A nation's prestige, SriLankan expanded a lot, both in term of network and quality, since founded in 1979. The airline developed and diversified its wide range of products, in order to drive the country's ongoing boom in tourism and economic development. Remaining yet a human-sized, “boutique airlines”, which we dreamed of experiencing since seven Airbus A330-300 new generation have been purchased (out of an all-Airbus fleet / 27 planes in total), equipped with one of the most attractive business class in a competitive market.
The experience starts on a cool day of March 2017, at London Heathrow - LHR, which isn't our favorite airport in Europe. It didn't improve much since our last transit. Crowded, rather unorganized... It felt quite hostile to the traveler, until the active station team of SriLankan took charge of us with a smooth, super fast check-in in Zone C (almost in front of the “Tube” entrance). Note that the luggage allowance is 40 kgs; two bags of 7kgs each can be brought in the cabin.
Maybe because we arrived much in advance, there was no queue at all; though the business class cabin was full. Allowing us to walk through the immigration and security check within less than ten minutes. How fast compared with our painful "fast track" experience from Paris – CDG, a few weeks before!
Reconciled with LHR and “All Oneworld” T3 which, according to UL station manager, is from far the best terminal, we visited the British Airways Galleries lounge in Terminal 3. Quite a cold welcome, the interdiction to take pictures... we were thousands of miles away from the warm, elegant and well serviced Serendib Lounge in Colombo, controlled by the airline which has no dedicated lounge in Heathrow, using this BA OneWorld Alliance lounge instead. It is not on par, in term of comfort, with the other BA Lounges in T5A, T5B and T5, but still does the job, with a convenient selection of food and drink: including sandwiches, pasta, a salad bar, and several varieties of wine... except Champagne, which was odd. The seating is trendy and comfy, including long couches, and benches with tables. We quickly deserted this plain-Jane lounge for some shopping in the tax-free shops, which we found even more expensive compared with Paris-CDG.
It was almost 22:10, UL 1504 departure time, and we were actually in a hurry to leave London for the sunny and promising Sri Lanka! It seems that UL doesn't always use the same gate. So make sure to that you give time to time, as it may take between two till ten minutes to get there. We were among the very last passengers to board the aircraft. That was fast, with a priority for C class passengers. The miracle of Asian airlines is that one single step into the cabin makes you feel like away from the rain and cold. The stewardesses in a sari and the warm and elegant purser welcomed us courteously. Making each business class passenger feeling like a VIP.
Operated by UL 7 times per week -with 9 flights secheduled from Winter 2017-, the non-stop London – Colombo route is the pride of SriLankan. Catering the elite of the country, international businessmen, and high profile travelers, it is served by UL best and most up to date cabin product. The spacious Airbus A330-300 offers 27 all-aisle access herringbone fully flat-bed seats in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration. We preferred a window seat; couples and business partners would rather sit together in the center of the cabin.
The blue color of the seats is pleasant. The premium leather, making us feel embarked in a Rolls Royce Phantom, is another proof of refinement. With a limited number of seats, the impression of intimacy and supreme comfort is striking. We never got that impression with major airlines like Turkish Airlines, Air France or British Airways. With UL, we sensually felt like cocooned by the design and by the staff, who brought us perfumed warm towels, and a flute of Piper-Heidsieck served chilled as we like. We didn't count how many attendants operated in the business class cabin; they were a lot, very attentive to each request. In almost eleven hours in the sky, we never pushed a button to call for assistance. There was always one eye kept on us. Five-star and boutique: this is the way we like to fly! We already knew that UL would keep the promise: “Allow us to treat you to the good life, on your way around the world”.
Before taking off, a relaxing blue to purple light softly illuminated the cabin, illustrated by motifs featuring the diversity and beauty of the island’s flora and fauna. We actually left LHR on time. The roar of the new Pratt & Whitney PW4168 engines was deafened by the distance to the wings and the perfect sound-proofing of the latest version of this very classic and historically safe aircraft (the first A 330-300 had been commercialized in 1994). UL flies their latest, full options versions.
We gladly noticed that among the tailored made for geeks equipment, WiFi was available on board (plus roaming for cell phone); that was a short joy as, even in business class, there is a fee: USD 5 for 3Mb / USD 10 for 5 Mb. That's hardly enough to take a couple of pictures and send them by mail. Emirates, which business class is according to us inferior compared with SriLankan (too many seats, and efficient yet “industrial” service), makes it FOC up to 10Mb. That was quite a disappointment, as we wished to see our friends and relatives how lovely was the cabin and the panorama over the Maldives when we arrived in Malé. This was our unique concern with UL during our unforgettable flight.
We explored our seat little bit closer. Few, if none, Oneworld airlines have leather seats in business class; UL actually made it in much style for its passengers. Actually wide (19.5 inches), the Thales Avant IFE seat has all for a comfy long haul flight. Sockets allow to plug in laptop and smartphone.
A wireless remote control boosts the navigation over the large TV screen. The last generation Thales AVANT Inflight Programme / AVOD offers an extensive choice of movies, TV shows, music videos, radio programs, and interactive games. The latest US blockbusters and classics are available. Those in search of exoticism can watch Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Chinese, Japanese and of course Sri Lankan movies! The headphones were better that average: not too heavy, and with a decent quality of sound.
Like always, we fly business class principally for relaxation: using the TV occasionally to check the 3D maps, and to see our flight, particularly take off and landing, from the cameras installed on the front, rear, and body of the aircraft.
We already noticed, in the seated position, that there was more room (79 inches) than usual to stretch our legs. It takes 20 seconds after pushing a single button to obtain a 180° bed, which could accommodate a tall Westerner at ease. Those needing space to spread legs, but also small bags, camera, laptop, will love flying with that aircraft, as there is plenty of room all around.
We found a fine wool blanket, and a Crabtree & Evelyn toiletry kit. The orange color is a little bit weird, but it finally fits both sexes; all the items are top quality, and not the crap that some airlines still dare to propose to their high-profile passengers. In term of comfort, SriLankan really does it.. first class.
The elegant menu “Taste Our World” was presented by the attendant with cashew nuts and a second glass of Champagne. She recognized our French accent, surely... We liked the mysterious mention “Complimentary Copy” on this extensive menu, featuring an attractive “Tea Selection” (8 blends), “Sky Cellar (6 wines only; could do better, though all are excellent), “Sky Bar” (featuring the best brands of liquors, plus fancy cocktails), and the “London-Maldives” and “Maldives – Colombo” mouth watering a la carte.
Our starter was a “Trio of Seafood”: marinated king prawns, smoked halibut, smoked salmon pinwheel with micro herbs, and wasabi mayonnaise, nicely presented on a fine porcelain plate bearing the airline logo, like the rest of the elegant dinner set and heavy cutlery. Paired with a chilled glass of intensely fruity “Swartland Chardonnay, 2015”. A remarkable South African white wine.
As a main dish, we ordered “Lamb Stew Arabic Style with Cumin”, accompanied with mixed roasted vegetables, and baked potato with herb butter. Palatable, with a glass of “Doña Paula Malbec 2015” from the vineyards Los Indios, Altamira, Argentina.
The selection of bread was particularly fresh and delicious. Just like purchased from the nearest bakery.
The “Dark Cherry Cheese Cake with Orange Coulis”, served in style from a trolley, with a selection of flavored teas, was yummy. We paired it with one glass of richly aromatic Cognac Camus XO Elegance. The purser kindly offered us some fine chocolates to pair our digestive.
For those still hungry after such a gastronomic experience, a selection of sandwiches is available throughout the flight, together with an open bar.
Our dinner was served early enough to allow us a good sleep.
After a soft wake up with a hot napkin, we got a copious breakfast. Seasonal fruits and the traditional “Kiribath”, coconut milk rice paired with a fish curry and “Seeni Sambai” (onions simmered in tamarind, sugar, and spices), were a perfect introduction to the exotic cuisine awaiting us in Sri Lanka.
It took ten hours to reach Male/Maldives Velana Airport (MLE), on a soft landing after a panoramic low altitude flight over the atolls, amazingly beautiful barriers of corals and virgin islands, This is one of UL most deserved destinations. The LHR - CMB route normally doesn't stop-over in MLE; this happened to us due to some repairs on the CMB runways, which ended in April 2017. Quite a lot of passengers disembarked, while other embarked smoothly, and mostly in Economy class. Our purser introduced some passengers to the station manager, and the atmosphere was so cordial in the cabin. That stop-over was like a pleasant break before taking off to our final destination. Camera in hand one more time to capture the beauty of the islands.
It takes another one hour and thirty minutes to fly from MLE to CMB. UL operates 4 flights per day between the two destinations. Snacks are served, featuring a selection of Assorted Sandwiches, Roast Beef, Chicken and Coriander, Grilled Vegetables and Cheese, and liquors/tea/coffee or juice. We found it remarkable for such a short-haul flight.
We landed on time (16:35) at Colombo Bandaranaike Intl Airport. A modern structure erected in 2013, this is a pleasant entry to Sri Lanka. Our special business class services featured a dedicated welcome exiting the cabin: a charged VIP treatment provided to inbound passengers requesting special assistance by the Airport Authorities.
We ordered a comfortable Toyota Premio G Superior with a skilled guide-driver for an unforgettable eight days excursion through the island by Blue Lanka Tours: that was a smooth transition from the exquisite SriLankan business class. This leading tour operator, with a Certificate of Excellence by Tripadvisor, is from our personal experience definitely the most adapted to the special requirements of high profile travelers, looking for tailor-made tours, the finest hotels, cinematographic safaris, and a special VIP treatments visiting monuments (no queue, UNESCO guides...). Business travellers with a busy agenda can enjoy one of Blue Lanka signature tours: a day tour to spicy Colombo or legendary Kandy.
Note that departing passenger can use the SriLankan Silk Route package, available on a complimentary basis to business class passengers. The Silk Route premium service features fast track through immigration and customs. There is no courtesy limousine service from downtown to the airport; this service only operates in London, also subject to conditions.
Once in Colombo, we transferred our excellent impressions to partners and noticed that most of them, whatever their citizenship, preferred SriLankan to Lufthansa, Air France/KLM or British Airways. Confirming one more time that flying a middle-sized, “boutique airline”, is a perfect choice. We shall indeed repeat the experience with SriLankan, covering 100 destinations in 47 countries (including codeshare flights) across Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Far East.
Our tip: if you are a frequent flyer, use your Oneworld or SriLankan FlySmiLes miles to be upgraded. There is also an excellent way to access this five star C class, using the “Bid Now For Business Class” program, bidding online after purchasing your ticket and standing a chance to dine, wine, entertain and sleep in style in the sky!
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