European airline SAS stops free unlimited drinks on long-haul flights

Passengers in economy will have to pay for soft drinks, juice and wine between meals in a cost-cutting scheme by Scandinavia's flag carrier.

Free drink after take-off? Not on SAS.

The days of having free drinks on tap in economy class could soon be over on long-haul flights, if flag carriers follow Scandinavian Airlines’ latest cost-cutting exercise.

SAS has begun charging passengers for drinks on long-haul flights – a move that critics will argue goes beyond cost-cutting and into the territory of squeezing passengers by charging for services that have traditionally been free.

Economy passengers will still receive complimentary drinks with their meals, but will have to pay for drinks other than water at all other times during the flight, the airline told Terminal U.

SAS expects fewer drinks to be consumed in economy as a result of the new policy, leading to aircraft weight and fuel savings for the airline.

Passengers will also benefit, as the crew will be “more visible” in the cabin, an airline spokesperson claimed over email.

But it appears there will be no respite for crew members, who will be selling drinks to paying customers instead.

“After you…”

When an airline creates an extra fee it can have a ripple effect, as travellers saw when American Airlines began charging passengers to check luggage in 2008, prompting other major US carriers to follow suit.

But being the first to test the market with a new fee can also backfire.

In 2009, backlash from passengers forced US Airways to abandon its policy of charging passengers for drinks, less than a year after adopting it.

Under pressure

SAS and other European airlines have been struggling for years to keep costs down to match rival budget airlines such as Ryanair, easyJet and Norwegian Air Shuttle, which will kickstart long-haul flights next year.

Europe’s weak climate and higher fuel costs have heaped extra pressure on European carriers, and airline groups IAG, Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are in the midst of restructuring to further cut costs.

But will SAS’s latest cost-cutting measure make a big enough saving to take the weight off its shoulders?

Stay tuned as we update this story with further comments from the airline.

Would SAS’s new policy lead you to fly with a different airline? Drop us a comment below.

What others have said

  1. For long-haul economy I think it is reasonable to offer a pre-meal drink and a drink with the main meal as part of the fare. I’m quite OK about paying for any drinks other than water outside that.

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