Airport

REVIEW: SriLankan Airlines Business Class

1 December 2017

SriLankan Airlines is the ‘flag carrier’ of Sri Lanka, based at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport. The airline became a full-fledged oneworld alliance member in 2014, joining the ranks of Cathay Pacific Airways and Qantas.

SriLankan flies five times a week from Hong Kong to Colombo, from where you could connect to many destinations in India or even to the Maldives.

THE LOUNGE

SriLankan business class passengers are directed to the Plaza Premium Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport. The lounge is adequate; it offers a hot and a cold buffet and a selection of drinks, although when I visited there was neither wine nor liquor available, just canned beer.

If you are a oneworld Sapphire status holder, you will also have access to the Cathay Pacific lounges, including the G16 Lounge, The Wing, The Cabin and The Bridge. These are much better facilities than the Plaza Premium lounge. Note that as an oneworld Emerald status customer you may also visit the first class lounge at The Wing or The Pier (including made-to-order fine dining options, chic champagne stations and a complimentary foot massage service).

BOARDING

This was a very late 2am departure that gets you into Colombo at 5am, with great onward connectivity to the Maldives at 7am – perfect for a full day on the islands.

Boarding for the 2am departure started at 1:30 am. When I reached the gate, boarding was already well underway; there were no more lines and I was processed immediately. At the door, the cabin chief was enthusiastically greeting passengers with “Ayubowan” - the traditional Sri Lankan greeting.

As I settled into my seat, 1A, a crew member offered to hang my coat and help place my bags in the overhead compartment. There were no newspapers or magazines available, but I was offered a choice of pre-departure drink, including champagne, apple juice, orange juice or water.

There was rather large and plush pillow waiting for me on the seat, as well as a good size blanket, although it was rather thin, so I asked for a second one, which was “not a problem at all”.

THE SEAT

SriLankan flies its A321 aircraft between Hong Kong and Colombo, a single aisle plane that represents a downgrade from the previously deployed A330 ‘widebody’ aircraft.

Business class on the A321 is in a 2-2 layout spanning rows 1 through to 4. I would surely avoid row 4 as those seats border on economy class which could be bothersome in terms of increased foot traffic and noise, especially on a redeye flight.

The seats are leather and have a very generous legroom. Each seat reclines some 45 degrees and features an extended leg rest, as well as a six-way headrest that aims to provide support to the head and neck.

If you get a window seat (the “A” and “K” seats), there is the usual problem of having to climb over your neighbour to get out if they are in a reclined position. Each seat had its own universal socket (110V) and a USB port. The rather small, 9-inch personal IFE system had an adequate selection of movies, TV shows and music, although it could have used an update.

THE FLIGHT

We pushed back smack on time at 2am, which has become a rarity nowadays at hopelessly congested HKIA. Once airborne, hot towels, heated nuts and menu cards were handed out and the late supper service began.

The crew was extremely proactive in their service delivery. They could not been nicer. While they were certainly not as polished as their counterparts, they delivered service that felt like it came straight from the heart. They were chatty and curious – but not overbearing – just simply kind and sincere.

For starters, there was a choice of seafood nori terrine, smoked salmon and marinated prawn with sweet chilli sauce, or, Arabic mezze comprising babaghanoush and makdous presented with assorted grilled vegetables. I had former, which was of a high quality.

I was positively surprised that SriLankan offered a choice of appetizers. Most other airlines have done away with that in recent times owing to cost cutting.

The selection of mains comprised: a Sri Lankan mustard chicken curry with cashews, pumpkin, broccoli, rice and papadam; Chinese-style stir-fried noodles with grilled prawn, bak choi and oyster sauce; grilled fillet of beef with mixed sautéed vegetables, green pea mush and mustard jus; or a vegetarian choice – coconut and lentil rice with a mixed vegetable curry and papadam.

I had the Sri Lankan curry and it was divine, bursting with flavour. While on the spicy side, the strong flavours were absorbed by the large bowl of rice that came with it and unlimited, free-flowing warm papadam. For dessert, there was fresh fruit and chocolate cream ‘cigar’.

SriLankan’s Sky Cellar featured Piper-Heidsieck champagne – one of France’s oldest, the crew proudly noted – boasting notes of pear, apple and citrus. They also offered two whites, two reds and Cockburn’s Special Reserve port wine.

The ‘Sky Bar’ had all the standard liquors and – more interestingly – Colombo Gin. It’s always nice when airlines make an effort promoting local products.

In the same vein, SriLankan’s menu listed ten locally sourced teas, including Ceylon earl grey, spiced chai and black forest fruit.

The flight attendants were extraordinarily attentive, clearing plates at just the right time, proactively offering refills and making pairing suggestions. Well done.

We arrived into Colombo 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled 5am arrival time.

VERDICT

SriLankan Airlines very much exceeded my expectations. The crew was very well-intentioned and personable and the in-flight menu was incredible. The only criticism I have is that the cabin and the seats weren’t in particularly good shape and could have done with a deep cleaning. However, all the smiles quickly made up for that.

Dominic Lalk

A familiar face in Orient Aviation and Business Traveller Asia-Pacific, Dominic is an aviation analyst and travel enthusiast.  When’s he’s not consulting, reading or writing about the airline industry, Dominic is most likely to be found flying around the world.