SAS Pilots Go On Strike – 170,000 People Affected

Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has today cancelled hundreds of flights amid strike action by pilots. Tens of thousands of passengers are affected, with an estimated 170,000 having their travel plans disrupted.

SAS A320neo
Scandinavian Airlines have cancelled 70% of their flights. Photo: SAS

SAS pilots in Sweden Denmark and Norway have begun strike action which has led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights. The pilots, who are unhappy with working conditions, began striking this morning after negotiations with the airline broke down.

Across Friday and Saturday, around 70% of the airline’s flights have been cancelled. It is estimated that as many as 70,000 passengers are stranded and a further 100,000 will have to rethink their travel plans. All long haul routes apart from those to the US have been cancelled and many domestic and European flights are also affected.

The airline tweeted a message to affected travelers:

SAS announcement

As well as this, the CEO of SAS, Rickard Gustafson, posted a video to YouTube explaining the strike and responding to the situation:

The walkout serves to underline the increasing pressure that network airlines such as SAS are facing in trying to stay competitive with low cost carriers. European overcapacity has left many airlines struggling to survive, with others already succumbing to the pressure.

Why are they striking?

Labor unions called for the strike after talks broke down regarding pilots’ wages. Issues also centered around unpredictable working patterns and irregular shifts. 1,500 pilots were called upon to strike, with a total of 1,409 taking up the action. Rene Arpe, chairman of the Danish pilot union, was reported by Reuters as saying:

“The strike could have been avoided, if SAS had shown a real willingness to meet us halfway. Instead, we see a SAS management that thinks their employees must accept worse working conditions, unpredictable working hours and insecurity about their jobs,”

However, the employer has said that the pilots were pushing for ‘extreme wage claims’. They were demanding a 13% rise in earnings, despite what they say are already high earnings averaging 93,000 Swedish crowns a month (£7,585 / $9,803).

Scandinavian Airbus A319
SAS pilots want better pay and working conditions. Photo: Wikimedia

The cost of the strike

Analysts are predicting that the strike will cost SAS in the region of 60 – 80 million Swedish Crowns, that’s around £5m – £6.5m, or $6.5m – $8.4m, for every day that it continues. If it went on for two weeks, the strike would wipe out all of Scandinavian Airlines’ predicted profits for the year.

The strike action has only affected SAS flights, and not those operated by their partner airlines, which account for the 30% of journeys still scheduled.

SAS previously got itself through tough times, when in 2012 they were almost at bankruptcy levels. At the time, they sold assets and cut thousands of jobs in order to secure a lifeline of credit to keep operating. Since then, they have posted a profit in the past four consecutive years.