In Miami recently, I had a chance to talk with SAS CEO Richard Gustafson. It was an on-the-record session, but it was more of a gaggle than an interview, and I didn't take many notes. I did, however, learn a lot about the airline, so I'll share some of that here.
SAS is not the strongest of airlines these days. It is getting squeezed on two sides - by large full-service carriers like Lufthansa and Air France/KLM and by discount airline Norwegian Air. SAS is now in cost-cutting mode.
But in the past, as Gustafson repeatedly pointed out, SAS was an airline known for innovation.
Let's take a look at some of SAS' past successes. The source is the airline, so if something doesn't seem right here, blame the airline, not me.
1952. First trans-Arctic flight with a commercial aircraft. On Nov. 19, 1952, SAS flew a DC-6B (the "Arild Viking") from Los Angeles to Copenhagen. The journey took 28 hours, 6 minutes and stopped in Edmonton and Thule, Greenland.
1954. First airline to regularly fly the Polar route. It was used for Copenhagen-Los Angeles starting on Nov. 15, 1954.
1957. First regularly scheduled around-the-world service. The route? Copenhagen-Anchorage-Tokyo-Copenhagen.
1968. First airline to introduce in-flight entertainment. SAS says it was the first airline to show on-board movies, with a flight to New York on Sept. 15, 1968.
1969. First "Western" airline to employ a female pilot. She was Norwegian Turi Widerøe and she started flying in May 1969. Amazingly, SAS says it didn't have a female captain until 1995. And it didn't have an all female crew operating a flight until 1998.
1992. First airline to introduce "sleeper seats." The airline called the product "EuroSleeper" and says the seat was "almost as comfortable as a bed." (Somehow, I doubt that.)
1990s. First airline to have windows in lavatories. SAS started putting them in business class. Other airlines have copied, though not as many as you might think.