August 1, 1946
A major European airline was established to handle the intercontinental flights of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. This new entity was named Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), and it specifically started out as a consortium pooling together the operations and resources of Swedish Intercontinental Airlines, Danish Air Lines and Norwegian Air Lines. Per A. Norlin of Sweden became the first president of SAS.
The first intercontinental flight of SAS took place the following month when its DC-4 “Dan Viking” airliner transported 28 passengers from Stockholm to New York City. This inaugural journey took 25 hours, with intermediate stops in Copenhagen, the Scottish town of Prestwick, and the town of Gander in the Canadian province of Newfoundland.
The introduction of this regular air service was greeted with great fanfare on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York City, for example, a celebratory dinner attended by hundreds of people was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Those speaking at the dinner included the Norwegian-born Trygve Lie, United Nations (UN) secretary-general; and Fiorello H. La Guardia, director-general of the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and a one-time mayor of New York City.
In its account of the subsequent inaugural flight from New York City to Stockholm, the Chicago Tribune Press Service noted another reason for celebrating the intercontinental service offered by SAS. This news story highlighted the “excellent chicken dinner preceded by cocktails and smorgasbord” that was enjoyed by passengers en route. “The Scandinavians know how to prepare a feast,” reported the Chicago Tribune Press Service. “Luxury and comfort are the watchwords on these trans-Atlantic excursions.”
SAS would go on to make other notable and equally welcome contributions to long-distance air travel. In 1954, SAS became the first airline to initiate regularly scheduled flights across polar ice cap regions. This pioneering and time-saving “polar route” began with a Douglas DC-6B airliner carrying passengers from Copenhagen to Los Angeles, with intermediate stops in the settlement of Søndre Strømfjord (present-day Kangerlussuaq) in Greenland and the city of Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba.
“The new polar pathway cuts many miles and hours off the roundabout route which meant changing at New York,” reported the Kentucky-based newspaper Messenger-Inquirer. “The SAS is proving that this coexistable world is now next door, and that the cobbler in Copenhagen, the butcher in Belgium, and the sailmaker in Sicily are all now the American’s neighbors in fact.” Three years after these flights began, SAS launched a second polar route between Copenhagen and Tokyo via Alaska.
The other pioneering achievements of SAS have included being one of the first major airlines to implement a smoking ban on board its flights. With a fleet of more than 150 planes, SAS is now Europe’s eighth-largest airline.
For more information on the history of Scandinavian Airlines System, please check out https://www.sasgroup.net/en/history-milestones/