Travel chaos: SAS cancels 1700 flights in September and October

Scandinavian airline SAS has cancelled 1700 flights over the next two months as it struggles to recover from a July pilot strike.

The mass cancellation follows a punishing few months for the the flag carrier of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which grounded 3700 flights during July and filed for bankruptcy in the United States.

The new cancellations account for roughly 4 per cent of the total number of flights running in September and October.

“It is the effects from the strike but also delayed deliveries of aircraft and some other factors,” a SAS spokesperson said.

Travellers had been informed and re-booked to other flights, the company insisted.  

Why were the SAS pilots on strike?

Nearly 1,000 SAS pilots went on strike between 4 July and 17 July this year.  They were protesting against pay cuts demanded by management as part of a restructuring plan to ensure the company’s survival, and against the company’s decision not to rehire pilots laid off during the COVID pandemic.

The strike – which cost the troubled company €9-12 million per day – concluded when SAS reached an agreement with the pilot unions. 

“After 15 days of strike action, SAS and the SAS Scandinavia pilot unions have reached an agreement. The parties have agreed on new 5.5-year collective bargaining agreements and SAS Scandinavia flights will resume their regular traffic schedule as soon as possible,” SAS said in a statement.

“I am pleased to announce that we have now reached an agreement with the four pilot unions for SAS Scandinavia and that the strike is over,” said Swedish Airline Pilots Association managing director Anko van der Werff.

“Finally, we can resume normal operations and transport our customers on their long-awaited summer holidays. I deeply regret that so many of our passengers have been affected by this strike.”

According to the SPF, 450 pilots will be rehired under the new agreement.

The day after the first day of the strike, SAS announced that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the US.

Last week, SAS secured bridge financing during these U.S. chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings, making a deal with U.S. private equity firm Apollo Global Management.

How much does a strike cost an airline?

Going into the tenth day of strike action, SAS said it had already cost between SEK 1 billion and SEK 1.3 billion (€94 million to €123 million), with more than 2,500 flights cancelled.

The strike has also had a “severe impact on the possibilities of success” of SAS Forward, the savings and restructuring plan launched by the company in February, Anko van der Werff said.

“We are now continuing the important work of taking forward our SAS Forward transformation plan and building a strong and competitive SAS for generations to come,” van der Werff said Tuesday.

Travel chaos continues across Europe

The summer has been a difficult one for Europe’s airlines and airports, with staff shortages affecting air traffic.

After numerous job cuts linked to COVID airlines and airports are struggling to recruit new staff in many countries.

SAS, which employs nearly 7,000 people, mainly in the three Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway and Denmark), is also seeking to complete a capital increase plan of around €1 billion to raise fresh money.

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