A service roller coaster: Review of SriLankan Airlines business class on the A330-300
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SriLankan Airlines is a small carrier with just 26 aircraft in its fleet, so it sometimes gets overlooked. But it’s a member of the Oneworld alliance with British Airways, American Airlines and 10 other major carriers, so it was high time we gave Sri Lanka’s flag carrier a whirl.
Its direct flight between London Heathrow (LHR) and Colombo (CMB) is a great way to get to Sri Lanka using Avios or other Oneworld miles like American Airlines’. And Colombo is also a great jumping-off point to nearby destinations such as the Maldives. Flying through Colombo is also a good way to score phenomenally cheap tickets in premium classes, such as Emirates First.
Ultimately, this SriLankan flight ended up below the 79-point average score of our long-haul business-class reviews. The airline delivered a great food experience and did relatively well on the ground, but couldn’t keep up in the service department.
TPG used just 42,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book a one-way business-class ticket from Male, Maldives, to London via Colombo. The other obvious way to book the flight would be with Avios.
Round-trip cash tickets in business class from Colombo to London, and vice versa, averaged the equivalent of $3,500 (about £2,690) in March and April.
As I approached the airport in a taxi, I noticed a sign for business-class passengers pointing off to the left of the main road into the airport. It was marked Silk Route, the name SriLankan gives the ground experience for its business-class passengers.
The cab pulled up outside and staff immediately brought up trolleys to take my bags to the terminal. There was a security check to get inside the building. All bags were scanned and people had to walk through metal detectors as an extra security measure. My name was then checked off a physical passenger manifest and I was led to one of two check-in desks, which were both empty. There was a huge seating area with tables and chairs.
I went out into the main terminal, walking past the main check-in desk on my way. I noticed there was a dedicated Sri Lankan business-class desk here too, which was also for Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire elite members, and a second priority check-in lane for Oneworld Ruby members.
The lines at immigration were short and I headed into the main airside departure hall. The airport is actually quite fun, with a row of over-the-top souvenir shops besides the more typical international duty-free options.
There were two lounges I was eligible to use: the Serenediva for Oneworld Sapphire members, and the superior Serendib for business-class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members. I checked out the more basic lounge first, which was small, drab, windowless and rather depressing. It also had poor food offerings — although at 11 a.m. they were between meals, according to a sign.
The Serendib is more impressive. It’s brighter, with runway views through large windows. The greeting at the door was welcoming and I was offered a 20-minute complimentary massage.
There are plenty of seating areas, and although the lounge was busy, it still had plenty of free chairs.
There are two showers in the men’s bathroom and the facilities were clean.
The food was varied, with local, Asian and Western options. I tried some of the local offerings — butter chicken, chili poppadoms and vegetable biryani. They were excellent.
I was called for the spa treatment I’d booked and asked if I wanted a foot massage. I didn’t ask about other options, but the lady sitting next to me was getting a back massage.
I’m glad I took them up on the massage. The treatment was fantastic, using oils and reflexology techniques, and I even got a little pot of ayurvedic balm as a gift on my way out. The spa is actually a weird little box of a room with two chairs, but it really did the trick.
Overall the lounge was a great experience, even if it was a little rough around the edges. The quality of the food, the charming staff and the fun treatment carried the day.
It was a five-minute stroll down to Gate 12 where the A330-300 was waiting. Full security is carried out at each gate, and there wasn’t much time to wait as I was one of the last to reach the waiting area. Boarding began around 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 12.50 p.m. A separate channel for business class led to door 1L — first on the left — and straight into the biz cabin.
SriLankan is among the airlines that give their airplanes names; the Airbus taking us to London was a four-year-old jet named City of Senkadagalapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as the Sacred City of Kandy
Cabin and Seat
Flight attendants, decked out in blue saris with a peacock-feather motif, welcomed me and pointed me to my seat.
The business cabin of SriLankan’s A330-300s is arranged in seven rows of four seats in a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone configuration. The centre pair of seats are angled into each other and are better for a couple, but you have to lean forward to see each other.
This is a much better business-class product than on SriLankan’s smaller A330-200s, which have three rows of seats in 2-2-2 configuration, meaning not everybody has direct aisle access.
On the A330-300s, seats are upholstered in a teal-coloured leather with a grey/beige headrest, which I thought I would hate after researching the cabin ahead of the flight. However, the seat actually looks quite smart; the photos I had seen made it look cheaper than it did in real life.
Mine was 3K, a right-hand window seat.
There is ample leg room, with a seat pitch of 78 inches. The seat is comfortable with plenty of padding.
At shoulder level, there is a reading light, IFE control panel, USB and universal power outlet, plus a seat-control panel.
The tray table extends from the console at the side of the seat and swings out in a folded position. It can then be folded out to double in size. It’s not huge, but comfortably fits a 15-inch Macbook.
The area above where the table folds away is the only significant flat surface, and there are two other small storage areas — one underneath this console and one by the footwell for storing magazines. There is also an armrest that must remain stowed for taxi, takeoff and landing.
The seat extends into a fully flat position for sleeping. When you lie down, your feet tuck into the footwell underneath the seat in front. No mattress pad is provided.
There are two toilets at the front of the cabin for the sole use of business-class passengers. They are run-of-the-mill bathrooms but with hand wash, hand cream and mouthwash.
Amenities and IFE
A soft and good-quality pillow was on my seat when I arrived. Shortly after sitting down, the crew handed out a blanket, which was thin but very soft and felt high-quality.
They also handed out an Aigner-branded amenity kit containing toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, moisturiser, tissues, a hairbrush, hand sanitiser and earplugs.
A separate pack of SriLankan-branded socks and a good-quality eye mask were left at the seat.
Headphones were hanging on a small hook on the seat. They carried the SriLankan logo and seemed a bit beaten up but they worked OK, although they were not noise-cancelling, which has become a business-class benchmark.
Wi-Fi was available on board but it kept dropping out during the flight and cost a hefty $40 (about £31) for full-flight coverage, with a usage cap of only 400MB. The performance of the Wi-Fi was so bad that every attempt I made to test the speed failed.
The IFE screen was a good size at 15.4″ and operated by touchscreen or by the handheld control device. There were over 50 TV shows, 120 movies, audio shows, a moving map and front- and downward-facing live cameras.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Shortly after reaching my seat, I was offered pre-departure beverages (orange juice, water and Champagne) and hot towels.
Lunch orders were taken before departure and the lunch service began in earnest just 30 minutes into the flight.
I chose the Arabic mezze starter which included muhammara, tabouleh, dolmade and labneh. It was fresh and delicious, the perfect way to kick off the proceedings.
For the main course, the crew recommended the signature Sri Lankan-style chicken curry which was served with tempered beetroot, bitter gourd mallung, vegetable cutlet, and steamed basmati rice. It was exceptional, with delicious and subtle spices and good accompaniments, save for the bitter gourd mallung which was way too bitter for me (the warning was in the name). I washed this down with an Argentinian Sauvignon Blanc.
After clearing the main, the crew brought a cheese tray, which was still wrapped in cling film and a little sad, but the accompanying fruit plate had fat chunks of pineapple, papaya and watermelon and was juicy and perfect after the curry.
A trolley was then brought through the cabin with brandies and dessert wines, chocolate Sacher torte, and tea and coffee served out of beautiful silver jugs.
It didn’t stop there — the meal closed with a choice of sweet treats.
The menu stated that dine-on-demand was possible, although it looked like most everyone in the cabin took their food immediately because of the time of departure, but it was handy to know about the other option on a flight of almost 12 hours.
For the second meal, I chose the vegetable kottu roti, a spicy shredded roti dish with dal, which was tasty if heavy. The fresh fruit it came with was a good antidote to that heaviness.
The service ended up being a letdown. It was efficient on the whole, despite regular bursts of turbulence during the flight, and the crew showed flashes of warmth and excellence which made the overall service level harder to swallow.
The crew seemed distant at times, yet somewhere over the Persian Gulf half the crew burst out of the galley, wielding a guitar, to sing (quite beautifully, including harmonies) five Christmas carols. It was five days before Christmas, after all.
The good vibes came and went, though. Sometimes the crew were happy and friendly, and at other times I felt like I was a huge inconvenience, mainly on the few occasions I was just asking for water top-ups. Watching interactions with other passengers, it felt like crew members were going through the motions with fake smiles.
When I asked around seven hours into the flight if I could have a snack (it had been five-odd hours since I’d last eaten), a flight attendant barked that the next meal would be served in the next hour. This was at odds with the “dine on demand” stated in the menu, but all I was really after was a few nuts or something. I went back to my seat to wait for the meal, which came about 30 minutes later.
An hour before landing, I asked if there was anything sweet on board, maybe some chocolate. The response from the flight attendant was, “No, I gave everything to the other passengers,” and she turned to walk off. When I pushed and asked if there really was nothing at all, she rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, I can get you a biscuit.” I’m not sure why it needed to be so difficult.
It was just so confusing to have such rudeness alongside what was often very good service, especially at mealtimes.
SriLankan can often be overlooked because of its bigger Oneworld partners with far larger route networks, but its relatively new and modern A330-300s have a competitive business-class product with some real warmth and charm. Just be sure to choose the 300 model over the smaller A330-200 with the older business class.
It is the service that was inconsistent here, but had that been better, I would have felt very positively about the experience.
I can’t imagine Colombo is the most efficient place to transit though, so I would probably choose the big hubs of the Middle East to make connections unless the timing of flights really worked out. But as a way to get to and from Sri Lanka, I would be willing to give SriLankan another go and pray for a happier experience in what is otherwise a good seat with great food.
All photos by the author.
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