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Arland O. Fiske: Flying with the Scandinavian air system

There are many good airlines and several that travel to Scandinavia. None of them, however, is structured like the Scandinavian Air System. SAS is a consortium owned by the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Airlines. The government and private companies own the parent companies 50/50.

We weren’t long on the plane in before we could feel the Scandinavian atmosphere. Flight announcements were made on a movie screen with pictures of Copenhagen. The predominance of blond cabin attendants and gentle accidents left no doubt that we had already entered Scandinavia, even though we were still on the runway.

Taking off at 5:30 p. m. from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, we landed eight hours later (8:30 a.m.) in Copenhagen. Our DC-10 flight traveled 3850 miles at 550 miles per hour at an altitude of 33,000 feet. We had a clear view of Norway’s west coast near Stavanger as we began our approach to Copenhagen. After talking to the Purser (chief steward), I was given the flight Map with flight data posted for the passengers.

Captain Sverre Prestbakken was in charge of the flight to Denmark. I was invited to visit with him as he piloted the plane. I learned that he had attended the 1985 Hallinglag Stevne in Tacoma, Washington. I hadn’t been there but I showed him my membership card in the Hallinglag to prove my ethnic purity. Knowing that a Halling was in control, I knew everything would go as planned.

We had not been long in the air when a full course dinner was served. It left nothing to be desired except a bigger appetite. The food had been prepared under the direction of Johanna and Crister Svantesson of Gothenburg, Sweden, the home city of my good friends, Elon and Norah Eliasson, famous for their culinary skills in New York City. Before landing, every passenger was given a steaming-hot hand towel to freshen up for breakfast.

Headphones were distributed on the overseas flight so we could listen either to a choice of music or hear the sound of a movie being shown. A cart with duty-free items for sale also passed through the aisles.

SAS was founded August 1, 1946, with headquarters in Stockholm. In addition to owning an airline, it has a score of subsidiary and associated companies. One of the reasons for SAS’s rapid progress was its president, Jan Carlzon. He was a gifted communicator and an innovative leader with a Master of Business degree from the Stockholm School of Economics. Each year SAS serves more than ten million passengers and carries about 160,000 tons of cargo to 90 cities in 40 countries.

SAS lounges are delightfully comfortable at the International Terminals. There we could rest, enjoy refreshments, use a desk for writing or to make phone calls.

Our return trip to Chicago gave me the clearest view I have ever seen of Iceland. Every red tiled roof was visible in Reykjavik from 31,000 feet. Captain Leif Hansen of Copenhagen was in charge of that flight. He invited me to visit with him and showed me the instrument panels. I was impressed. To become the captain of an SAS overseas flight takes a long career in aviation.

The modern Norsemen have improved a great deal on the longships by which they traversed the sea 1000 years ago. While the old ways may have been exciting, I prefer the new ways and we flew SAS again.

Next Week “Scoop” Jackson — Counselor to Presidents

— Arland Fiske, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.