Scandinavian Airlines Appoints New CEO

Filed Under: SAS

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has just revealed its new CEO. There had been some rumors that former British Airways CEO Alex Cruz was being considered for the role, though he didn’t get the job. I’m intrigued by the person the airline chose instead.

Anko Van der Werff appointed CEO of SAS

The board of SAS has announced that Anko Van der Werff will become President and CEO of the airline as of July 15, 2021. The 45-year-old Dutch native will be replacing Rickard Gustafson, who has been CEO of the airline for over a decade.

Van der Werff has quite an international airline resume, to put it mildly:

  • He has been CEO of Avianca since 2019
  • From 2014 to 2019 he was EVP & Chief Commercial Officer of Aeromexico
  • From 2010 to 2014 he was SVP of Pricing & Revenue Management at Qatar Airways
  • From 2000 to 2010 he had various positions at Air France-KLM, including working in pricing, marketing, commercial, and more

Suffice to say he has been all over the place. His only professional connection to Scandinavia up until this point was when he worked at Air France-KLM — in 2006 through 2009 he was the regional manager of Sweden, Finland, and the Baltics, and in 2005 and 2006 he was the marketing manager for Northern Europe and Sweden.

I have to be honest — I don’t know a ton about Van der Werff, but what I’ve heard has been positive. I look forward to seeing what he does at SAS, and wish him all the best.

Scandinavian Airlines’ A350 business class

An unusual focus for the new CEO

Usually when you get a statement from a new executive about their role, it’s about how they look forward to helping the airline grow, plan to offer a better passenger experience, etc. In that sense, Van der Werff’s comments stand out (bolding mine):

“I am very honored to be the new CEO of SAS. SAS is the leading carrier of Scandinavia with a strong brand and a proud aviation history which has been of great importance for connecting the region domestically and with the rest of the world. I’m also thrilled to be returning to Scandinavia. I have very fond memories of my four years here, both from a professional perspective but also as a family since our oldest two children were born here.

I am looking forward to continuing the excellent sustainability journey that SAS has started and that I believe will be instrumental for transforming the airline industry. I am eager to getting to know the team, the different stakeholders and to get started. It is no secret that Covid-19 has impacted the entire aviation industry, but SAS has a strong foundation to build upon and I am sure that by working together between all stakeholders, SAS will come out stronger.”

I suppose it’s not surprising given that we’re talking about Scandinavia, but I think it’s pretty telling that the only real business focus mentioned is sustainability. Obviously sustainability is something airlines need to be focused on, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a CEO give such a singular focus for what will be worked on.

To be clear, this isn’t at all a criticism of Van der Werff, as the press team likely put together a statement that reflects what they want him to say, but still…

Scandinavian Airlines intends to focus on sustainability

Am I the only one who finds SAS to be boring?

This isn’t a criticism, but since we’re talking about the airline — am I the only one who finds SAS to be a particularly uninteresting airline? To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, because airlines don’t exist for my amusement. For that matter, my priorities are sometimes misplaced, because I find Global Ghana Airlines to be infinitely more interesting than American Airlines, even though it doesn’t exist.

But still, for some reason, to me SAS has to be one of the least interesting European carriers. I feel like the airline kind of just lurks in the shadows, and there’s not much about the route network, onboard product, lounges, pricing, frequent flyer program, or anything else, that makes the airline memorable.

And just to contrast SAS to a competitor, I find Finnair to be a fascinating airline — the airline tries really hard in the Asia market, even selling fares from the US to Asia via Europe. The airline has an incredible lounge in Helsinki with a sauna, and there are service elements that set the airline apart.

Finnair’s gorgeous Platinum Wing in Helsinki

I will say, I did love the music video that SAS employees put together early last year, after the airline was grounded:

Bottom line

Scandinavian Airlines has appointed a new CEO, who will be taking over in July. He’s an experienced international industry veteran, who has worked at Avianca, Aeromexico, Qatar Airways, and more.

Best of luck to him at SAS, and I’m curious to see what happens at the airline under his leadership. I guess we should at least be grateful that Alex Cruz (as much as I respect him in a certain way) won’t be bringing his cost cutting to the airline.

What do you make of the new SAS CEO, and of the airline overall, for that matter?

  1. SAS is definitely a bureaucratic, old school European state airline, and it shows. A potentially great carrier held back by politics and a bloated and inefficient structure. It’s the company that many of my Scandinavian friends love to hate. If management can figure out a coherent long haul strategy, the airline definitely has a lot of potential, especially now that Norwegian is gone.

    I’ve had mostly good experiences with SAS, and in my experience they are a very reliable and consistent airline despite the cold and wintry places they do business. Service is pretty bare bones and the crew are quite “experienced” let’s say, but the airline does have its occasional charm. I’d actually go as far to say that SK business class is my favorite Star Alliance option across the Atlantic. Great seats and very nice catering and beverage options. I like Austrian’s catering better, but find that SAS has a better seat and nearly as good catering. It definitely blows LH and LX out of the water, in my opinion. And CPH has a nice lounge and is a great place to connect.

  2. SAS has really great J seats but their lounge dragons are really fierce, especially at EWR and ORD!

    Their food is OK — could definitely be livened up with some spicier and more diverse options to serve a global audience.

  3. Ben,
    Do you think SAS is in the right alliance? I don’t know whether I’d move them to the IAG or AF-KL fold (assuming either would allow them into their Atlantic JV), but they do seem to not get much from being in Star when LH dominates their general area of the world yet SAS isn’t allowed in the Atlantic Star JV.

  4. I have been using SAS for decades, and have lifetime gold status with them. They have always taken good care of me in case of delays, cancellations etc. Their inflight magazine is also very good (well, as good as an inflight magazine can get).

  5. I am afraid it is one of the worst airline in Europe. Short haul so called business class is a joke. Lounge in Stockholm is very crowded, very dirty and offers horrible snacks ( can’t call it food ). I avoid if I can. Let’s hope he will do a good job but I doubt.

  6. During the late 1960’s — mid 1970’s SAS was the reigning #1 airline –consistently awarded #1, although Swiss Air and Sabena did get the crown as well…SAS lost its prestigious place to Singapore Airlines and never recovered. I had the pleasure of traveling with my parents on SAS during the 60’s and the experience was formidable in first class…it had an outstanding reputation.

  7. You say boring; I say appropriately Scandinavian. It’s about simplicity and timeless style. In the past five years or so, we’ve seen a nice evolution at SK. The Thompson Vantage XL seat (with clever Hastens bedding partnership), innovative catering (great pre-arrival meal when arriving from the US), and even a gym in the OSL lounge. They nail the details while adding thoughtful touches. I’d rather have that than the unsustainable flash of some competitors.

  8. SAS is on the personal blacklist of thousands of people since their ‘advertisement’ video that despises Scandinavian culture.

    They’d absolutely deserve to go bankrupt, however the C*ck governments will bail them out again and again…

  9. If you’re living in Scandinavia, their Eurobonus FF program isn’t boring at all! The credit cards are limited, but good. In addition there are excellent ways of earning points by everyday shopping ( and online ( That combined with “Fly premium” on their mastercard, which allows you to redeem business class awards for economy class pricing (site only available in danish, sorry). Also, they have consistently low surcharges on their own metal, like always <100$ for longhaul Scandinavia to US or Asia.

  10. I’ve flown on SAS a bunch of times between FRA and NYC. While I agree with most of the points above I still think they have an edge over the alternatives.

    First and foremost, they are not part of the LH-UA-AC trans-atlantic joint venture, which means that sometimes, not always, they are cheaper than other alternatives. When trying to stick to *A, TP/SK/SQ are the only ones that can price differentiate. This did save m equite some money over the years.

    While their short-haul Business class doesn’t deserve the name (which is why even they basically consider it Premium Economy), it does have some perks. When flying long-haul PE, the feeder is in SAS Plus as well, which grants you access to the fast track as well as the *A Business Lounges outide the SAS hubs. The long-haul ticket on the other hand only gets you into the SAS lounges though.

    Their long-haul Business class is more than solid I’d say. The food is not the greatest but definitely OK and the seat really good. I really like the Vantage XL and for me flying in J is more about the seat than anything else.

    The crews can be a bit hit or miss but I always liked the “flair” they brought onto the plane depending on whether they were from Denmark, Sweden, or Norway. And unlike on other carriers, it is the norm that the passangers don’t speak the same language as the crew 😉

    Once conecting in CPH/ARN/OSL becomes possible again I’ll certainly be back on an SK plane sooner or later. Still need to experience their A350 anyway 😛
    So I really hope they’ll stick around and their new CEO will not change them for the worse.

  11. I frankly agree with the sustainability focus. When 30% of your domestic and 10-15% of your international flying has disappeared because flying has an enormous carbon footprint on a per passenger basis, providing aviation that’s meaningfully cleaner will become a real strategic advantage.

    SAS focusing on this reflects the political attention of the Nordic countries, but there’s an increasing importance of this in any market.

  12. I flew from Hong Kong to Scandinavia many times in the 80s when I worked for a Scandinavian company . In those days , business class was amazing , but that was almost 40 years ago , so I am sure it has changed now . Good luck to the new CEO

  13. They’re simply the best J carrier over the North Atlantic. Period. Solid product, great Nordic food, very professional onboard service and they’re not part of the alliance oligopoly so their lower J fares can be changed for a fee vs. being “use it or lose it” as they are with the alliance oligopoly (of which sadly Finnair is a part of).

  14. Oh, forgot to mention that part of their product being so solid is that they fly the outstanding A350.

  15. @Jake
    You are absolutely wrong! Singapore Airlines (FRA-JFK), Aeroflot and Qatar Airways are all miles ahead of the cuck airline SAS over the northern Atlantic.

  16. I feel like they are one of the few airlines to reliably have healthy food options in their lounges and on board.
    Their long-haul business class is one of the best in Europe.
    Their short-haul premium economy class is generally (though admittedly not always) a good balance of affordability and service.
    Perhaps you call that boring. I call it reliable.

  17. This news is very sad for SAS but great for Avianca. He was definitely the worst CEO Avianca had in a couple of decades. Hope the new CEO of Avianca improves the airline, what Anko did was very bad, he made service awful, increased prices and made a better choice to travel by bus than in Avianca. As a Colombian I’m very happy to see a new face as CEO of the airline.

  18. Thanks for this piece Lucky. I’m not unbiased towards SAS, as I have deep family roots in the company, and have worked there myself. So to me, it feels like home when I step onboard a SAS aircraft, visit their lounges etc. On the SAS being boring question, I must disagree. Example given, I did a review on what was then their first of a kind “multiple branded” lounge in Oslo ( now they have them in STO and CPH too) and to me, this was a one-of-a-kind experience. Check it out here:

    Their short-haul product is not that interesting yes, and as someone pointed out, “Business Class” should not really be used as a term on their narrow bodies. Its economy class seats, with more legroom and more service. Their long-haul product though I think is great, in all classes. Have a chat with this woman:, she has been leading the design efforts at basically all touch points in SAS. She is very talented, and I think she has really managed to capture the Scandinavian look and feel throughout the customer journey.

    Keep up the good work!

  19. Having flown them several times ex Asia to Europe Ive always found them to be consistently good in J, sometimes I don’t understand the expectations of some people- it’s a transportation company after all – remember

  20. It definitely is a boring stale airline. There is nothing attractive about it in terms of service, the staff lack friendliness and are often rude, you pay for pretty much everything, it is expensive, terrible loyalty program, the lounge experience is pointless and nothing special. The best thing about it is the branding at the moment, but it doesn’t match the service or experience of the air because it basically terrible airline. Unless you had no choice, I can’t imagine anyone choosing it of their own volition.

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