Sri Lankan to the Maldives -4 Marvellous Business Flights

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BKK:  Bangkok,Thailand to MLE: Malé, Maldives, Via CMB:, Colombo, Sri Lanka (and return)
Four flights, Business Class. One A320, a 321 and two A330s

While there are a stable of airlines I really enjoy flying, I get a kick from trying a new airline for the first time.

We found a very attractive Business Class deal from Sri Lankan airlines from Bangkok to the Maldives which meant I got to ride in my 93rd airline and enjoy a new One World partner.

Booking: 8/10

Their website is very easy to navigate and looks very clean and crisp.

One feature that the airline makes a fuss of that I have not seen so prominently with any other airline is its Celebrate Aboard choices. Along with carbon offsets, meals and seat choices, passengers can order honeymoon, birthday or bon voyage cakes. Many airlines do this but do not market the option.

Choosing seats was very straightforward and worked immediately. We were happy with our seat choices.

Check In: 8/10

We checked in at three different airports (Bangkok, Colombo and Malé). There were no waits for service at any of them.

Bangkok check-in was the least professional. The young check in agent appeared to be new. My question is: Why do you put you most inexperienced staff member on Business Class Check-in?  He did not welcome us, or interact with us through the transaction except to show us where the lounge was. He was under the watch full eyes of a supervisor who noted he had not replenished the dispenser with business Class Boarding cards!

The Colombo check in was the warmest – and efficient. I would give that one 10/10! At Malé airport, the staff were pleasant and helpful through that process. One interesting feature at Malé is that you go through a security check before you check in.

We got priority passes to clear security and  immigration at all airports. Both processes were relatively painless and straightforward.

Lounges: 7/10

Sri Lankan uses a variety of lounges so experience will be very mixed. In this aspect, they do not compete with airlines such as Emirates or Malaysian.

At Bangkok, Sri Lankan Airlines use one of the generic Louis lounges which was located a very long way from the gate area.  It was one of the nicer generic lounges I have visited at Bangkok Airport. The staff were very welcoming and really made us feel welcome. The food was acceptable. There are no announcements in the lounge. 

The ambiance was disturbed somewhat by a group of three travelers who did not understand the concept of “inside voices”.  They sprawled on chairs, with a chair distance between them, and proceeded to shout at each other. It was hard to tell if they were merely being animated or actually being aggressive, Compounding this was their use of speaker phone for telephone conversations and watching videos.  The rest of the lounge switched between horrified and fascinated. What was worse for me is that these passengers sat immediately behind me on the flight and on boarding were so loud, that I turned around and told them to lower their voices. To my surprise, they did!

In Colombo, Sri Lankan has Serendib, their own dedicated lounge. It felt crowded with seats crammed in everywhere. Good selection of food, however, and very attentive staff.  They have a spa providing free massages. Staff made flight announcements by wandering around calling out the flight numbers. They are obsessed with getting customers to rate the lounge on which was  a little irritating especially as you wonder if the feedback is actually used. 

In Malé, Sri Lankan provided us with access to the Leeli Lounge, a pleasant large general lounge with a solid range of food and drink (no alcohol). I have been told it can get quite crowded at peak times.

Boarding 9/10

Off to the gate at Colombo

At Bangkok, Business Class passengers boarded while Economy class passengers waited.  

In Colombo, both planes were at remote locations which required bus transport. Business Class passengers remained seated in the gate area whilst the Economy class passengers boarded buses first. Then Business Class passengers got their own bus!

At Malé, the crowded boarding area was complete chaos with people everywhere. I flashed my Business Class boarding pass at a security guard, who then beat a path through the crowd. It was rather extraordinary as they fell back to let us through to the gate!

On Board: 9/10

I cannot remember a time when I have beeimg_3883n so warmly welcomed on a plane. All the staff flashed huge smiles at us whilst greeting us with a traditional Sri Lankan Ayubowan (Long life) greeting. I did not feel like a number at all.

The staff appeared committed, hard working and genuinely passenger focussed. 

Hot towels were handed out at the start of the trip, with champagne or juice or water. It was a nice drop of champagne!

A range of newspapers were handed out.

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The Planes

The jewel of Sri Lankan’s crown are their 13 Airbus330s which we flew on two of.I loved the colours and feel of the A330.

The planes consist of 269 standard economy seats arranged 2-4-2. Pitch (distance between seats) is 31″ or 32″ for some Economy seats. Seat width is 17″.

The Business class cabin has 28 flat bed seats set up at an angle arranged 1-2-1. Seat pitch is 77 or 79″ and the beds have an 180 degree recline. For privacy, the seats are great.  Travelling as a couple meant we had to sit in the middle seats if we wanted to sit together.  The seat design made us feel quite cut off from each other.

The Business Class seat needs more storage.

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The 320 cabin (seat pictured above) had seen better days. It was acceptable. The plane had 20 recliner seats in Business Class arranged 2-2 with a 39″ pitch and 21″ width. The 120 Economy cabin arranged 3-3 seats have a 31″ pitch and 17″ width.

The 321 (below) was in a nicer condition. It had 16 seats up front and 153 in Economy. Same arrangement and seat size as the 320.

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Safety Briefing: 8/10

Sri Lankan uses a “fun” cartoon for its safety briefings. Cabin crew emerged only from preparation work in the galley (we cold hear them working!) to show us the exits.

Take off

The Take offs were no fuss affairs. 

Meals: 9/10

The meals were amazing. Considering all of or flights were short, the range and service were impressive. 

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On my first flight I declared, I didn’t  want tea or coffee with my dessert. I think I  caused some consternation, as four staff came back to check I was really saying “no”. I suspect not having a cup of tea on the airline from the home of tea is akin to a criminal offence!! After that first flight, I took a cup of tea on every flight!

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Presentation of the actual food could be a little better but the meals were cooked perfectly. We liked the salt and pepper shakers decorated in the airlines colours (top right).

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The entertainment system: 7/10

Every seat in both cabins on the Airbus 320 and Airbus 330 had a personal video screen, with access to Audio and Video on-demand. It was a  joy to use. The interface was very easy to understand and operate. The disappointment is the amount of content.

There were two episodes of “Modern Family” (one of which I had not seen) and two of the “Big Bang Theory” – both of which I had seen.

I was curious to watch Sri Lankan content. there was just one episode of a Sri Lankan comedy series. It did not come with subtitles which made it hard to follow so I gave up after ten minutes. I then watched the Sri Lankan pop music  channel. There were only five songs on the whole channel and not one of the songs actually finished! They were all cut off mid song. Very curious.

The movie range felt very limited.

It was fun on a short hop but on a long trip, one would get sick of recycling the same content. I gave up after the first flight and used my own entertainment. 

Landing

We landed into Colombo at night on both ocassions. They were all smooth landings. People are very dismissive of Colombio airport. Compared to many other airports in the world, I did not think it was all that bad. It is certainly clean. Food prices are exorbitant. I was fascinated that there were so may white goods in the duty free shops! Would never have thought to buy a washing machine while arriving in Sri Lanka! Signage at Colombo was a little confusing.

Landing into the Maldives was like nothing else on earth. Tear drops of islands sitting in a sea of the kit amazing arrays of blue. the capital Malé is a dense collection of buildings hugging a small island. I will write about Malé on Thursday.

Malé airport is on another island nearby to the downtown island. It is amazing arriving at an airport that immediately juts out into the water. Principal transport to and from the airport is by speedboat or public ferry.

Customs and immigration were all very smooth at all airports.

The Verdict

My Flight Rating:  80% (4 out of 5).

About the Airline: Air Lanka was established as the flag carrier of Sri Lanka in 1979 rep;lacing the then bankrupt Air Ceylon which itself had been flying since 1947. In 1998, the airline became Sri Lankan airlines and was 40% owned by Emirates until 2008 when the Sri Lankan government bought the airline back.

The airline managed to fly throughout the Sri Lankan Civil war but suffered bombings and terrorist activity.

Today, the airline connects 20 cities in Asia and the Indian subcontinent with eleven cities in Europe and the Middle East via its hub in Colombo. Sri Lankan Airlines is the largest foreign carrier into the Maldives.

My overall rating of  Sri Lankan Airways: Based only on these four Business Class flights, I have rated them 87%. This makes them my 11th favourite airline. They beat British Airways and Malaysian in my experience!

Skytrax: Three Star Airline – 73rd best airline in the world. Skytrax customers rate them at 7/10. This year, Skytrax awarded them third place for Central Asia’s best airline staff and third Best Airline in Central Asia.

Safety Rating: Airline ratings gives Sri Lankan Airlines, a very healthy 7  out of 7. The airline lost five aircraft in the Sri Lankan Civil war which resulted sadly in the deaths of both passengers and employees.

Frequent Flyer Program: Fly Smiles. I earned Qantas Frequent Flyer points  and Status Credits through the One World alliance.

Positives:  The Friendly Staff, The plane, The seat, The food range
Negatives:  Lounge, Limited entertainment content
Would I fly them again? Yes

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