Time to hit the road again. Of course no one has missed the news about the infectious Coronavirus currently spreading through Europe and most parts of the world. And of course I already knew about the impact it was making on air travel, with plenty of cancellations and erringly quiet airports, but I was still fairly curious to see it for myself.
I arrived at Stockholm Arlanda airport and the international terminal 5 just after 5 pm. This is usually a time of the day when the airport is very busy. Business travellers on their way home after meetings, weekend travellers going away after a day of work, and of course all there are all those passengers catching overnight flights to Asia and Africa.
Usually the drop-off area outside terminal 5, the main international terminal, is packed with buses and taxi cars as well as friends and family dropping off passengers. Now it was dead quiet. There was one single car dropping off a woman, and that was it.
The departure hall in terminal 5 was equally quiet. Most check-in desks were not even open due to cancelled flights.
The SAS check-in area had two baggage drop desks open with a short line of people waiting for it. For some reason there were as many as three premium check-in desks open for business class passengers and gold card holders, which were not really needed. I had already checked in online so I just passed a self-service machine to print my boarding passes.
Three lanes were open through security. Two regular lanes and one fast track one. And that was more than enough. On a busy day there can be as many as ten lanes open.
And the same story goes for the transit hall. Dead quiet. The two cafes just outside the large taxfree shop, where there are usually a good amount of passengers enjoying a cup of coffee or a beer, were both completely empty and the staff had absolutely nothing to do. Most likely they had to throw most of the food away by the end of the day.
I had already read reports on the internet that the SAS lounges were to close because of the Coronavirus and this was confirmed by the woman at the lounge reception desk. What I did not know when leaving for the airport was that I would be one of the very last guests to the lounge before the complete closedown.
She pointed towards the business lounge and told me that the business lounge had already closed earlier that day and that now only the SAS Gold Lounge was open for all eligible passengers, which was also to close in just about four hours.
I could see inside the business lounge through the window and they were really closing it down completely, removing and storing pretty much everything inside the lounge, or at least all loose items. It was a very strange sight.
Even with just one lounge open, instead of two, the Gold Lounge was very quiet. There were probably no more than about 20-25 guests in the entire lounge.
And of course there was no problem finding a seat. I have never seen this lounge this empty, not even during late evenings and during major public holidays.
The selection of food and drinks was pretty much the same as normal though, but with only half the buffet counter used. There was still some hot food available, some kind of chicken and broccoli stew, and of course the standard cold buffet.
The drinks selection was still also the same so I got myself a gin & tonic after the dinner, probably the very last one in an SAS lounge in a very long time.
And the apron at terminal 5, visible from the lounge, was also incredibly empty. At 6 pm the aprons at concourse A and B are usually packed with aircrafts. Now the only aircraft visible was an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna.
All SAS lounges will close tomorrow Saturday 14 March. Both the lounges in Scandinavia and those around Europe and North America. According to the woman working at the reception the main reason is safety, that they are not able to handle the food properly and safely given the current circumstances. However I am sure there are also financial reasons behind the decision. You just have to have a quick look around the lounge, there are hardly any guests.
The people working at the lounge reception desk usually also work at check-in desks on a rotation scheme, so there are other positions to fill for them when the lounges close. But if this situation continues and the number of passengers continues to drop it will be problematic.