I’m a diehard Qatar Airways fan but I also know a flight bargain when I see one. So, in need of a quick vacation, when I saw a fare to Singapore on Sri Lankan Airlines for just over QR3000 in business class, I pounced.
But what was it really like to fly this airline? Here’s my honest feedback after my recent trip:
Many interesting options flying east: Out of Doha, this is a legitimate possibility. Through their hub in Colombo, you can connect with Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and several cities in China as well as The Maldives and Japan. They even fly to Australia (Melbourne) – which, when combined with a longer stopover in Sri Lanka could make for a great Summer escape.
Colombo is a small, manageable airport: No huge distances between gates makes for a transit-friendly hub, especially on a short layover.
Free 15 minute massages in the lounge: Yes! I know! The ayurvedic head, back or foot massages were a welcome relief.
Great onboard food: Drawing heavily on the food of Sri Lanka, I found the food consistently tasty and well presented. Unlike Qatar Airways and their dine on demand concept, you are served your meal on one tray and choices were restricted, but I found it fresh and spicy. I can especially recommend the vegetarian and seafood options as well as their garlic bread. Their business class champagne is Piper-Heidsieck and you can even sample small batch gin made in Sri Lanka.
And…You can pre-order your meal: This gives you a wider selection and has some more Western options. This has to be done before you fly but is more expansive than some other airlines who only allow you to pre-order from the menu for that flight.
The Ceylon tea selection: I see you arching your eyebrows in disdain but bear with me. Sri Lanka is known for its tea and it makes sense their national carrier would have an excellent selection. Even their black tea is great. It’s served in proper cups and saucers with a silver tray and doily. Fancy!
Exceptional crew: Without fail I found the staff – onboard and on the ground – warm, friendly and quick with a smile (and a joke). In-flight they were hard working and responsive. This makes a real difference.
Prices: As I said, you can get a business class fare to Colombo and beyond for around QR3000 to QR5000. Recently a friend traveled to Melbourne with her family in business class for QR10,000 for the three of them which is incredible value.
It’s in the One World Alliance: So, that means you get points on your Qatar Airways Privilege Club (including those all-important Q Points) as well as your One World status perks like lounge access and check-in privileges. Allow around a week after your flights are completed for them to be reflected in your account.
Stopover potential: Sri Lanka makes an exotic and family friendly stopover on your way back from your main destination. Citizens of many countries can get a visa on arrival thanks to their ETA system and you can choose to stay a couple of days in the city or head to their famed beaches or jungle.
Aircraft: I feel I experienced the full gamut of Sri Lankan’s fleet, and not all of it was impressive. My Doha- Colombo plane was one of their newer ones – big comfy seats, legroom for days, amenity kits, wifi and responsive, up-to-date and expansive inflight entertainment. But the return Colombo-Doha flight even saw the crew joke about the age of the plane and it’s, ahem, quirks. There was no in-seat entertainment (we were offered bulky mini VCRs pre-loaded with a limited selection – hello, 2006 called) and the seats (which barely reclined) had seen better days. So, do some research before you fly as to what plane is being used on that route and flight.
Pick your connections well: Not all connections are created equal. I had planned to go to Guangzhou, but the connection times ranged from eight to 14 hours – not feasible for a short trip. I was lucky in that my Singapore trip required layovers of just 1.5 hours each way.
Lacking in the bells and whistles: Let’s be honest, flying Qatar Airways has spoiled me. Luxe amenity kits and PJs, on-demand dining, Godiva chocolates, the lounges in Doha. As mentioned, I only saw one, very basic (and uninspired Aigner) amenity kit in all four flights. While I loved the food, others may find it repetitive and constricting, especially on short trips. First world problem? Hell yes. But if these things are important to you…it’s worth knowing.
The lounge is spacious but not luxurious: Again, a first world problem but if you have a stopover longer than three hours, it’s a little less than ideal. There are showers and a relaxation area and the food is plentiful (as is the open bar with spirits) and replaced regularly, but it’s still cramped at peak times and missing that wow factor.
There is a lot to like about flying Sri Lankan – the staff, the food and of course, the prices. But you do get what you pay for. If you have a bit of time on your hands and in search of a bit of luxury for less, this airline is a great option. Would I fly again? Absolutely.