Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel and/or flight review.
A couple of weeks, I enjoyed a FABULOUS holiday in the incredibly beautiful Maldives. You can read my trip reports here:
Today (May 31, 2017): Trip report: SriLankan Airlines Airbus A330-300 Business Class Maldives to Qatar (via Colombo).
On April 7, 2017, I flew Business Class in an Airbus A330-300 of SriLankan Airlines (UL) from Male International Airport (MLE) in the Maldives to Hamad International Airport (DOH) in Qatar, via a stopover in Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) near Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. SriLankan Airlines is a medium-sized airline and operates an all Airbus fleet, consisting of 13 A330 wide body planes and 10 A320/A321 narrow body aircraft. Sri Lanka’s flagship carrier has a very rough and turbulent history, and is currently in a troubling financial position, although its management is trying to make the airline profitable again (more on that below). I do hope that SriLankan Airline’s problems will soon be a thing of the past, since the carrier offers a great onboard product and employs a wonderful staff. Keep in mind that this review only covers SriLankan’s newest Business Class product, which is available on all A330-300 planes, while the older A330-200 planes features a less impressive product (albeit still with flatbed seats).
- Trip: MLE-CMB-DOH
- Airline: SriLankan Airlines (UL)
- Aircraft type: Airbus A330-300
- Aircraft registration number: 4R-ALM (‘City of Sihagiri)
- Flight Number: UL116 & UL217
- Date: April 7, 2017
- On time departure: yes (3.30 pm)
- On time arrival: yes (10 pm)
- Miles: 482 (MLE-CMB) + 2245 (CMB-DOH)
- Flight time: 5 hours
- Seat: 4A (MLE-CMB) & 4K (CMB-DOH)
- Class: Business Class (D)
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Cost of my ticket
- Business Lounge at Male and Colombo Airport
- The remarkable history of SriLankan Airlines
- Business Class Cabin
- Business Class Seat (& what seat to choose)
- Other inflight experiences
- My verdict
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1. COST OF MY TICKET
I paid 1350 euro for a round-trip Business Class flight from Frankfurt to Male and booked the ticket directly on the SriLankan Airlines website. This is a great (and hard to beat) deal to fly in a superb flatbed from Europe to the Maldives, and the deal is still available – with departure from a German airport on selected dates – at the time of writing. It does however include 2 stopovers, one in the Middle East (since SriLankan Airlines codeshares with both Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways after it cancelled most of its European routes) and one in Sri Lanka itself. In my case, the itinerary was routed via Doha, with the Frankfurt-Doha and Doha-Frankfurt legs being operated by a brand new Qatar Airways A350 plane (the other flights were of course operated by SriLankan Airlines itself).
Keep in mind that when you arrive in the Maldives, and when you are not staying in the North or South Male Atoll, you will have to take another flight – either a seaplane or a domestic flight – to get to your resort. So, all in all, it took me 4 flights to get to Soneva Jani, which was a little too much, despite the great deal. Next time, I am willing to pay more for a more direct itinerary (at least, when no award seats – that can be booked with miles – are available).
2. BUSINESS LOUNGE AT MALE & COLOMBO AIRPORT
I did not have time to visit the Business Class lounge at Male on this particular occasion, because my seaplane arrived late; after check-in I was immediately whisked away to the plane (where boarding was already taking place). However, I have visited the Male Business Class lounge on several other occasions, and it is a good place to rest for a while and wait for your plane’s departure, given that Male airport’s sole international terminal is very small and often very crowded. It’s just a square room, which is used by all airlines (so there’s only one Business Class lounge in Male). There’s enough seating for most guests and a mediocre buffet is on display, featuring the usual stuff (e.g. fruits, salads, soup, sandwiches, some curries). The design of the lounge is rather old-fashioned, and also, the place does not get a lot of daylight due to the darkened windows, which give it an overall rather depressing ambiance (but it’s still a better alternative than waiting in the crowded terminal itself).
At Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, I did not have enough time to take photos or clips from inside the lounge, since my connecting time between flights was less than 45 minutes. I did have a quick tour of the facility though, and it looked a great and modern place, with seats for around 150 passengers, a large buffet, a dining area, and even an adjoining spa room. The entrance doors, which felt like walking into a kind of India Jones temple, were particularly impressive. However, my overall experience of the lounge atmosphere was not that good since the place was extremely crowded. This was probably due to the fact that over the past couple of months, Bandaranaike International Airport was closed during daylight hours for a badly needed runway repair (the airport has only one runway), with consequently all flight departures leaving at night. The airport and lounge were a mess since they could not deal very well with the large influx of travelers, but the good news is that at the time of writing, the repairs have been finished and operations should be back to normal (so you will be able to enjoy the lounge in all tranquility again should your travels take you to or via Sri Lanka in the near future).
3. THE REMARKABLE HISTORY OF SRILANKAN AIRLINES
Sri Lanka’s national carrier has an impeccable safety record, with not one single crash or major accident recorded since it was launched in 1976. However, the airline does have a turbulent history though, facing episodes of corruption, tragedy and national pride. SriLankan Airlines suffered heavily during the past civil war, with a sad highlight on July 24 2001, when the carrier lost 2 A330, one A340, and one A320 aircraft during a Colombo airport attack (without any passenger fatalities). The carrier recovered quiet well after the termination of the civil war, mainly under the guidance of Emirates, which managed and owned a minority stake in the airline. However, the Emirates deal came to an end in 2008 following a personal dispute, when Emirates refused to bump fare-paying passengers to make way for the entourage of Sri Lanka’s president. Since then, the carrier has been plagued by corruption of its senior management, and has accumulated record losses. Also, the (irresponsible) purchase of brand new A330 and A350 planes led to further suffering of the airline. The new management is trying to reverse the bad financial situation: the A350 order was cancelled and the airline also terminated all of its direct routes to Europe (except for its Colombo- London and Male-London routes). There are also rumours that the airline is talking (again) with Emirates for a new deal.
4. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
Both flight legs (from Male to Colombo, and from Colombo to Doha) were operated by the same two-class A330-300 aircraft. Like all A330-300s in SriLankan’s fleet, the plane featured the carrier’s newest Business Class product, which is far superior to the old, less flashy Business Class product installed on SriLankan Airlines’ A330-200 planes. All Business Class seats – 28 in total – are located in one cabin behind the cockpit. There are 7 rows of 4 Business Class seats each, with all seats having direct aisle access and a lot of privacy due to a 1-2-1 alignment (a so-called herringbone layout). The Business Class seats on the sides are angled toward the window (about 2 windows per seat), while the seats in the middle are angled towards each other. IMHO, this is the best Business Class seat type around. American Airlines, Air France, Qatar Airways, Eva Air, Finnair, and Cathay Pacific features the same Business Class seat type, which I have previously reviewed here:
For a seat map of SriLankan Airlines’s A330-300, click here.
5. BUSINESS CLASS SEAT (& WHAT SEAT TO CHOOSE)
I was seated in 4A for the MLE-CMB leg, and 4K for the CMB-DOH leg.
All Business Class seats have the same characteristics: 192 cm (78 inches) in pitch, a width of 53 cm (21 inch), and a 180 degree recline.
One side of the seat – located towards the window for window seats, or the center line for middle seats – features a rather large side cabinet with a mirror and enough room to store your personal belonging (such as cellphone, wallet, glasses, and other bits and pieces). On this cabinet’s outer wall, at eye level, you find a reading light, and below that the seat controls, a remote control for the entertainment system, and a universal power supply outlet. This side of the seat also features a large work surface, which hides the decently sized, fold-out tray table beneath it, so you can always eat and work at the same time.
In front of the seat, below the entertainment screen, is an ottoman footrest, which forms part of the fully flat-bed when the seat is reclined. The flat-bed is just over 2 metres (82 inches) long and the side storage compartment offers extra knee space for sleeping on your side. For sleeping, you may choose to leave your armrest up for more privacy, or down for more space.
The large, private screen (15.4-inch or 40 cm) swings out from the side of the seat suite’s wall. However, it doesn’t tilt up and down, so unfortunately, watching the screen from the near or fully flat-bed position is almost impossible.
What are the best Business Class seats on UL’s A330-300? For a seat map, click here.
- Solo travelers should go fo the window seats.
- Travel companions should go for the middle seats. However, due to how private they are, they really don’t lend themselves all that well to traveling with a partner, as you will have too lean forward when you want to have a chat.
What are the worst Business Class seats on UL’s A330-300? For a seat map, click here.
- I suggest to avoid the very front row (row 1) due to its proximity to the galley and lavatories.
- I also suggest to avoid the last row of Business Class (row 7) which is close to the Economy bassinet seats. In addition, window seats in row 7 are missing a window.
On both flight legs, noise-cancelling headphones, a pillow and blanket were provided. However, passengers did not receive an amenity kit, probably due to the short flight times (one hour from Male to Colombo, and 4.30 hours from Colombo to Doha).
I was surprised that a full meal service was offered on the short, one-hour flight from the Maldives to Sri Lanka. I had the Moroccan lamb chop, which tasted quite good and was presented with grilled haloumi cheese, saksuka vegetables, grilled peppers, and vermicelli rice. An assortment of fresh fruit was offered as dessert.
The Colombo to Doha flight featured a menu that was a celebration of rice and focused on Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. The meal was served at once on one tray and consisted of:
- Starter: mixed platter of Arabic Mezze
- Main course: prawn curry Sri Lankan style, with vegetable fried rice, snake gourd fresh salad, and pickled brinjal (
- Dessert: a seasonal assortment of finest fresh-cut fruit
Except for the starter, which did not taste well and was also poorly presented, I did enjoy the meal (although it definitely wasn’t the best meal I ever had at 37,000ft).
8. INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
The state of the art Thales AVANT in-flight entertainment system featured the latest blockbusters from Hollywood and Bollywood, and a collection of classics and favourites, with over 50 TV channels, 120 movies, an extensive library of audio CD’s and radio channels, and a large number of games for all age groups. The in-flight entertainment system could be set to the program of your preference by either touching the screen or using a remote control. A noise-cancelling headset assured an enjoyable listening experience. There was also a camera fixed on the plane’s belly which offered great views, especially during takeoff and landing.
9. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
#CREW: I liked the hard-working crew of SriLankan Airlines and they made a professional and skilled impression. I was surprised that some of the cabin crew members had face masks upon boarding the plane in Male, but I assume this may have to do with the recent outbreak of swine flu in the Maldives.
# BAR: the Business Class cabin did not feature a walk-up bar.
# TOILET: There were two restrooms for Business Class passenger, one in the front of the cabin and one in the back.
# WIFI: SriLankan offers onboard WiFi connectivity with new Airbus A330-300 fleet in partnership with OnAir. I did not use the service though.
10. MY VERDICT
- Seat : 9/10
- Food: 7/10
- Inflight entertainment: 9/10
- Service: 8/10
- Cabin ambience: 8/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8/10
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