Renovation At Colombo International Airport Will Cause Heavy Delays Over 3 Months Period – Check-In Opens 5 Hours Before Departure

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Urgent renovation works have just begun at Sri Lanka’s Colombo International Airport and are expected to cause havoc over the upcoming months at the already quite chaotic facility.

The centerpiece of the renovation will be the new runway of the airport which will limit traffic and cause congestion with check-in for home carrier Sri Lankan now closing 1.5 hours prior to departure.

Passengers have been advised through airline mailers and the media that you can now check in 5 hours prior to your flight (with Sri Lankan) and that the deadline will be reached 90 minutes before your scheduled departure time.

From the sounds of it this sounds like a colossal, homemade disaster and passengers arriving or departing Colombo Airport should brace themselves for the worst.

This got my attention when I received an email from Sri Lankan Airlines as I signed up for their programs a couple years back for some reason:

During the airport facility development taking place from the 06th of January to 06th April 2017,

SriLankan is happy to announce that check-in counters will open 5 hours prior to departure at Bandaranaike International Airport to ensure hassle free check-in.

We urge our members to check-in early and avoid long queues and congestion.

As an alternative, we suggest to check in online at, via the mobile application or automated kiosk at departure lobby and thereafter proceed to the baggage drop area.

Check in counters will close 90 minutes prior to flight departure.

This didn’t read like good news to me at all, so I decided to look a little deeper and with the help of search engines I found a couple local media articles talking about the issue at hand.

One is Lanka Business Online (access here) that outlines clearly that all flights now require their passengers to be at the airport about 5 hours prior to the scheduled departure time. Or at least they advise doing so.

Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport day-time shut down for a runway repair has resulted in airport authorities increasing the reporting and check-in-time for flights to avoid delays.

“This means that you need to arrive 5 hours early for any flight and not the usual 3 hours. So there will be some congestion but it will help to avoid delays,” a duty manager at the airport told Lanka Business Online.

“And in addition the check in counters will close 90 minutes ahead of a flight departure and not 60 minutes.”

The main international airport will be closed during the day from Friday, January 6th to  April 6th for a runway repair. It will only operate from 16.30 hours to 08.30 hours.

“It will be shut from 0830 hours to 1630 hours each day for maintenance work on the runway and is due for a makeover. There are already cracks appearing.”

Colombo is a popular airport also for travelers (including many LoyaltyLobby readers) who start low priced premium airfares sold in Sri Lanka. As such, I had the unpleasant experience of getting to know the facility first hand and it was never a comfortable environment to travel in.

From the sounds of it and some other media reports the authorities have put off renovation and maintenance of their runway for so long that now the surface has cracks and the conditions can no longer be ignored.

Cathay Pacific which operates many flights in and out of Colombo also published the following information:

SriLankan Airlines Desks 28-29 (Business), 24-27 (Economy)

Opening hours (effective from 6 January to 5 April 2017 due to runway works)
5 hours prior to scheduled departure time

(Check-in counters are closed punctually 90 minutes before scheduled departure time)

I’m not sure where the discrepancy of 5 hours and 90 minutes originates but in the very least I’d suggest to maybe plan 2.5-3 hours time before arriving at the airport. I don’t expect anyone to make exceptions for Business/First Class passengers either when it comes to the cut off time (at least not without a ‘Tip’).


Certainly a nuisance, but in the interest of safety and security, certain maintenance work can’t be ignored which has happened for way too long already at CMB airport. The circumstance to wait until the last minute when you have no more options doesn’t make things easier for airport management.

I wouldn’t count on this project to be finished after just 3 months as anticipated. It would surprise me at least if that was the case.

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  • Gaijinsan

    I can’t possibly see what runway repairs and check in times have to do with one another. This all seems quite ridiculous to me to require everyone there at least 30 minutes earlier than previously necessary and up to 2 hours prior than previous check in opening times. Are they sending flights early? From what I see they are doing nothing more than stuffing more people into a fairly small airport with limited facilities. Security at Colombo is at the gate (like SIN and KUL) so that also has nothing to do with maintenance and repair delays.

    • The airport has been chaotic every time I have flown in/out. The exit immigration is usually the bottleneck if I recall correctly (haven’t been there for 4+ years).

      Even when UL provided STPC and put me up at one of the nearby beach hotels, they demanded that the driver pick me up more than 3 hours before the scheduled departure time that I thought was crazy. Thought that I would just take regular cab closer to the departure time but ended up taking their transportation.

  • robdubluu

    I’m heading out of CMB on Thursday morning on the QR flight that leaves around 3am. I’m frightened.

    I understand the need for repairs but honestly, this is so typical of Sri Lankan thinking.

    What bright-spark decided that they should do this work smack-bang in the middle of by far the heaviest traffic time of the year. It’s high-season from Boxing Day until mid-Feb. Numbers increase dramatically.

    Like I said, so typical of the no forward planning, no thinking, no organisation here in this country. As we ex-pats say TISL!

    PS: There is not a Sinhalese word for “organisation” or “plan”!

  • robdubluu


    John, Last night I endured the departure, check-in, immigration process at CMB. In summary, if you are flying Premium, 5 hours is a joke. You need nothing like that. I would arrive 3 hours before* if I was you, but anymore than that is simply the airlines and the airport covering their collective backsides.

    My details:

    Departed QR 669 at 0325. I had driver pick me up from Negombo at 23.15. Highway was relatively clear. On approaching terminal less traffic than normal. They are keeping all the visitors out of the place while this work goes on.

    To enter the terminal a guard checks your passport. You then go through a bag scanner, a guard frisks you. There was a few more people here than normal. 10 minutes. Done.

    To enter the Check-In zone you will get passport checked again and your bag x-rayed. No line. Straight through.

    I headed to the Check-In area for QR and the Business Class line had one person in front of me. They were Italian and as Italians are, they take twice as long as anyone else to do anything. 10 minutes.

    Headed to the far end of the terminal towards Immigration. It is a tiny, non air-conditioned hall. There would have been 10-12 desks open, each with about 15-20 people. Patience is a virtue at CMB immigration because many people are NESB and haven’t filled in forms properly, have language issues etc; etc; etc; I happened to pick the worst line ( ie; the slowest ) and it took 45 minutes ! I could see other lines moving much faster than my slow lane so allow 30-45 minutes for immigration clearance.

    Through immigration, into the Serendib Lounge at 0040. ( if you are with UL or One World Emerald you can use this lounge ). Otherwise one of the awful small lounges on the main concours ( Aruvayla I think it is, bloody awful ).

    If you are flying any airline in Premium except UL, allow 3 hours maximum. If you are in Y on any airline except UL, maybe 3.5 ( QR had a long line for the Y passengers , very long line! )

    But if you are flying UL Y, all bets are off. You would need 4 hours at least. It was chaotic down that end. UL Premium though is probably OK because they have a separate check-in called Silk Road in another terminal.

    I hope this helps anyone travelling through CMB whilst the works are being done to the runway. Also remember this is peak season in Sri Lanka so there are lots of ( too many! LOL ) Europeans here until mid-Feb. After that, when they all bugger-off back to where they came from, most of the times I have provided could be reduced. I suspect the airlines and the airport will also do a new press release with reduced waiting times.