Most of the people wouldn’t give a second thought for flying on SriLankan Airlines (UL) based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I had visited Colombo few times, and flown in/out on Singapore Airlines. The airline has pretty good coverage within the Gulf region, India, and four Chinese cities via Bangkok. The fares, both in economy and business, are competitive.
The only drawback is the fact that UL doesn’t belong to any alliance. They used to be very close partner of Emirates, but the partnership soured rather suddenly two years ago. You can credit the UL flights, in addition to their own program, to Etihad or Malaysian. Overall UL’s FlySmiles doesn’t look worth accruing unless you are flying heavily on their metal.
As you can see from the map above, UL flies to four Chinese cities from Bangkok and has fifth freedom rights, which mean the right to carry passengers and sell tickets between Bangkok and these cities. In the past month, I have had four UL business class segments and have couple of more coming shortly. There aren’t that many reports out there from passengers flying on their business class, so decided to do a brief write up from my recent Beijing to Bangkok segment.
SriLankan’s website is surprisingly robust. You can easily request special meals, change your seats, update the frequent flyer number, and do an online check in up to 48 hours before the scheduled flight. I did the online check in about 24 hours before the scheduled flight time. The equipment that UL uses on this segment is Airbus A330-200. The business class is compact – two rows of 2-2-2. At this point there was only one other business class customer who had assigned seating.
UL operates out of Terminal 2 at the Beijing international airport. The check in was handled by the BGS (Beijing Aviation Ground Services). The economy check in desks were rather crowded. No line on the business class one. The guy properly applied the Priority tag to my bag and issued a lounge invitation for their lounge.
There were literally no more than two people before me at the exit immigration. It was breeze, although the guy was a trainee supervised by his senior.
The lounge, that UL uses at Beijing airport, is their ground agents one shared by few other airlines. You can get a wifi username and password by giving the ladies at reception your passport details. They type the info and soon a slip prints out with required info that is valid for few hours.
The lounge itself was an average, although better than most lounges I have come across while flying in China. They didn’t do any announcements over the PA, but rather had ladies walking around with boards announcing the flights.
The food and drinks options in the lounge were not great but adequate. I just had a soda and a finger sandwich.
The business class on these A330-200 aircraft only consists of two rows of seats on the 2-2-2 configuration. I had chosen the first row right middle. This way, if the flight was full, I or someone else would not need to climb over when accessing the lavatory. Luckily as the flight was half empty in business class, there was no one sitting next to me.
Before takeoff the flight attendant came with the hot towels that were super wet. Then the usual tray service of orange juice, apple juice, or water. On the menu, they have an option for international champagne that on UL is Lanson. Probably they try to limit the consumption of this adult beverage as it appears to be by request only on all of my Sri Lankan flights. They have no problem bringing it for you but only if you explicitly ask. I told them to have it chilled properly first. On the previous flight the champagne was bit on the warm side.
Once in the air, I had another glass of Lanson and soon I had some peanuts as well. They really should have bit more elaborate mix of nuts. The service overall on UL is very old fashioned. They have all the food that is on the menu available on the cart display. You can then create your own mix anyway you like it. The menu is quite extensive.
They had a second cart for the desserts. I chose a tart. Would have preferred to have it with Bailey’s but apparently the liquor is not carried by UL. The flight purser suggested that he would make me a white Russian which I accepted. Not quite the Bailey’s that I would have preferred but better than nothing.
After the food service, I decided to see if there was something worthwhile to watch. Unfortunately the screen directly in front of me was not functioning properly as the picture quality was horrible. The system that UL uses is not video on demand (VOD) but they had tapes for business class passengers. I ended up watching two movies, The Lincoln Lawyer that was actually good and the Battlefield LA that was not. Having these tapes was really a retro experience. Hadn’t seen them for few years.
Overall the service on this specific flight was not as good as I had hoped. I had to press the flight attendant call button several times during the flight to have my champagne glass refilled. After I spoke with the flight purser about this service issue, it was corrected. Rest of my flight the glass was refilled promptly.
Their catering is bit weird though. Couple of weeks earlier, when I was flying from Bangkok to Beijing, I realized that the menu was exactly the same as on my Colombo to Bangkok flight the day before, only to find out that they cater these flights out from Colombo to save on costs. Same goes for flight from Bangkok to Colombo. Apparently the flights are catered out of Beijing. At the end of the flight they were doing lots of cart shuffle from business to economy and back. At that point I inquired what was going on.
This is most definitely not the UL’s strength. The airline doesn’t give out expedite passes for business class passengers for the immigration as most of the other airlines do. Couple of weeks prior, when I flew in on UL, the immigration lines were at least 30 minute long. Luckily, I had one previously unused pass that I had gotten from St Regis hotel that I decided to put in to a good use. This time, however, there were hardly any lines and I was through in couple of minutes.
The priority luggage worked relatively well, although there were random economy bags coming out first.
The service is most definitely not as polished as on SQ, but then you are only paying fraction of the price. Their fares with transfers often allow free stopovers that I am taking advantage of.
Overall the service is good, and I really like the way the food is represented. They could be bit more relaxed when it comes to presenting the champagne. Don’t like the fact that it is by request only.
Wouldn’t hesitate continue flying on them. Now if I could only decide, whether to credit these flights to Etihad or Malaysian.