Inside the Newly Revamped SAS Lounge at Chicago O'Hare (ORD)
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) is looking to show off its recently revamped long-haul product — and with good reason. The carrier has increased flights from the US by 25% over the past year and is launching new routes from seven US gateway cities — Newark, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles — and is now following suit with an overhaul of its lounges. The SAS Lounge at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) is the eighth to undergo such a renovation and the second in the US after the expanded lounge at EWR opened earlier this summer. On October 11, The Points Guy attended the SAS media event announcing the opening of the renovated ORD lounge. While the airline didn't expand the modest 2,000-square-foot space, it did redesign it in true Scandinavian style.
To see the new SAS Lounge for yourself, you have to fly in a premium cabin on SAS or Star Alliance or in SAS/Star Alliance economy with Star Alliance Gold status — in other words, you can't get in with Priority Pass membership or by buying a day pass. You must also be flying out of Terminal 5, so note that United passengers won't have access. SAS also grants access to its premium economy (SAS Plus) passengers — with special perks like the use of business-class check-in, it's clear the carrier is trying to emphasize the premium in premium economy for these customers. Note, however, that flying in premium economy on other Star Alliance carriers doesn't mean you'll be able to access the SAS Lounge.
The crisp, updated feel of the lounge is apparent as soon as you enter it. Instead of being faced with a large check-in counter, the new one is smaller and off to the side, giving the room an open, welcoming feel.
You'll find the buffet and bar area to the left as you walk in, with some communal high tables and other seats by the windows overlooking the tarmac.
While SAS didn't expand the lounge, it increased the seating capacity from 101 to 118 without making the space feel cramped by introducing a "room within a room" design commonly found throughout Scandinavia.
Max Knagge, the General Manager of SAS Americas, said their aim is to make you feel like you've entered Scandinavia as soon as you step into an SAS lounge or board one of its aircraft. The open floor plan, efficient use of space, simple color scheme and décor accomplish this goal.
Even with the lounge being open to other passengers while our media event was going on, there was plenty of room. The previous version of this lounge did get crowded at times despite its relatively exclusive access, so hopefully the new design alleviates that a bit.
Not surprisingly, there aren't any special perks at this lounge. In fact, it doesn't even have room for a bathroom. You're pretty much getting the basics — food, drinks, comfortable seating options, places to charge your devices and Wi-Fi. With this being a small satellite lounge, the focus is clearly not on the extent of the offerings, but rather the quality and feel of what is offered. The Wi-Fi, which I only tested briefly, seemed fast and pretty much everyone gets a tarmac view here, but this particular spread (pictured below) was just for our media event.
I should mention that while the lounge lacked special amenities, I did hear about some very interesting ones available to guests of the flagship lounges in Scandinavia. There's one in Oslo, for instance, with an innovation and tech hub where you can test out new technologies, a wellness area where you can get a massage or use the gym and a 3D scanner where you can create your own personal avatar. I'm seriously hoping that's my next lounge review.
Food and Beverage
The new SAS Lounge features an expanded buffet with hot food options to the right, a salad bar to the left and wine and coffee in the center. When I went, options included roasted red pepper soup and a warm and savory stuffed pastry appetizer. The menu rotates six times per year.
The salad bar had plenty of choices — the potatoes were my favorite.
A self-serve tea and coffee station was also available. So were still and sparkling water.
The beer, wine and liquor selection was decent for a lounge of this size.
For me, a major highlight was the beer options from Danish microbrewery Mikkeller. Unfortunately, this was just a limited release for the grand re-opening, but be sure to take advantage if you're passing through here anytime soon. If you miss it but happen to be flying on SAS, the brewmaster at Mikkeller crafted a beer specifically for the carrier — he even conducted tastings over several flights as he devised the perfect brew to suit the palate at 35,000 feet.
I know this was a special media event, but wanted to mention that the staff were very attentive and friendly. Aside from the SAS personnel on hand specifically for the event, the lounge seemed well-staffed for its size and the number of guests and cleanliness was never an issue. I didn't get to linger too long in the lounge — I sampled the food and drink, then spent most my time listening to the staff speak or interviewing them about the lounge and the SAS product. We were also given a tour of the Airbus A340, but exited the terminal after that point since we only had temporary access for the event. Between the overall ambiance, decent food and drink options and plenty of seating with views of the tarmac, I'd have no problem killing time in here before a flight.
Bonus: A Peek at the A340
TPG has covered the transatlantic SAS product in business class and economy, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get a private tour of the aircraft with some top SAS brass.
Economy didn't seem too crammed and the seats looked comfy enough, each of them with a respectable recline.
I've been slow to jump on the premium economy bandwagon, but SAS may get me to finally try it out. As I already mentioned, SAS Plus comes with premium check-in and lounge access — the cabin also resembles what you'd see in business class in the early-2000s.
The seat recline is much closer to that of economy than lie-flat business class, but then again, so is the pricing — note that a basic amenity kit and alcoholic beverages are also included.
The price point is what makes SAS Plus most appealing — it's roughly $350 more than standard economy per round-trip fare. Compare that to United, which charges a similar amount for an “upgrade” to Economy Plus, basically the same product as economy with only a few extra inches of leg room. TPG Editor-at-Large Zach Honig's review of the business-class cabin inspired me to pretend I was him for just a minute.
It's clear the business-class product is where SAS really shines — just make sure it's the right one.
While it would have been great to report that the lounge has doubled in size and added a slew of fancy amenities, that simply isn't realistic given SAS's presence at ORD. This revamped lounge isn't the pride of its network, but it's simple, clean, functional and classy. And it's the clear choice over the other lackluster options for Star Alliance premium and Gold passengers departing from Terminal 5. Hopefully, the lack of a Priority Pass partnership and 17% increase in seating will keep the lounge from ever feeling too crowded.
The new SAS Lounge succeeds in its primary goal — you'll feel like you have entered Scandinavia as soon as you enter. From hearing the carrier's personnel speak, it's clear they take pride in and have confidence in the unique Scandinavian flavor they've put on a product that often looks the same across a highly competitive industry.
Have you visited the newly revamped SAS Lounge at ORD yet? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.