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Halfway through a business-class mileage run from Norway to Texas and back, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig chimes in about his flight on a very unique plane: a 737 that can fly for 5,000 miles without refueling, which will operate its final long-haul from Houston to Stavanger, Norway tonight.
Tuesday I was in New York, Wednesday I was in Norway and Thursday I was in Houston. Now, by the time you’re reading this, I’m back in Norway again, before flying on to Copenhagen and then finally home to Newark on SAS’ inaugural 737 flight from CPH-EWR this Sunday. I feel just as crazy as you probably think I am, so feel free to let me have it in the comments!
The reason for all of this unnecessary travel? After just one year, SAS decided to pull its record-setting 737 flight from Houston to Stavanger — two major oil cities, with (at the time of its launch last year, at least) deep-pocketed companies with a need to constantly fly employees between Texas and Norway.
Of course, as you know, the price of oil has dropped dramatically in the past few months, and with it the income of Chevron, ConocoPhillips and the other companies ferrying employees to and from Europe. With the flight ending and many seats still left to fill, SAS began selling round-trip tickets for just $778, but only if you originate in Stavanger — so that’s what I did.
After tonight’s final flight from Houston to Stavanger, SAS is moving its leased 737 to the Copenhagen to Newark route, which it will fly until March. Then, the plane will connect Boston and Denmark, with plenty of onward flight options to bring passengers throughout Europe with just one stop. With this big change just around the corner, I wanted to fly this very unusual route for the first (and last) time.
Here are the 10 reasons this plane (and its crew) are unlike any other flying between North America and Europe:
1. It’s the only 737 flying commercial passengers all the way across the Atlantic — Many airlines operate 757s to Europe and WOW Air flies a small fleet of A320s between the US and Europe via Iceland, but with the exception of short WestJet 737 flights between Halifax and Glasgow and St. John’s and Dublin, there isn’t any regular scheduled 737 service between North America and Europe. Privatair’s 737 actually makes the nearly 5,000-mile trip between Houston and Stavanger without a stop, which is quite unusual for a plane that’s otherwise only used for regional trips.
2. The plane isn’t owned and operated by Scandinavian — Even though it has the SAS name and logo on the side, this 737 is under a wet lease from Privatair, which means even the flight attendants work for the lessor. The crew is based in Geneva, which certainly isn’t an SAS hub, so the commute to Stavanger requires two flights in each direction. Once the plane moves to Copenhagen on Sunday, the crew will be able to commute home on a single flight.
3. The entire cabin is business class — There are 44 business-class seats, but more than half were empty on this flight. Now, an all-business cabin isn’t unheard of, but it’s unusual. British Airways flies an all-biz Airbus A318 between New York and London’s City Airport, with slightly better seats, and La Compagnie operates a couple all-business flights from Newark (with not so great seats) — but a single-class cabin is definitely rare.
4. The crew doesn’t call its plane a 737 — Instead, flight attendants refer to it as a “Boeing Business Jet.” So, technically, this was my first flight on a “private jet.” Boeing does sell modified 737s under the Boeing Business Jet brand, but those 737s are often much more extravagant than this one (at least one of Privatair’s VIP 737s has what a flight attendant referred to as “bedrooms,” which would be a huge step up from this cabin).
5. Speaking of comfort, the seats are angle-flat — They’re still far more comfortable for sleeping than the recliner seat I flew on Norwegian a few days ago, but you’ll find a comfier ride in most other (and more recent) business-class cabins. Even the major US carriers operate planes with better seats, including American, Delta and United.
6. Fully reclined, the seats are nearly flush with the floor — When you recline them to the angle-flat position, the entire seat slides forward and down. Fully reclined, it feels like you’re lying on the floor. You can still sleep just fine on Privatair’s 737 — I got more than two hours on the daytime flight to Houston, and I wasn’t even tired — but you will be positioned angled down rather than completely flat.
7. There’s no Wi-Fi or built-in IFE — But you do get to use an iPad with a dozen or so movies and TV shows for the flight, plus a pair of Sony noise-canceling headphones. Wi-Fi would be much appreciated on this aircraft, especially with the 10-hour flying time traveling westbound to Houston. And, with just 44 passengers, there’s a good chance the connection would be decent (if internet were provided). There are power outlets, fortunately, but no USB ports for charging cellphones.
8. The food is very good — I wish this weren’t unusual for transatlantic flights, but many of the airlines flying to Europe aren’t known for their catering (with some notable exceptions). I had scallops with caviar to start, followed by a moist and flavorful trout dish with broccolini and pasta, and a delicious cherry tart and a small container of chocolate ice cream for desert. Then, the crew served a second meal of roast beef before landing.
9. There are some very unusual drinks on the menu — both of SAS’ beer picks are far from average, including a very unique Mikkeller Sweet and Sour Belgian Ale (which I highly recommend if you can find it). There are also several unique cocktail suggestions, a fancy Norwegian apple juice called Apple Must and some fantastic Dammann Freres teas. You can also order Illy coffee, cappuccino or espresso.
10. This plane is one of a kind — There’s just one aircraft like this in the fleet, which means the flight can’t operate while the plane is undergoing maintenance (which is usually scheduled during holidays). It doesn’t fly on Tuesdays (which is when it gets a thorough cleaning), but otherwise it’s flying quick turns in both directions. After tonight’s final flight from Houston, the 737 will spend tomorrow in Europe before operating its inaugural Copenhagen to Newark flight on Sunday. Then, it’s scheduled to move to a new home on the Boston to Copenhagen route in late March.
As luck would have it, I’ll be on the inaugural Copenhagen to Newark flight on Sunday, so stay tuned for a full review!
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