Scandinavian Airlines’ Unusually Timed LAX & SFO Flights

Scandinavian Airlines’ Unusually Timed LAX & SFO Flights

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While randomly browsing flights the other day (as one does), I couldn’t help but notice that Scandinavian Airlines’ west coast flights sure have odd schedules at the moment.

Scandinavian Airlines’ early west coast departures

Long story short, I was looking at some award availability from the west coast to Europe, and I noticed that the Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flights from LAX and SFO currently both depart before noon. It’s extremely rare to see flights from the west coast to Europe departing that early, so I wondered if the flights just left Europe at the crack of dawn and turned around, or what was going on.

Then I had a look at the full schedules. Below are the winter schedules (through late March 2022) for SAS’ west coast flights.

SK931 Copenhagen to Los Angeles departing 12:35PM arriving 3:15PM
SK932 Los Angeles to Copenhagen departing 11:10AM arriving 7:20AM (+1 day)

SK935 Copenhagen to San Francisco departing 12:35PM arriving 2:55PM
SK936 San Francisco to Copenhagen departing 11:20AM arriving 7:10AM (+1 day)

Scandinavian Airlines A330 business class seat

As a point of comparison, starting with the summer schedule, these flights adopt more traditional timings, which you can see below.

SK931 Copenhagen to Los Angeles departing 9:30AM arriving 11:35AM
SK932 Los Angeles to Copenhagen departing 1:35PM arriving 9:20AM (+1 day)

SK935 Copenhagen to San Francisco departing 12:15PM arriving 2:20PM
SK936 San Francisco to Copenhagen departing 4:10PM arriving 11:40AM (+1 day)

Scandinavian Airlines’ West Coast routes

What’s the logic for these schedules?

There are two things that are unusual about SAS’ winter schedule:

  • Both flights depart the west coast for Europe before noon, which is rare; the only other airlines that do that are those that operate “direct” service via the West Coast, like Air Tahiti Nui’s Tahiti to Los Angeles to Paris flight
  • Both flights have aircraft spend roughly 20 hours on the ground in the United States rather than turning around; between the United States and Europe you only otherwise see that on Icelandair, since the airline is all about offering connectivity beyond Iceland

The logic for this unusual schedule isn’t too hard to figure out — SAS is prioritizing good connectivity in Copenhagen over everything else. SAS’ shorter transatlantic flights (from Chicago, Miami, New York, and Washington) also arrive in Copenhagen at around 7AM, and the airline wants to have as many connecting opportunities as possible, given that this makes it easier to sell tickets.

There’s not currently a “bank” of connecting flights beyond Copenhagen that would match more traditional arrival times from the west coast. Given that flights from the west coast to Europe are longer than flights from the east coast to Europe, the only way to make these connections happen is by having planes overnight in the United States before turning around.

This schedule is all about connectivity

A few more thoughts:

  • While the aircraft utilization here is horrible (~42 hours for a roundtrip to the US), presumably that’s not a consideration since the airline doesn’t have enough places to profitably fly these planes in winter anyway
  • Parking planes isn’t cheap, so I can’t imagine how much the airline is paying to keep these planes parked at these airports for so long (not that parking in Copenhagen is cheap either, but there’s usually a pricing advantage at a hub)
  • These eastbound flights are terrible for maximizing rest; if you’re originating on the West Coast you likely won’t be able to sleep so early, and you may land exhausted with a full day ahead of you
  • I guess one small benefit here is that the same crews can work the flights in both directions, and spend just one night in the US; since the flights aren’t operated daily, this offers the airline savings on hotels and per diem costs

To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting SAS is doing the “wrong” thing with these flights, but am simply pointing out that this is unusual, and this also explains why you may see SAS A330s on the ground most of the time at both LAX and SFO.

Bottom line

Scandinavian Airlines is currently operating an unconventional schedule to LAX and SFO. The airline is operating westbound flights with a typical schedule, while eastbound flights leave way earlier than normal, meaning these planes have to overnight in the United States. This is designed to maximize connectivity in Copenhagen, and align these schedules with SAS’ other (shorter) flights from the United States.

What’s your take on these SAS flights from LAX & SFO? Do you dislike the early departures as much as I do?

Conversations (39)
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  1. Bols59 New Member

    Any idea if and when SAS will return to Seattle?

  2. Rene N. Guest

    Im sure it has more to do with crew rotation than economics.

  3. Steven E Guest

    I don’t find the timings terrible at all, that midnight early a.m hideousness at LAX especially is avoided and crowded lounges

  4. Juan Guest

    Is it rare for the morning EU-West Coast flights? Flew AMS-LAX before with KLM and the flight left around 10am. When I was planning an LHR-LAX flight on VS (that got canceled in March 2020), there was a morning flight option. However, in both cases, there was also a later option too.

  5. Stephen Guest

    They may also find this helps with cargo sales.

  6. Samo Guest

    I always dreamed about eastbound daytime flights, I absolutely hate being on a plane when I want to sleep, even if it's a lie flat business class.

    And don't forget that most people are in economy where sleeping's pretty much impossible.

  7. Sam Guest

    I don't mind the early departure, it's the early arrival that's hard. Arriving at 7 am local time means the day has just begun except your head thinks it's about midnight.

    1. Samo Guest

      Well, the idea is that most people will connect elsewhere so they will arrive much later than at 7. There is a ton of morning flights out of SAS hubs (whether it's CPH or ARN), so it makes sense to me.

  8. torgborg Guest

    I took SK931 & SK932 from LAX in July 21 and Jan 22.

    Loved the departure times as I can't sleep on planes. And I had a short connection to OSL (boy do I miss Norwegian direct LAX - OSL !!)

    A350-900 is great. But SAS has a really weak entertainment package. So make sure you download to your devices ahead of time.

  9. Ben Guest

    I flew the CPH-LAX-CPH route no later than last week. First, it's an Airbus A350-900 on this route and not an A330. Ot makes the ride more confortable and the business class cabin is very nice.
    Second, it's true that most of your flights are during daytime so it's tiring but it's great to have short connections in CPH. The traditional schedule on the LAX-CPH leg is 2 hours later so not sure it makes a big difference...

  10. Jake Guest

    Arriving CPH at 22:20 body time with a full day ahead is completely brutal and destructive to productivity. Thankfully they go back to a normal schedule on 26 March. Pfew.

  11. Noah Guest

    I actually was on both of these flights to and from LAX in December and early January. And I for one loved them. We stayed up much of the night before these flights, slept soundly on the planes and then woke up on board acclimated to our new time zone. I’ve never felt so prepared for a major time shift. And these were on A350-900. A far stretch from a 330.

  12. KNilsson Guest

    I have flown SAS SFO/CPH as long as SAS has offered direct service from the Bay Area. My husband preferred Norwegian from Oakland to CPH but that service is no longer available. We both like the SAS timing as we arrive at destinations with time to use ground transportation midday. One serious problem is now SAS doesn't have competition and often cancels the CPH/SFO fights with very little notice. SAS left me in a bad...

    I have flown SAS SFO/CPH as long as SAS has offered direct service from the Bay Area. My husband preferred Norwegian from Oakland to CPH but that service is no longer available. We both like the SAS timing as we arrive at destinations with time to use ground transportation midday. One serious problem is now SAS doesn't have competition and often cancels the CPH/SFO fights with very little notice. SAS left me in a bad position this December and XLD my husband's flight last September causing a big mess. We're at the point that we'll take Lufthansa xFRA simply because it's better quality and reliable.

  13. dander Guest

    I love landing CPH in the AM. Take to train to see the family. Sure lots of coffee is consumed, but I really hate late afternoon arrivals in europe

  14. 21five Guest

    Parking a widebody at LAX is cheap - $230 a day. SFO charges a fair bit more, closer to $1500 a day (although a remote stand is a little cheaper at $1100).

    https://www.lawa.org/-/media/lawa-web/group-and--division/files/air-carrier-operating-permit-acop-lax/landing-fees-at-lax.ashx https://www.flysfo.com/sites/default/files/assets/investor/FY20-21_Summary_of_Airport_Charges.pdf

  15. Ella Guest

    Coming from SEA, I see this as a kick in the teeth - much harder to connect both before and after. Great connections in Europe, though, and the requirement of a single crew probably defines it in low-use winter flights. They’ll be flying without me, for sure.

  16. Criced Criced Guest

    Watch out fot SAS:s scheduled A340:s for theese flights; that means they have no intention to operate that flight. SAS have no A340:s anylonger. And they will cancel the flight later on.

  17. Bols59 New Member

    I flew SEA - CPH New Year's Eve 1979 on an SAS 747 Combi. We left around 2230 and arrived around 1700. I sat near the back on the upper deck. Before I boarded, I consumed a # brownie in front of the (closed for the night) police station.

    Either I imagined it, or it's true, but as we were climbing out of SEA, I swear I could feel the engines on their pylons gently...

    I flew SEA - CPH New Year's Eve 1979 on an SAS 747 Combi. We left around 2230 and arrived around 1700. I sat near the back on the upper deck. Before I boarded, I consumed a # brownie in front of the (closed for the night) police station.

    Either I imagined it, or it's true, but as we were climbing out of SEA, I swear I could feel the engines on their pylons gently swaying from left to right. Does this happen? I can still remember the sensation; it was palpable.

    I also remember how daylight seemed to last for five minutes before it got dark again.

    1. Notbad41 Guest

      That must have been a great brownie…

  18. Weymar Osborne Gold

    Seems like if they want to have the planes sit overnight and depart in time to make the early banks in Copenhagen they could push the departures out of CPH back by 4-5 hours. Customers from Europe will leave in the late afternoon rather than just past noon so they won't have to give up half their day and arrival into LA/SF will be in the evening so passengers can go have a rest as...

    Seems like if they want to have the planes sit overnight and depart in time to make the early banks in Copenhagen they could push the departures out of CPH back by 4-5 hours. Customers from Europe will leave in the late afternoon rather than just past noon so they won't have to give up half their day and arrival into LA/SF will be in the evening so passengers can go have a rest as soon as they arrive. It would work better for passenger comfort, the planes wouldn't sit on the ground as long, and crews could still do an overnight turn.

    1. Samo Guest

      But again, you need to take connecting flights into the account. SAS doesn't have that many arrivals during late afternoon, while noon is a major connection time.

  19. Gabe Guest

    I took that early SFO-CPH departure last summer and it was indeed terrible for the body clock. No sleep on the plane and the next day was completely shot. Kind of ruined the whole week after actually. I would do a lot to avoid that timing in the future!

  20. TM Member

    This timing reminds me of the east coast Australia departures to west coast US. Leaving around noon from SYD and landing at LAX at 6am sucks. By the time I'm ready to sleep, the flight is nearly over. I imagine these flights to CPH is even worse because the flight time is shorter.

  21. Rob F. Guest

    I remember seeing a great flight deal from SFO to Europe on SAS a few weeks ago, but I rejected just for this reason. The earliest I'm willing to do is maybe a 2pm departure from the West Coast to Europe.

  22. David Guest

    The SF flight isn't daily, this is probably done to make sure they can use the same set of the crew both outbound and inbound. LAX is 6 times a week so it's more unusual. It's possible they have some maintenance work in LAX and is rotating the planes through. I can't imagine them doing anything more than line mx in Scandinavia as that would cost a fortune in labour. This is the same reason for the traditional timing of QF flights from Australia to the US

  23. Henrik Guest

    They did something similar with SK925/SK926 (CPH-IAD-CPH) in December.
    At least one rotation during the week included a night at IAD and the plane taxied straight to a remote stand. While traveling on a Mobile Lounge is not unusual to many IAD visitors, it was a first for me to picked up by one straight off the airplane and the routine was reversed the week as the ML brought us to the plane that had been sitting at a remote stand over night.

  24. PeterCS Guest

    talking about unusual times: AF9 leaves JFK 50 past midnight to CDG and arrives at 13:40 local time. But why? Who is the target group? If you want a whole day in NYC there are flights in the evening. If you want to arrive to Paris on time to have a whole day there, then there are flights that leave NYC in the afternoon. Why a midnight eastbound flight?

    1. Chris_ Member

      As a night owl, I would love that timing. I'd actually be sleepy at that hour. (I know that I'm rare in that preference, though.)

    2. Samo Guest

      Connections, connections and connections... :)

      And then there are many people who write off day(s) of their travel anyway, so they don't care.

  25. Jason Guest

    It's not really that unusual.
    This is how Icelandair has done it for years from their Western US destinations such as Denver, Portland, and Seattle.
    Until a few years ago Icelandair only had one bank of flights at Reykjavik, and Denver, Portland, and Seattle were far enough from KEF so they couldnt fly out and back in the same day, unlike their east coast US destinations that could do so. So, for years,...

    It's not really that unusual.
    This is how Icelandair has done it for years from their Western US destinations such as Denver, Portland, and Seattle.
    Until a few years ago Icelandair only had one bank of flights at Reykjavik, and Denver, Portland, and Seattle were far enough from KEF so they couldnt fly out and back in the same day, unlike their east coast US destinations that could do so. So, for years, you'd see Icelandair flights overnighting at Denver, Portland, and Seattle, all so the connections could work at KEF. In the past few years right before Covid Icelandair started additional Europe-bound banks at KEF during the summer high season, so they didnt have to always overnight airplanes at Denver, Portland, and Seattle.

    So, it's not really a surprise that SAS is doing this right now for their LAX and SFO flights. They have reduced hub presence right not at CPH, and need the onward connections to make it work from LAX and SFO. It's actually not as expensive as you think to park a plane at LAX or SFO overnight (this isnt HKG, which is notoriously expensive for that), so they just do this now during what is a very low demand period, and revert to a more normal schedule during what will hopefully be a higher demand spring and summer period.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Jason -- I think I addressed all those points, including about Icelandair and connections? I specifically acknowledged that I get where the airline is coming from and am not suggesting it doesn't make sense, but it *is* unusual. I can't think of another airline from continental Europe that does this, or has done this in recent memory (though someone correct me if I'm wrong).

      Unusual doesn't have to be bad...

    2. Jason Guest

      Ah my bad - I read it quickly and missed your comments about Icelandair, so my goal was to show that this is a common technique airlines have for ensuring maximum connectivity when longer flight times prevent easy turns.

      But yes, I cant think of another airline that employs this technique currently/ has done so in the past.

      The only slightly analogous thing I can think of is the way US carriers deploy their...

      Ah my bad - I read it quickly and missed your comments about Icelandair, so my goal was to show that this is a common technique airlines have for ensuring maximum connectivity when longer flight times prevent easy turns.

      But yes, I cant think of another airline that employs this technique currently/ has done so in the past.

      The only slightly analogous thing I can think of is the way US carriers deploy their aircraft for flights to deep South American destinations such as Rio, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Santiago. They park the planes down there for up to 12 hours rather than have them return immediately to the US. Connectivity plus a preference for overnight flights from these destinations are the primary reasons, even though they could turn the planes and have them come back right away.

    3. Roland Culé Guest

      TP and LX in the past year had many destinations where the aircraft would remain on the ground for 24+ hours.

      If you have an excess of aircraft compared to your flying program, it makes sense to only have one crew rather than two spend time at the destination. It also helps if you only operate a few flights per week rather than daily as you don't need to pay for multiple nights of hotel costs.

    4. Max Guest

      @ Lucky: LH's YVR-FRA flight in winter is also early (1: 45 pm departure), as is AC YVR-FRA flight in the summer (1:20 pm departure). Granted, its after noon but still very early.

  26. Keith H Guest

    I think the crewing aspect is not a “small benefit” that happened by accident. With sub daily flights and no need to utilize the plane, I wouldn’t be surprise if the crewing aspect is the major driver of this schedule. Unless there is specific evidence otherwise, but the article makes it seem like these are educated guesses. The costs of two full crews and multiple day layovers for less than daily flights adds up.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Keith H -- I'm not sure I understand what you're saying by "two full crews?" Either way a crew operates an outbound and a return flight. The question is how long they're on the ground. The LAX flight, for example, is 5x weekly. Of the five crews, that means three have a one night layover, and two have a two night layover.

      In other words, the plane is spending 20 hours on the ground...

      @ Keith H -- I'm not sure I understand what you're saying by "two full crews?" Either way a crew operates an outbound and a return flight. The question is how long they're on the ground. The LAX flight, for example, is 5x weekly. Of the five crews, that means three have a one night layover, and two have a two night layover.

      In other words, the plane is spending 20 hours on the ground at LAX for five days (a total of 100 hours), and the savings would be a total of two nights of hotels for one crew, plus per diem, compared to a more average schedule.

    2. Bubba Guest

      Also, how expensive is it to park an airliner at a remote stand for twenty hours? My understanding was that the landing fees were more significant, and airlines generally wanted to keep their planes in the air. With the pandemic, planes are in abundance, so the other costs --schedule and personnel-- are more important.

    3. Jay Guest

      I agree. I think that at this time of staffing shortages, crew layover time and scheduling are more important than aircraft utilization. For now anyway.

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Chris_ Member

As a night owl, I would love that timing. I'd actually be sleepy at that hour. (I know that I'm rare in that preference, though.)

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Bols59 New Member

Any idea if and when SAS will return to Seattle?

0
Rene N. Guest

Im sure it has more to do with crew rotation than economics.

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