It’s not just the onboard hospitality you’ll notice on Sri Lankan Airlines, but the novelty of flying a carrier from the other side of the planet for many people.
Sri Lankan offers a window into the island nation’s local culture, which may be their first glimpse for many. This oneworld member has carved a niche on the Indian subcontinent that U.S. travelers should undoubtedly discover.
Colombo is the airline’s sole hub, and the carrier’s small but growing base at Bandaranaike International Airport seems to be bursting at the seams. That’s why it is fortunate that the airline is building a new lounge for its premium passengers and working to modernize the facility.
The airline flies a fleet of Airbus aircraft ranging from narrowbody A320 and A321 planes to longer-range A330 aircraft, most of which have flat-bed seating in Business Class.
My journey took me from Male, Maldives, to Doha, Qatar, with a connection in Colombo. The first sector was on a narrowbody A320 plane with recliner-style seats in a 2-2 configuration.
Boarding and Cabin
Check-in at Male could not have been friendlier, and once on the plane, I was greeted by a traditionally attired flight crew that offered a non-alcoholic pre-departure drink (since the Maldives is a dry country).
Paper menus were presented for the short flight, and I was impressed by the wealth of options, both on the entertainment screens and on the menu. I indulged in a Sri Lankan curry rich with flavor and some French wine on the short journey. The crew worked well to serve everyone their choice of meal and drink, along with top-ups of their beverage on this hour-long flight.
On such a flight in the United States, many crew will say one hour is too short even to serve drinks.
My transfer in Sri Lanka was smooth, albeit short, and Business Class passengers were met with a dedicated bus to take us from the remote stand to the terminal.
While initially worried about the fast connection, I had enough time to visit the lounge before getting to my next gate.
At the moment, Sri Lankan is using a temporary space for premium passengers as it works to build a new lounge at the airport. This will be a welcome addition as the current option is small, although the hot food and drink options were plentiful.
Security at Colombo is conducted at the gate, which means you’ll want to allow time between the lounge and the scheduled departure time for the flight. However, the staff was friendly, and I made my way into the holding area with time to spare.
Once onboard the A330, I was quickly impressed with the airline’s flagship plane used for its longest flights to Europe, Asia, and Australia. It was designed in a 1-2-1 layout, with all the window seats slightly positioned toward the aircraft wall, giving them more privacy.
Couples would do best choosing one of the center sections of seats. The seat’s shell is tall and firm, providing a cocoon feeling.
My flight to Doha would be less than five hours, but it was plenty of time to enjoy a delicious meal, tasty wine, a movie, and a few winks before landing.
Before takeoff, the crew offered a genuine welcome and greeting to each passenger, pointing out the seat’s features, a small amenity kit with socks, and the plushest eyeshades I have ever seen (I nicked two more from surrounding seats for future flights!) and the entertainment system.
Drinks—including a perky Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut Champagne that I had a refill of before takeoff—were offered before departure.
I particularly loved the cheeky cartoon safety video that Sri Lankan uses. It makes passengers want to pay attention and become fully informed of the aircraft’s safety features.
After takeoff, I leafed through the extensive menu that was more in-depth than the previous shorter flight. I again selected one of the Sri Lankan curries served with traditional noodles. I loved that it had genuine spice, which is often lacking on other airlines. It arrived on one tray with warm bread, an appetizer, cheese, and dessert.
Sri Lankan used to offer a more elaborate dining experience with meals presented from a trolley and in courses, but on many flights, it has been curtailed since the start of the pandemic. However, I hope the carrier returns to its elaborate presentation in previous years, as it was indeed a mark of differentiation.
I noticed that Sri Lankan was promoting a natural coconut water drink as part of an effort to highlight local products that are naturally hydrating and refreshing for air travel. It showed the airline’s effort to do something beyond the norm while highlighting local culture and produce. It made me want to look into cooking Sri Lankan recipes at home.
The headsets were easy to connect and provided good sound quality. While the entertainment selection was small, it had enough options to keep me interested for the length of this flight.
I liked that there was a water bottle in my seat and enough storage space to keep some reading materials out while charging my laptop and phone simultaneously.
After some entertainment, I reclined my seat to the 180-degree position, wrapped myself in the light blanket, and fell asleep using the soft pillow until I felt the light tap of the crew on the final descent. That’s precisely the kind of deep sleep you want on a long flight; it’s the kind that refreshes your body rather than tires you further.
Arrival, Final Verdict
Landing in Doha was smooth and on time, with many passengers connecting onward to oneworld partner Qatar Airways flights. Sri Lankan has carved a meaningful niche connecting travelers from Europe and the Middle East to parts of Asia and Australia via its Colombo hub.
Americans will find it an especially valuable partner for its frequent flights to Maldives and tourist hot spots like Bangkok, Thailand. In addition, the airline has proven that it has the resilience and willpower to become a small network carrier with big aspirations.