SAS: A Serious Disregard For Passenger Service.

Posted on: 22/10/2016

On 19 May this year I was waiting impatiently at Stockholm Airport for news as to when my early evening flight to Heathrow would be leaving.

There had been air traffic control problems that day, so I guessed some delays would be inevitable. Guessing was really all I could do, because there was no information forthcoming from SAS. Indeed, as I and more than a hundred other passengers waited for a couple of hours at in the Gate Room, there were no SAS staff to be found anywhere. It seems that when the going gets tough (for passengers), SAS personnel pack up and go home.

I was fearing the worst for my flight. I know that Heathrow has a limited quota of flights that can be allowed to land after 11PM and I doubted that the SAS plane I was due to be on would be permitted to join that number. I could see a cancelation looming.

Then salvation seemed to be delivered, in the shape of one male member of SAS ground staff who appeared and started keying information into a computer. He worked away for half an hour, without conveying any information to the erstwhile passengers. Then, suddenly, boarding was announced and there was a rush to get on the aircraft. I remember feeling a mixture of surprise and relief. I really had given up hope of getting home that night.

The aircraft taxied out to the runway, with all the usual roar of engines. The cabin staff  took their seats for take-off .  Then we waited - and waited.

I cannot remember exactly how long the wait lasted, but I do remember having renewed concerns as to whether the plane would be allowed to land at Heathrow, given the further extended delay.

Then, at last, an announcement from the pilot. He stated that the reverse thrust on one engine was not performing in a satisfactory manner and that, as a result, the flight was canceled and the aircraft would return the passengers to the terminal.

To be honest, I thought the pilot was lying. I felt it was likely that he had been told the plane would not be allowed to land at Heathrow and therefore would not be able to take to the air in Sweden.

Anyway, once I left the aircraft, chaos ensued. There was no one from SAS anywhere to be found. I joined a long queue to go through passport control - ironic, considering I had never left the country - and then had to find my suitcase amongst hundreds that had simply been dumped on the floor of the baggage reclaim area.

Having found my luggage, I asked a member of the security staff what was the best thing to do. He suggested going upstairs to the SAS Customer Service Desk.

I arrived at the desk to find it was ill-named. There was a massive queue of disgruntled SAS customers, but no service staff anywhere to be found.

I swiftly realized that self-help was the only alternative to an uncomfortable night on the terminal floor. With the help of my mobile phone and a caring member of staff of the hotel which I had stayed in whilst in Stockholm, I found a room for the night. It was to cost £150 for the bed and £120 in taxi fares there and back, but I was exhausted, so I  decided the money would be well spent.

After I got to the hotel, having failed to raise anyone from SAS, either on the phone or through my PC, I managed to book myself on a SAS flight to London the next day, via Oslo.

When I woke up in the morning, I received a text from SAS saying I had been found flights to London. However, the flights I had booked for myself returned me to Heathrow earlier, so I informed them by text that I would stick to the plans I had made the night before. 

I should have treasured that text from SAS. It was the only communication I was to get from the company for months.

The remainder of my journey home was uneventful. I found myself on flights with passengers who should have flown back to Heathrow with me the night before. Their only refuge for the night had been the cold, hard terminal floor which I had shunned. 

Then my troubles with SAS really began. I clearly wanted to have the cost of my flights refunded, whilst also recovering my taxi and hotel expenses.

I tried phone calls - but the customer service number given on the SAS website seems never to be answered. E mail contacts with customer service were equally unproductive. No response was ever received.

I wouldn't give up, of course, I finally discovered that SAS only respond to complaints and claims received in a way they stipulate. So I duly went through the online submission, at the end of which I was sent an automated message, informing me that the volume of complaints meant that I may not get a substantive response for 8 weeks. Imagine my surprise?

To be fair, I did not have to wait 8 weeks. After a couple, I received an email from someone named "Linnea", querying some of my submission. 

Linnea did give me one useful piece of information. She informed me that I might be entitled to EU defined compensation, BUT I wouldn't be if the flight was canceled due to the general air traffic control problems. Shortly after this, Linnea informed me that the flight had been canceled due to a crew shortage, which had itself been caused by the air traffic control disruption. I therefore would not be due compensation under the EU scheme, though I might get my hotel and taxi costs refunded, if I could trace all the receipts.

Now, funnily enough, I do not favor making compensation claims. I hate the compensation culture in the UK that now matches or even exceeds what was once the world-leading US model.

However, what I will not accept is being lied to by organisations such as SAS, who evidently make fraudulent entries in their flight cancelation logs to avoid paying compensation.

Linnea actually had the temerity to inform me by email that she had no idea why I had been told on the aircraft that here was an engine problem. It had been canceled because of a crew shortage.

I , of course, responded by asking why an aircraft short of crew had taxied from the terminal to the runway. Had the pilot not noticed he had a spare seat alongside him?

Anyway, the saga is not yet over. Five months on, I have still yet to receive any payment from SAS.

I will, of course, not give up until I receive what I am due. I simply never do. However, I certainly will use SAS as little as possible in future. They simply have no idea how to deliver customer service and are even prepared to lie to avoid compensating their ill-treated passengers.

DISGRACE is an over-used word - but SAS have certainly earned the description.

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