I'm on fire lately in writing flight reports of flights that I have taken this year. I have quite a backlog so I will try to be brief and let the pictures do the talking.
Background I would like to present to all of you yet another journey down under that I took to escape the hustle and bustle of living in Shanghai. This series will see me and my partner flying to two new destinations for both of us, Sri Lanka and The Maldives. Our original destination was actually only The Maldives. We wanted to visit a very good friend of ours who is working in one of the resorts in The Maldives. When we were searching for the best combination of price and timing, we found that Sri Lankan offered very competitive pricing both in economy and business class cabins. It also offers multiple daily flights between Colombo and Male; in fact, Colombo seems to be the gateway to Male for many airlines due to the proximity between two cities. We just want to be disconnected from the world for a couple of days so The Maldives sounds like the obvious choice. Little did we know that Sri Lanka would be the one that blew us away with its rich history, fascinating culture, beautiful nature, delicious food, and hospitable people.
We were hesitating whether or not to book the tickets in business class all the way or just book in economy class. Business class fare was extremely reasonable for the length of the flight and we knew that we would be getting the brand spanking new A330-300 with the new business class seats. However considering that The Maldives is just generally such an expensive destination and the flight from Male to Addu Atoll is also very expensive (around USD500 per person) , we decided to save the money and fly in economy.
In the end, our routing was finally set and it looks like this:
1. UL867 PVG-CMB [YOU ARE HERE] 2. UL101 CMB-MLE "Gateway to Paradise" 3. Q2 2102 MLE-GAN "We Crossed the Equator Line" 4. Q2 100 GAN-MLE "Islands Hopping" 5. UL220 MLE-CMB "Adventures Await!" 6. UL866 CMB-PVG "SriLankan at Its Best!"
I believe this is the first flight report that covers Srilankan's Shanghai service. So sit back and enjoy the report!
The Flight Route: PVG-CMB Date: April 30, 2016 Flight: UL867 Equipment: A330-300 Registration: 4R-ALN "City of Kolomtota" Seat: 21C (moved to 20A during take-off and landing) Scheduled Time Departure: 01.10 Actual Time Departure: 01.10 Estimated Time Arrival: 05.55 (GMT +5.30) Actual Time Arrival: 05.35 (GMT +5.30)
Due to the departure time, metro and maglev services are already suspended. So my partner and I decided to use a regular taxi. When we arrived at Terminal 1 (UL uses the older Terminal 1), it is deserted. I am not sure if you can see it clearly but that day, the smog (PM 2.5) level is very high. So actually we are quite happy to leave this toxic environment.
Our check-in is located in island K, nearby KLM and AF check-in counters. As you can see from the departure monitors, our flight is the last scheduled departure from T1
By the time we arrive at the check-in counters, we see a big line has formed in front of economy class check-in counter. When we booked the tickets, I was still Marco Polo Green. My partner had Top Bonus Gold from Air Berlin. However, he forgot to attach his membership number in our booking so for this check-in, we decide to just queue in the economy line. Not much to do anyway considering many shops are already closed. Not long after we queue, SriLankan crews arrive at the check-in counter. I really like their uniform. The colour is very graceful!
Check-in process is super slow and the agents don't seem to be in a hurry. Probably because they know we are not going anywhere since we are the last flight, no need to rush. Check-in agent indicated that today's flight will be full in both classes. She also confirmed that the airplane sports the new cabin. After check-in process is completed, we proceed to immigration and security check. It is a breeze and done in no time.
Everything is very quiet at this moment. Plus, the fact parts of T1 are being renovated does not help either.
We found some benches near our assigned gate. Today's flight will depart from Gate 17 which is located not too far from the main security check area. I am issued two boarding passes and my luggage is checked through to Male.
Today's flight will be performed by 4R-ALN "City of Kolomtota". A brand new A330-300 recently delivered to Sri Lankan. As of now, this jet is leased by PIA because UL is downsizing their operation to stem the losses while PIA is looking to improve its service. I really like the peacock logo on the tail. Very nice design!
I walked around the deserted Terminal 1 because boarding has been delayed. Nothing is opened and most shops are still under renovation. Most passengers just lounge around the boarding gate. If memory serves me well, UL uses the same MU lounge that I had visited during my trip to Bangkok.
Finally, boarding begins at 00.22 (10 mins past the posted time of 00.10) from Gate 17. Everyone just rushes to get onboard and the gate agents do not seem to be bothered with the rushing mob coming their way.
For your information, the name Colombo is derived from the word Kolomtota. So this aircraft has basically been christened as City of Colombo
A senior Sri Lankan flight attendant (I assume she is a senior ranking wise because she's the only one wearing the dark navy blue Sari) and a local Chinese flight attendant (not wearing Sari, wearing a regular skirt and jacket combo but in the same colour as other FAs) are standing at door L2. They are welcoming passengers. So far so good.
Initially, my assigned seat is 21C and my partner sits on 21A. After much pleading, he gives up his window seat but only for take-off and landing. During cruising he will get back his window seat because he wants to sleep without being bumped by FAs and other passengers. 21C is the row exactly behind the bulkhead row. This is the view that I have.
The bright blue seats really stand out and give the cabin a fresh look
This is how spacious the bulkhead seats are. Look at that leg room! Unfortunately these seats were already taken when we performed on-line check-in. Headsets are already preplaced on our seats.
Each seat comes with leg rest though I do not use it because I find the setting to be quite uncomfortable.
Leg room is decent and the IFE box is so small it does not restrict my space at all
Individual air vents are also available. I really like this because I can open it when I feel the temperature of the cabin too warm and I can also close it when I feel cold. Sadly, many airlines have eliminated this simple yet effective feature
I notice that during boarding, flight attendants are standing around the cabin but they are not actively helping passengers to settle down. They don't bark at passengers but they don't smile too. Seems a bit distant and just going through the motions.
The TV is of decent size and with HD and touch screen features. IFE is 'half activated' in the sense that one can browse around but can't really watch a movie or do anything other than browsing. My initial gut feeling is that the selections are not very good. The database is not very updated, plenty of older movies, and probably leans heavily towards Bangla, Sinhalese, and Bollywood movies (which makes sense since UL is an airline from sub-Indian continent)
As boarding nears completion (almost 1AM), the captain comes over the PA system and announces that today's flight will take about 6 hours and 40 minutes to complete and that we have been assigned initial cruising altitude of FL340. With his very strong Australian accent, he wishes us a pleasant journey. Luckily, the nose wheel camera is activated. So I just stay with this view for a while.
At 01.07, all doors are closed and bang on time at 01.10, we are pushed back. Mind you that during boarding, there is no other service performed by the Flight Attendants. No hot towel, no literature handed out, no candy, etc. This is my view as we are being pushed back.
It's dark outside and the lights are not dimmed while we taxi out to runway 16R. So all my attempts to take night shots fail miserably. I turn my attention to the seat pocket.
Nice fluffy pillow and the size is quite big for economy class
'Serendib' inflight magazine is pretty nice. It contains nice articles and the paper and images are of high quality. The word Serendib is the Arabic rendering of Serendip, the old Persian name of Sri Lanka.
Safety instructions, air sickness bag, duty free catalogue, etc
While we taxi, safety video is being played. I like the caricatures of different Sri Lankan people. At the same time, flight attendants are walking down the cabin handing out wet tissue
We are rolling slowly to runway 16R which is actually adjacent to Terminal 2. So that means a very long taxi because we have to use the west-east cross taxiway and then head up north towards the end of Terminal 2 and cargo area to reach the threshold of runway 16R. I guess this is due to the wind.
Just before we reach the runway, the mood lighting is activated in full swing
Captain performs rolling take-off and we lift off into a dark cloudy sky
At this time, the IFE is in full swing. I really like the instructions! it comes handy to teach passengers how to use the IFE to its maximum potential
After take off, the cabin lights are turned on again. I notice that many passengers are already fallen asleep including my partner. However, noises from the galley and the constant chatter only signify that there will be some kind of meal service. Probably snack service because it is already very late. To everyone's surprise, we are handed full fledge menu card. The menu confirms that we will be served a full hot meal service. The menu card itself contains both Colombo-Shanghai and Shanghai-Colombo options. The design is very attractive and the paper used is of high quality
I choose the chicken option. I must admit that the taste is good and the portion is quite filling. Maybe it's the late departure that makes me feel full. Note that the utensils are all metal.
I really appreciate the fact that UL uses real glass (with attractive design too!) for water
Flight attendants are very quiet though. When they hand out the menu and the food, they don't really say anything other than "Menu" or "Chicken or Fish option?". Every now and then I see they smile, but other than that they seem robotic. They are not rude or unprofessional but they are not warm and friendly either. They do attend to call button fast though!
They come back to make another round of beverage service and collect empty trays. I ask for the famous Ceylon tea. To be honest, I don't really taste the difference between the tea that I consume in other countries. I am just an amateur, I guess?
Finally at around 02.20, all trays are cleared and the cabin plunges into darkness. Menu cards are also collected after dinner service. Most passengers choose to sleep. I cannot sleep because I feel that the cabin temperature is way too warm. Even with the help from individual air nozzle, I still find it hard to feel comfortable. I switch seat with my partner and he immediately goes to la-la land and sleep like a baby.
I take the advantage to hit the lavatory. The one that I go to is not very clean because there is still water in the sink and bits and pieces of toilet paper on the floor. There are two bottles of Sri Lankan branded eau de cologne but I doubt that people actually use it.
When I get out of the lavatory, I notice that the flight attendants are congregating at the galley and they are talking and sharing stories quite loud. Perhaps that's their way to stay awake? There is also no water run at all. Water service is only handled individually
So I come back to my seat and turn on the TV and watch some movies and TV series. The headset is so-so btw. Since we are on a flight to south Asia, I choose a random Bollywood movie to entertain myself. Turns out this movie is really entertaining, not because the story line is particularly well-written with deep philosophy behind it or the acting is incredible, but because it's done so over the top that at times I just can't believe that people actually like it. I chuckle a couple of times. I guess this is cultural difference 101 lesson for me :)
After the movie ends, I drift on and off sleep. The noise from the galley and the warm temperature proves too much for me. Then suddenly the lights are turned on again. I am feeling a bit lost as I look at my watch. It reads 4.00AM. Can you guess what happens next? It is duty free! So bizarre! Obviously no one partakes in duty free as they are still sleeping. Those that are awake are probably in a very grumpy mood now.
I see that flight attendants are busy preparing something at the galley. Soon the carts rolled down on both sides of the aisle. It's breakfast time!
How disappointed I feel after the flight attendant passes by. This is breakfast according to UL. It's basically roti. It has two fillings. One roti is filled with a strip of chicken and the other option is roti with carrot stick. Obviously my partner chooses to continue his sleep and kindly 'sacrifices' his breakfast for me. I take a bite and that's it.
At this point, another FA comes by and collect the headset. But it's still about 1 hour away from STA. Good thing I bring my own earphones!
At 05.00 Sri Lanka time, the Co-pilot comes over the blower and announces that we will have an early arrival. We will touch down at 05.30 and we will dock at the gate at 05.35. Sure enough, 5 minutes later descent begins. I wake my partner up and we switch seats again. The cabin is also sprayed as normal for flights to this region
Outside, the sun begins to rise. The inflight map has stopped working too so I really don't know where we are at the moment and which direction are we using to approach Bandanaraike airport.
Colombo looks like a sleepy quiet town at this hour
From what I can tell, we make a straight-in approach to runway 22. We touch down precisely at 05.30 and we dock at 05.35. Along the way to the gate I notice UL's former partner in crime EK and its new ally QR parked at adjacent gates.
The engines are switched off and passengers slowly stand up to gather their belongings. I guess most of them are still feeling groggy including myself and my partner. Doors are opened at 05.38 and we make our way out easily. Thanks 4R-ALN for the ride!
Colombo airport is very compact so it is very easy to navigate. I notice that it's very packed with passengers though. Maybe it's time to upgrade and enlarge?
We look for transfer desk to inquire our next flight. The kind lady behind the counter informs us that all we need to do is to just go straight to the gate that will be displayed very soon in the monitor. The transfer procedure is super duper easy.
Anyway, that ends our first leg to paradise. Stay tuned for the next installment!
Shanghai - PVG
Colombo - CMB
After this experience, I have a big doubt about Sri Lankan. Quite mixed feelings actually!
Some positive virtues that I noted: + The plane is new with fresh and clean cabin + Acceptable pitch, no large IFE box + Plush pillow + Dinner service is good. Portion and taste are good. Metal cutlery and real glassware + HD screen and so-so program. When it works, it's enough to keep me entertain + Cheap ticket price + Lovely branding! Love the peacock design, the uniform, the embossed logo on the glass and silverware, the high quality magazine, etc.
Aspects that I think they can improve: - Dirty lavatory - Robotic flight attendants that just go through the motions. They also make a lot of noise in the galley - Weird service schedule. Duty free at 4am in the morning? Hot meal at 2AM? - IFE froze - Super warm temperature - sub-par breakfast
Overall, based on this experience, I feel that UL is borderline LCC-like. There are some elements that define them as full fledged legacy airlines but there are some elements that feel cheap and just tacky. Quite noticeable that there are elements that they they tried to retain from their previous partnership with EK.
However, considering the price that we paid for the tickets, we're okay with what we get in return :)
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