “What I would like to do is change the traffic programme every month,” he says.

As an example of the carrier’s inflexibility he cites a golf tournament in Malmo in Sweden which drew 70,000 visitors to this city on a quiet weekend. SAS did not response with extra flights to cater to the increased demand. In fact, because it was a Sunday it actually flew a lighter weekend programme. A good business opportunity was lost.

SAS is responding with its dynamic traffic planning, agreed in conjunction with unions, to become more agile in responding to demand. A couple of years ago subsidiary Spanair brought in more flexibility into its collective bargaining agreement. Talks with staff and unions are under way now. “We are now just starting in Sweden and are trying to penetrate this approach in all our companies,” says Lindegaard.

But are unions listening? De-centralising the airline into regional parts, giving more autonomy to the SAS units in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, has helped, and Lindegaard is confident his message is getting through.

If the unions play ball they could be looking at their first real wage increases for four years.

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