This summer, Scandinavian Airlines will begin nonstop service between Houston and Stavanger, Norway, connecting the two international energy hubs with a 44-seat, cushy Boeing 737. Consider it a new commuter flight for the 1 percent, mostly oil-and-gas executives with business interests in coastal Norway and Houston, the self-proclaimed “energy capital of the world.”
“The route we have established is a tailored product for a defined market with particular travel needs,” Rickard Gustafson, president and chief executive officer of SAS, said in a news release announcing the service, which will begin on August 20. Round-trip fares start at about 30,000 kroner ($4,991) for the 10 hour to 11 hour flights, which will be operated by charter carrier PrivatAir daily except Saturday. Travelers will sit in standard business class seats, with only 11 rows on the plane; in-flight amenities include iPads loaded with dozens of movies and three-course meals, along with champagne and warm breads.
SAS flies 70,000 people annually between Houston and Scandinavia, making it the third-largest airline on the route. In an SAS survey last year of 424 companies in or near Stavanger, Houston was the top request for new service, with 44 percent of companies saying they send employees to the Texas city. The airline says 79 percent of traffic from Norway to Houston is business-related, far more than that to the next two most-requested destinations, San Diego and Washington—both less than half.
On most airlines, the 737-700 that SAS is using for the flights has more than 140 seats, such as the 143 places that Southwest carries on its version. The 737 is the single-aisle airplane flown to commercial fame and glory by the likes of Southwest and Ryanair, which base their business models on it. Boeing recently celebrated 8,000 deliveries of its top-selling model, which has been celebrated far more for its engineering prowess and operating efficiencies than for any notions of passenger comfort.
The SAS service is similar to British Airways’ all-business class service aboard a 32-seat Airbus A318 that it flies between New York-JFK and London City Airport, the one closest to London’s financial district. Westbound, that flight stops in Ireland to refuel and to clear U.S. customs so passengers avoid immigration queues when they land in New York.
Lufthansa helped pioneer such trans-Atlantic flights 12 years ago, when it launched service between Dusseldorf and Newark, N.J., with a Boeing 737 equipped with 48 business-class seats and a 44-seat Airbus 319 operated by PrivatAir. It also operated the service to Chicago for a short time. The airline has shifted that business service to Saudi Arabian and Indian routes.