La compagnie qui obtient la meilleure moyenne est Singapore Airlines avec 8.7/10.
La durée moyenne des vols est de 3 heures et 43 minutes.More information
Compared to recent reports, this one will be heavy on text. While the pictures are half of the limit — in contrast to several of my previous reports, where they were bursting near the cap — I could not stop myself from packing in a lot of textual descriptions here, that too an airline as heartfelt and warmly welcoming as SriLankan, not to mention the special cake! Also, it’s a nice coincidence that my previous SriLankan review (on UL308 in the reverse CMB–SIN direction) was posted on 4 June 2023 — the very day that I returned from my two-day Bali trip on two Garuda Indonesia A330-300s — and this one has been published on 4 February 2024, also a Sunday!
Low-cost carriers like Jetstar Asia and IndiGo can step aside, for now it’s time for the smallest full member of Oneworld to return to the spotlight it much rightly hogged at the start of April 2023. Such tropical-island hospitality, warmth, service and product few others (except, of course, Garuda Indonesia) can replicate — so much so that I made SriLankan Airlines my most-flown airline of 2023, with four flights on 4R-registered aircraft (one of them appearing twice!), compared to three on Singapore Airlines including the A380. Still, it was one short of five flights on Thai Airways in 2022 — an airline that features later below, and not for a good reason — as I went for breadth instead of depth in 2023, with as many as 16 airlines covered across 27 flights. (Star: AI, ET, SQ, TG; Oneworld: UL (this airline) and CX; SkyTeam: KL — first flight on the alliance, that too in alliance livery — plus GA and VN; non-alliance FSCs: UK and GF; LCCs: AK, 3K, TR, 6E, VJ.)
Having chosen to fly them in April 2023, for the final flight out of my two-decade home of Chennai — at a time when my then-office room, in Tampines in the east of Singapore near Changi, was located right above SriLankan’s office! — and received the same old A330-200, the now-retired 4R-ALB, twice (but very much well-maintained with excellent IFE) instead of the fresh and modern A330-300 (with a nose camera!), I swore that I’d fly UL again, this time to Bengaluru, before the year ended. This trip was taken in November 2023 for the Diwali holidays, or the ‘Festival of Lights’ as it’s popularly known as.
The motive was specifically to fly the A330-300, the all-Airbus airline’s largest and most modern aircraft — seeing as it’s not in a position to order the A350 — on either the SIN–CMB or CMB–BLR legs, with the former being more likely. In fact, during the IATA summer schedule, SriLankan operated a twice-weekly afternoon flight, UL303 — an extremely rare afternoon flight to the Indian Subcontinent — from Singapore to Colombo on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Moreover, the 4x-weekly UL171 connecting flight from CMB to BLR (operated from Saturdays to Tuesdays) — typically operated by one of five A320s (4R-ABL–ABO and 4R-MRE) but also, sometimes, the all-white A321 4R-ABQ that I ended up getting — has a convenient early-evening departure, which gets you home in Bengaluru well in time for bed.
This was exactly the pairing I wanted to take, and since Saturday was the only day in common between the two flights, I booked the itinerary for 11 November. Funnily enough, the CMB–SIN leg originally showed up as being operated by the ‘A321 sharklets’ — which UL doesn’t have if this refers to the sharkletted A321ceo; it does have four A321neos — and the much shorter CMB–BLR by the A330-300, though the reverse is usually the case. Since it was the beginning of the Diwali holidays, I even proceeded to order a special cake inflight (as in the cover image) — it doesn’t have to be a birthday cake! — via the airline’s special requests page, a couple of weeks before the flight.
Poof! went the afternoon flight from Singapore…
However, when I went to the manage-my-booking site at the end of October 2023, I found out — to my horror — that the UL303 afternoon SIN–CMB flight had vanished without a trace from my itinerary, at the start of the IATA winter schedule on 29 October, and that too without any prior intimation whatsoever from the airline’s end. The result was that UL309, which is operated in the late evening, became — and remains — SriLankan’s only flight from Singapore to Colombo on any day of the week, and whether (if at all) it will return in the next IATA summer schedule is a big IF. I was horrified that SriLankan did not even take the courtesy to inform me that UL303 with its lovely, sunny flight times would no longer operate during the winter schedule. If the plan was always to eliminate UL303 after 29 October, why were tickets even sold in the first place? Had I known that the option wouldn’t exist — given the airline’s extremely limited all-Airbus fleet — I wouldn’t even have thought of booking it. Naturally, this completely threw my best-laid plans for a toss, and with UL303 having disappeared entirely, the connecting UL171 leg made no sense at all.
There was only one option left if I were to continue with SriLankan: take the UL309 night flight to Colombo, followed by the UL173 redeye to Bengaluru, which operates from Wednesdays to Fridays instead of the early-evening UL171. (Also, since UL173 operates only on those days, I had to take UL309 on a Thursday evening — 9 November — followed by the redeye UL173 soon after midnight on Friday.) There was absolutely no way I could avoid UL173’s wretched times (scheduled for 1am to 2:30am) — unless, of course, I were to spend half a day waiting at the dilapidated, extremely outdated and small Bandaranaike Airport waiting for a flight to BLR. It’s a place so broken, no one in their right mind should spend any more than four hours there. Anyway, now that the solution had presented itself, all that was left was to book UL309 and UL173 on 9 and 10 November, respectively, with a layover of barely a few hours at Bandaranaike Airport.
With the biggest hurdle being crossed, however, I’m happy to say that this was the one and only negative thing I could say about SriLankan Airlines throughout my flying with them in 2023. I wholeheartedly recommend flying with them, and urge you to support this tiny, lovely little airline if you can — all the more so if you hold Oneworld Sapphire/Emerald status, as there’s not a more heartwarming member of the blue-circle group, other than perhaps the alliance’s only Connect member: Fiji Airways, which has the A350s (though only three of them) that SriLankan doesn’t. Even on the connecting UL173 redeye, despite 4R-ABQ — its sole A321ceo — being devoid of any paint on the outside and hence looking like a temporary lease, inside it was anything but temporary: the plush leather seats, remarkable IFE and lovable warmth go to show just how consistently wonderful SriLankan is, even with its limited fleet and financials.
In the next instalment (on the redeye CMB–BLR leg) I’ll talk more about the couple of new aircraft that SriLankan has inducted: a secondhand A320, 4R-ABS (all-white like 4R-ABQ), and two leased A330-200s from Air Belgium, which keep their livery and Austrian OE- registrations.
…but at least SriLankan didn’t ‘TG’ me like only TG can
All told, I was elated that SriLankan kept its A330-300 promise on the UL309 leg, with 4R-ALO surprisingly being the one that I flew — since the most likely candidate based on previous operating history was 4R-ALN — and that I was able to experience for myself what it had to offer on its largest and most modern aircraft. (Funnily, the afternoon UL303 that I’d booked was originally shown as operating by the ‘A321 sharklets’, which probably meant A321neos as SriLankan has four of those: 4R-ANC–ANF.) The avgeek I am, I’d similarly booked the return via Bangkok on 18 November so as to fly the exotic Gulf Air 787-9 (GF166) to Singapore, with the BLR–BKK flight (TG326) on the Thai Airways A350 — which I’d flown in the opposite direction in early June 2022. But I’m afraid Thai Airways ‘TGed’ me by sending none other than the 777-200ER, my arch-nemesis and bête noire, a ghastly contraption and ancient, derelict tube that I’d had the misfortune of flying in late June 2022 and wished never to experience again… only for
schaden Thai-denfreude to laugh at me in the face.
That too on a route that’s typically pretty consistently operated by an A350, only for it to have a maintenance problem at the last minute after the previous flight… with the result that TG sent its oldest plane, HS-TJR, to Bengaluru instead of the bunch of other A350s that it’s inducted recently — some of them ex-Hainan Airlines birds, including HS-THQ in the Star Alliance livery, which I managed to spot at BKK during my layover. It’s sad that this terrible thing was to be my only HS-registered aircraft in all of 2023 — in stark contrast to five of them in 2022, including three A350s and a 787-9 — not long after Thailand went visa-free for Indians from November 2023 to May 2024, and should I transit via BKK in 2024, I might not enjoy the hours-long layover in Bangkok’s malls and traffic like I could on this occasion.
Perhaps this was an indication from Fate that: (a) having already flown the brilliant violet TG A350 (with its gorgeous tail camera, which SQ doesn’t have) thrice in June 2022 — but also the awful 777-200ER — I was only destined to get my worst fear realised again instead of the pleasure of the A350; and (b) the TG 777-200ER was going absolutely nowhere and remained in my destiny — despite non-ER 777s and A340s and 747s and A380s all getting the axe — and those five HS-TJ-series aircraft remain, for all their ugliness, an essential cornerstone of the TG fleet. Anyway, this is but a first-world problem, and I’m incredibly grateful that even on its worst aircraft, I was able to fly Thai Airways’ violet Royal Orchid — one that remains for me the best livery in the world, since violet is my favourite colour.
As for Gulf Air’s 787-9, A9C-FC: incredible cabin product, spectacular-looking IFE, pitch-perfect typography — the last of which I’d rank the best in the world, alongside Cathay Pacific — but when it came to the food and service, it was a slightly different story. Fortunately, SriLankan Airlines’ delightfulness is remarkably consistent across its small fleet, and UL309 was the best example of it by far, with the best aircraft to match… and a NOSE CAMERA!!! (All the more reason why this should really have been on the afternoon UL303, with its unbeatable oceanic views, but…) It’s no exaggeration to say that this was one of my top flights of 2023, at least as far as service (and that chocolate cake!) is concerned, and I absolutely can’t wait to fly SriLankan Airlines again — all the more so if the afternoon UL303 is ever brought back, which I sure hope for, even though there’s not much chance for it to return.
Thursday, 9 November. For much of the morning I played the game of ‘who’s most likely to come to Singapore?’ among the airline’s A330-300s. Given that the inbound UL308’s departure time from Colombo was at 12:15pm local time, this quickly ruled out 4R-ALR, the last of seven A330-300s, which was returning from London as UL504; and 4R-ALL, the first of seven, which was headed to Melbourne as UL604. Moreover, 4R-ALM had just started to depart from Tokyo Narita and 4R-ALQ was out of action for the past several weeks, leaving 4R-ALN, ALO and ALP.
The initial favourite for my flight seemed to be 4R-ALN, which was returning from Lahore (LHE), Pakistan, as UL154 — having previously flown for that country’s flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), in 2016 under the ‘Pakistan Premier’ branding: the only aircraft to ever do so. (Yes, SriLankan Airlines flies to Pakistan — an abnormality for most Asian airlines outside the Gulf, with the exceptions of Thai Airways and Batik Air Malaysia.) Close by, Iraqi Airways’ first — and, at the time, only — 787-8, YI-ATC, was returning from Guangzhou back to Baghdad as IA474.
My word, for an airline from a previously war-stricken country, Iraqi Airways has been very nicely refreshing its fleet, with brand-new A220-300s, 737 MAX 8s and 787-8s to add to its existing fleet, consisting mostly of 737-800s plus the odd A320, A321 and A330-200 — and even the super-rare, ultra-long-range 777-200LR. (Quite unlike Garuda Indonesia, also departing from Tokyo now, which — like SriLankan — has no fleet renewal plans whatsoever as it’s content with its A330s and 777s… and will never operate the A350 or 787.)
By afternoon, the plane flying to Singapore was confirmed to be 4R-ALO: a bit surprising since I’d expected either 4R-ALN or 4R-ALP, which has a ‘Kandy Esala Perahera’ — Festival of the Tooth — decal at the front and back, with cartoon illustrations showing this Sri Lankan festival. Regardless, it wasn’t a bad thing to get the middle child in a family of seven A330-300s, all of which were delivered new to SriLankan in 2014–16.
Meanwhile, the number of aircraft flying between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia in the nearby airspace was insane: a Garuda 777-300ER (PK-GIC) from Banda Aceh (BTJ) at the northern tip of Sumatra; another such (PK-GII in the SkyTeam livery) from Jakarta; a Lion Air A330-300 (PK-LEH) from Palembang (PLM) to Medina (MED) — Lion’s A330-300s and A330-900neos are only ever used on Hajj and Umrah flights — in addition to two Saudia 777-300ERs: its own HZ-AK12 from Jakarta to Jeddah, and the leased 9H-AZE in the opposite direction!
No wonder that Indonesia has so many widebodies dedicated for Hajj/Umrah purposes, including Lion Air’s entire widebody fleet, which today consists of only the above A330s but also had 747s in the past.
It was a cheerful, emotional leaving from office: a colleague’s birthday was coming the following week, but since he — and I — wouldn’t be around at that time, a couple of office friends decided to surprise him a week in advance with a cake! Now I was fully expecting to be eating cake on today’s flight, but not necessarily in this form!
Before long I had to leave, waving goodbye to one and all, and it was a bit after five when the Grab arrived. This was the first time that I saw the car number show up in my iPhone 14 Pro’s so-called Dynamic Island, a result of what Apple calls Live Activities.
My black Hyundai Elantra (a very rare instance for a Grab) sped through the rainy roads, from my office, the CPF building in Novena — a healthcare destination not too far from the CBD of Singapore, with a number of high-rise skyscrapers — via the East Coast Parkway (ECP) expressway to my home near the east coast.
Along the way I got to see the latest Toyota Prius hybrid in the blue ComfortDelGro taxi livery, and I’m afraid it looks ugly to my eyes, with Toyota completely ruining a successful liftback design by moving the number plate to the bottom. The Hyundai Ioniq — another mainstay of Singapore’s blue taxi fleet — has always looked like this, and there was no need for Toyota to do the same. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by a vintage Volvo sedan parked in my apartment compound, a product of no later than the 1980s.
As I like to do before embarking on week-long holidays from Singapore, I took some panoramic shots of my room, including the Emirates A380 in blue Dubai Expo colours on top of the cupboard with mirrors, and the hand-fan courtesy South Korea’s Asiana Airlines — with cute, colourful mascots (which I also saw in the gargantuan Lotte Mall, Hanoi West Lake, on New Year’s Day) — standing on top of the narrow bookshelf.
After collecting my suitcases, at 5:45 I headed out in another Grab, and caught another rare specimen — this late-2000s Renault Clio hatchback — in our parking compound, before heading out past the mostly-constructed Siglap MRT station. This is set to open its doors around the middle of 2024, when the seven-station Stage 4 stretch of the Thomson–East Coast Line on the east coast is inaugurated.
At six or so, I was already nearing up to the rows and rows of blue-and-gold tails lining up the apron, which were clearly visible from the expressway. In a trice, the welcome sign for the world’s best airport (outside Doha, that is!) showed up, and we went straight towards Terminal 3 beside the distinctive Crowne Plaza hotel.
Amid the rows and rows of airlines using T3, SriLankan is the only one in Oneworld, as most of its alliance partners — Qantas, Qatar, Fiji, Finnair, JAL, Malaysia AIrlines, British Airways — are at T1, while Cathay Pacific uses the physically disconnected T4 instead.
As a consequence, all the top-notch lounges for Oneworld Emeralds/Sapphires (above all the brilliant Qantas First Lounge) are located at T1. The abundance of the alliance’s lounges at Changi — ostensibly a Star Alliance hub — is probably why it won’t be having an alliance-branded lounge here, having recently inaugurated the first Oneworld Lounge at Seoul/Incheon (the one at Los Angeles doesn’t count) where no single airline flying there has a large enough presence to justify building its own lounge.
As for SQ, its home is very much here at T3 — though most Asian (except Indian and Chinese) operations are at T2 instead — and so are three Star Alliance partners: Air New Zealand, Asiana and EVA Air. Meanwhile T1, what I call the ‘Oneworld terminal’ for the above reasons, plays host to alliance partners Thai and Turkish, plus the Mainland pair of Air China and Shenzhen, while the most modernly renovated T2 has Air India, ANA (formerly T1), Ethiopian — as I flew in July — United, Lufthansa and Swiss International Air Lines.
Even though SriLankan may be the only airline from the blue-circle group at Terminal 3, it has no shortage of partners here, and UL309 to Colombo was also a codeshare with JAL. Against these globally renowned ceiling slats, the pretty blue SriLankan check-in signages (minus the equally blue logo of Oneworld) looked very striking indeed — a far cry from the ancient, pathetic, low-ceilinged counters at its home at Bandaranaike, which for the 2020s (or even the 2000s) is truly pitiful.
Meanwhile, Vietnam Airlines had recently moved here from Terminal 4, joining its SkyTeam partners Garuda Indonesia, China (Eastern) Airlines and Saudia here, leaving only Korean Air at T4. That only strengthened my resolve to make this Skytrax 4-star airline my last of 2023, which should have ideally been on the A350, but I ended up getting the equally sleek 787-10 instead — still a great finish to a year that began with an A320neo, in contrast to 2022 which began with a 787-10 and ended with an A320neo! (That alliance’s most high-profile members Air France and KLM — which gave me my most memorable flight on 2023, on the SkyTeam livery — operate from T1, along with Xiamen Air.)
4R-ALO made a loop in the air and was ready to arrive in a bit, as was Singapore Airlines’ SQ509 morning flight from my current Indian home of Bengaluru, which now gets the 737 MAX only twice a week — on Thursdays and Sundays, as you see here with 9V-MBM — and the A350 Regional on the other five days: quite the upgrade!* (The existing SQ510/511 night schedule, which is operated daily by the A350 Regional — as I took in June and July, rather forgettable flights those — remains unchanged.)
Meanwhile I had to sign a form, with my baggage stickers next to it, confirming that I had no power bank placed in my checked-in luggage — something I’d never seen before.
*Another South Indian city, Hyderabad — where I started 2023 — also got a new 5x-weekly (except Tuesday and Thursday) morning flight, SQ518/519, on the 737 MAX, while the nighttime SQ522/523 was upgauged to an A350 Regional on all days compared to the previous 4x A350/3x 737 MAX arrangement.
That’s in contrast to my previous home of Chennai, which, in the IATA northern winter schedule 2023/24, lost its 6x-weekly SQ526/527 late-night flight (operated by the A350) — with Scoot making a comeback with its cramped A320s, while the morning SQ524/525 switched to 2x weekly A350s (Thursday and Saturday) and 5x 737 MAXes — the opposite of BLR. Chennai’s loss was BLR and HYD’s gain, which makes me all the more happy to have escaped that old airport for greener (greenfield!) pastures.
Unfortunately the boarding passes were terribly plain and drab, issued by Dnata instead of having the airline’s branding. That’s in stark contrast to my two flights on SriLankan in April 2022, where not only did the boarding passes have the airline and Oneworld logos in the right places, but they were even issued in a laminated wallet with a flap — a generous touch indeed that no one else did.
Thankfully, the baggage tag did indeed have all the correct branding and typography, and it was a good enough substitute in my book.
It was around a quarter to seven when all check-in formalities were done, and I was intrigued by something I’d never paid attention to before: the so-called Rainforest Experience, featuring the four essential elements of nature — Earth, Water, Air and Fire — with each button playing a different tone and lighting up the small LEDs on the opposite wall (towering over the baggage-collection floor below) in different colours. I loved this nifty little exhibit, especially the sounds that it played — video below — and it only added further to the magical touch of this special evening.
Meanwhile, adjacent to the Immigration section was placed a giant pink candy installation, but the kids that this Christmassy carnival intended to attract were suspiciously missing from the scene. This thing was as colossal as it was colourful, and if I were fifteen years younger, I would be begging my parents to climb the towering pink layers of ‘sugar’ and be the emperor of all that I surveyed in Changi T3.
But I’m an adult now, one who drafts his travel experiences with plenty of photos and descriptions to go with them, and the best thing to do was capture the pure pinkness from as many angles as I could before I proceeded to be stamped out of Singapore.
My plane, 4R-ALO, had only just arrived after looping the loop, as had another A330-300 — OH-LTR — that involved two other Oneworld airlines: the registration, livery, crew and product of Finnair, but the flight number and service of Qantas. Also on the ground were two other Qantas A330s, both -200s — VH-EBA as QF35 from Melbourne, and VH-EBG as QF71 from Perth — as well as Finnair’s own A350, OH-LWB in the Oneworld livery, from Helsinki.
Other arrivals included Scoot’s A321neo 9V-NCI — I hate, hate that airline! — the very aircraft I’d flown that May to Kuala Lumpur; Garuda’s A330-300 PK-GPY, having flown this route from Jakarta five months before; and, if you want the Star Alliance instead, Turkish Airlines’ 787-9 TC-LLC from Istanbul and Swiss International Air Lines’ 777-300ER HB-JNL as LX176 from Zürich.
Explanations (feel free to skip): Given the Nordic airline’s excess fleet due to limitations arising from the closure of Russian airspace, it wet-leased OH-LTR (crew included) to its Antipodean alliance partner in order to operate the 6x-weekly QF291/292 between Sydney and Singapore — except Saturdays, where the A330-200 service QF81/82 remains — from late October 2023, in addition to the existing QF1/2 A380 sector that continues to London Heathrow. Another AY A330-300 will move to QF in order to operate all (not just some) flights between Sydney and Bangkok, using the QF295/296 flight numbers, from the end of March 2024.
This aircraft is best known for its non-reclining AirLounge business-class product, a product that’s exclusive to Finnair — receiving rave reviews for its service — and is installed on a number of A330s and A350s. It sure makes for an exotic way to fly between Singapore and Australia, all the more so for Oneworld loyalists, and provides an option to fly the AY A330 without having to go all the way to Helsinki.
On top of which Turkish Airlines is launching its first-ever Australia flights, from Istanbul via Singapore to Melbourne, from March 2024 using the 787-9 on the new TK168/169 sector. (One such 787-9, TC-LLC, had just arrived as part of the existing TK54/55 IST–SIN service, in addition to which there is also TK208/209 — making for up to three daily TK flights.) Emirates, too, flies its 777-300ERs on the EK404/405 DXB–SIN–MEL routing — which means you are totally spoiled for choice on the SIN–SYD/MEL sectors, from the SQ and QF A380s to the EK 777, and now the AY A330 to SYD and TK 787 to MEL!
Once on the other side of the glass — and of Singaporean territory — it was time to head past the giant Louis Vuitton aquarium-cum-boutique and Lotte Duty Free, one with corals and sea anemones and the other with glass-lit and natural flowers and plants placed at its entrance.
There was no time to stop by The Cocoa Trees or the other Korean duty-free shop — The Shilla — as a number of passengers were already headed towards the high-ceilinged A380-capable B-gates — many of them on flights to the Indian subcontinent, with ours being the only non-SQ one.
The Changi Millionaire lottery with its Porsche Macan and the Bacha Coffee store (from Marrakech, Morocco) — as well as the lounging couches with their USB ports — would have to wait for a more relaxed and leisurely time. I hurried past the numerous electronics stores: Sony on the left, iStudio (an Apple authorised retailer) on the right.
Once past the first four B-gates that hosted the Restaurant A380@Changi event in the peak pandemic days of October 2020, I saw a transfer counter for a large variety of airlines: Star Alliance partners Asiana, Air New Zealand and EVA; Indian joint-venture partner Vistara; SkyTeam’s China Eastern, Saudia and Vietnam Airlines; and the independent Biman Bangladesh and Gulf Air — the last of which I’d be taking on the return from Bangkok a week later.
Meanwhile SQ510 to Bengaluru — which I’d taken back in June — was leaving side-by-side with SQ297 to Christchurch in New Zealand. CHC is the airline’s only Kiwi destination other than Auckland — which receives the A380 during the northern winter — with it having scrapped the ‘Capital Express’ to the capital, Wellington (WLG), via the Australian capital, Canberra (CBR), and both were permanently terminated in late 2020 along with Stockholm* and Düsseldorf. Okay, another diversion coming up…
*It’s no secret that Scandinavians love Thailand, and Thai Airways loves them back — with flights to Copenhagen, Stockholm and formerly Oslo — but CPH has been a much more successful Nordic route for SQ (its only one for the foreseeable future) than the Moscow Domodedovo–Stockholm Arlanda tag, with ARN being axed first and DME then ‘suspended’ infinitely due to the war in Ukraine.
Chanel N°5 took pride of place at the entry archway to the other B-gates, and to the side I spotted a funky black-and-pink booth that at first looked like a cosmetics boutique (MAC or Estée Lauder or something), but in fact turned out to be ‘The Robot Barista’, an automated kiosk. ‘You need great coffee!’ it said, teasingly and tantalisingly.
Travellators were adorned by Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label ‘Xordinaire’ cognac, followed by a Standard Chartered ad with its new branding, introduced almost exactly three years ago (from the date of publication) in February 2021.
Another Standard Chartered ad later, I found myself at Gate B7, where people had already formed lines to enter the security pen for SriLankan flight 309.
To the left was an A321 of Vietnam Airlines, and to the right stood our A330-300, 4R-ALO, with a mouthful of a name: City of Senkadagalapura. Many SriLankan aircraft have historical names of cities that are known differently today: Senkadagalapura is today called Kandy, a popular tourist destination in the centre of the island, which is known for — as I mentioned above — the Esala Perahera (Festival of the Tooth) in July–August. That festival’s livery adorns sister-ship 4R-ALP, whose own name is City of Hasthi Shailapura — today called Kurunegala — in the Northwest Province.
And what of Colombo itself? If you’re looking for City of Colombo, you’re out of luck — but fortunately its old name, City of Kolomtota, features on another A330-300, 4R-ALN: the one that flew for PIA in 2016, and which I was half-anticipating to arrive today.
Meanwhile there were a motley new group of aircraft on the ground: 9V-DHD, a brand-new DHL/Singapore Airlines 777 freighter (barely a couple of months old) from Honolulu; 9V-MBG, a 737 MAX 8 taking off for Medan (KNO), Indonesia; and VT-CIO, an Air India A320neo in the livery of Mohandas Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, landing from Chennai as AI346 — something I took countless times prepandemic.
A big sign for the boarding sequence was placed nearby, something I have no recollection of seeing anywhere else, but one that fits well into orderly, rule-loving Singaporean psychology.
High ceilings are never something I associate with Changi, as the great majority of the flights I’ve taken have been from the low-ceilinged gates of T1 and T2, not these towering Suvarnabhumi-like enclosures with staircases. Suffice it to say that, for someone with a phobia of high ceilings, this was somewhat unsettling. Luckily, it wouldn’t be long before I stepped on board City of Senkadagalapura.
Pronounce that name any way you will, or otherwise call her Four Romeo Alpha Lima Oscar, but there’s no denying that this A330-300 — with an A380 and A321 from the other two alliances in the background — was pretty enough from the outside, and was going to get even prettier on board.
Mercifully, there was no big blue circle at the entrance — only business-class folks would be subjected to that thing — unlike my CX A321neo flight to Hanoi the following month after Christmas, where that monstrosity (much as I respect Oneworld airlines — except JAL — in general for having a far more consistently excellent brand than the other two alliances) was the ‘one’ thing marring an otherwise simply stellar airline and product!
Flight: SriLankan Airlines UL309/ALK309
Date: Thursday, 9 November 2023
Route: Singapore Changi (WSSS/SIN) to Colombo Bandaranaike (VCBI/CMB)
Aircraft: 4R-ALO, Airbus A330-300, named City of Senkadagalapura
Age: 8 years months at the time (built: 21 July 2015, delivered: 14 August 2015)
Seat: 54K (starboard side, window)
Boarding: 7:50pm SGT, GMT +8 (5:20pm SLST/IST, GMT +5:30)
Departure: 8:25pm SGT (5:55pm SLST)
Arrival: 9:15pm SLST (11:45pm SGT)
Duration: 3 hours 20 minutes
• Third flight on SriLankan Airlines, after two in early April, from Chennai to Colombo to Singapore — both of which were operated by 4R-ALB, a 1999-built A330-200 which was then the oldest plane in the fleet and was retired shortly thereafter.
• Fourth flight on an Airbus A330-300 and second on a Oneworld carrier, after MH180 in October 2022 from Kuala Lumpur to Chennai, which was my first-ever flight on this alliance and the A330 — with the two more recent ones being on SkyTeam’s Garuda Indonesia in June, from Denpasar to Singapore via Jakarta.
• Sixth flight overall on the A330, along with the two previous SriLankan flights in April. All my flights thus far on Oneworld airlines (MH, UL and CX) have been only on Airbus aircraft, with the A330 being the most widespread of them. (Now that Cathay Pacific is going to restart its fifth-freedom flight between Bangkok and Singapore from March 2024, this is another Oneworld A330-300 that I plan to add to my ever-expanding flight log.)
• First non-SQ departure from Changi Terminal 3 — though my arrivals on SriLankan in April and Garuda in June were at T3, as well as Gulf Air nine days later to conclude this Diwali trip.
Hi there, aqua-blue spinning cube!
Two lovely ladies in azure sarees, Ramizah (left) and Merina (right), ayubowan-ed me onboard, and I turned right — having to give the reverse-herringbone lie-flats in business class a wide berth. SriLankan’s fresh sea-blue upholstery is one of my favourites, and with this modern, up-to-date A330-300 it rang all the more true. The airline doesn’t have any 3-3-3 aircraft, as the 2-4-2 A330 (and formerly the A340) are the only widebodies it’s had in the past couple of decades.
I settled into my preferred starboard-side window seat, 54K: a number you may be familiar with if you’re a regular reader of mine, since I like to choose this and 66K/67K on several occasions — including my first two flights on this airline, where the first leg was spent in 54K and the second on 54A on the very same aircraft!
When I sank into the seat, I was taken aback by the IFE screen with its blue spinning cube on an aqua-green background: I’d never seen this system before, and it was clearly an updated version of whatever was used before. Needless to say, this was a very pleasant surprise indeed. The only IFE I’ve known to be used on the SriLankan A330-300 is the one that features in the below One Mile at a Time review, published all the way back in 2015 when most of UL’s seven A330-300s were built. An excerpt:
Upon boarding through door 1L I was welcomed by the cabin manager and Renuka, the flight attendant working business class. I noticed the business class cabin was still empty, so told Renuka ‘I’m so excited this is the new business class product. If you don’t mind I’m just going to snap a couple of pictures before the cabin fills up.’
With a smirk Renuka responded ‘take your time, you’re our only passenger today, Mr. Benjamin. And just so you know, this is the plane’s first commercial flight.’
Holy crap! So not only was my flight swapped from a regional A320 to an A330 with their brand new business class, but I was also the only passenger, and it was the plane’s first commercial flight. That’s the best $100 I’ve ever spent on an upgrade!
Serendib is unfortunately one of several inflight magazines — SilverKris, Open Skies and Oryx, besides countless others, among them — that won’t be making a postpandemic return. Instead, in the seat pocket (above) — besides the airsickness bag and safety card, and an ‘Information on Unlawful Behaviour’ leaflet — there was a Serendib Treasures duty-free magazine, with the same font (Benton Sans) that Singapore Airlines’ own KrisShop magazine, which has also escaped the axing that befell SilverKris, uses.
As I leafed through the very typical contents of the duty-free glossy, the bulkhead monitors cycled through the inflight map and a number of promotional ads highlighting a number of special services.
The IFE system was clearly custom-made for SriLankan Airlines, with instructions in five languages: the universal English, the country’s native Sinhala and Tamil, and the East Asian duo of Japanese and Chinese. I daresay German or French, or even Hindi, would have been more useful, seeing as UL has a vast operation to the Indian subcontinent and also flies to Frankfurt and Paris.
That said, I would have loved to see a bit more of that slender, curvaceous custom font more, instead of the popular Noto Sans that’s fast becoming a default option across IFE systems — including, most recently and notably, the extraordinary first-class suites on JAL’s A350-1000 (which the likes of OMAAT have already declared the best in the world), since, unlike other Oneworld airlines, JAL disappointingly doesn’t have its own corporate font to use in the IFE. This font is fast replacing Roboto and Univers — and it’s also the corporate font of Canada’s WestJet.
The principal navigation gesture was to spin the cube across sections, and in the background a panorama of entertainment characters — a large number of them Disney/Pixar animations — scrolled past endlessly. I’m also happy the airline decided to keep the thin-circle version of the alliance logo (which was also the case with the previous the A330-300 IFE) instead of the standard blue circle which I cannot bear to look at.
As you may expect for an airline from the Indian subcontinent, there was quite an extensive selection of movies from both Hindi and South Indian languages, in addition to those in the native Sinhala.
At 7:55pm, the captain and lead FA made their welcome-onboard announcements, with the captain making his welcome in Sinhala and English but not Tamil. In a professional, charming voice, he started: ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. … On behalf of my colleague, Senior First Officer [did not catch his name]<did not="" catch="" his="" name="">, Cabin Manager Damian Rosario and my charming cabin crew, I would like to welcome you all on board SriLankan Airlines flight UL309 from Singapore to Colombo.’ And concluded it with: ’Until then, sit back, relax and enjoy the SriLankan hospitality. Thank you!’
This was followed by two flight attendants — first in Sinhala and Tamil (female) and then English (male) — with the English one beginning as ‘welcome on board UL309, our Oneworld flight to Colombo’, mentioning the alliance instead of the airline. ‘For our FlySmiLes and Oneworld frequent flyers, it’s a pleasure to see you again. My crew and I are committed to ensuring that you experience the best of SriLankan hospitality on our flight. We hope to live up to your expectations.’ How very thoughtful!
Also, every single Sinhala announcement (aside from beginning with Ayubowan) ended with the word Stuthi — something that I hadn’t noticed on my previous flights with UL. This greeting was a small, delightful touch that made every announcement and interaction that much more pleasurable. These done, the cute animated safety video was screened, beginning with a peacock (the airline’s logo) unfurling its feathers, and a couple of children at an airport window squealing in delight.
Here are some more pictures from the video, with an array of cute passengers in charming attire — in particular the children with their dedicated life jackets and oxygen masks. They made for a campy, colourful contrast to their high-society counterparts in SQ’s video: the infant on the jungle-safari river cruise, strapped to his mother’s flamboyant silkenwear, his tiny face radiant with joy; or the little girl in a swimsuit, beaming as she follows Daddy into the pool, with Mommy watching on.
Instead of the ‘Brace, brace’ on other airlines, SriLankan’s emergency command is ‘Heads down, stay down’ — an interesting tidbit, if not a noteworthy one.
The actual cabin lights were dimmed — with a pinch of purple Thai Airways-esque mood lighting — as the diverse cast of passengers in the video (full marks for DEI here!) prepared for takeoff.
The video drew to a close with the plane flying off into a gorgeous reddish-orange sunset, and our peacock friend repeating its feather-unfurling feat.
The next thing I simply had to see was the flight details, and in particular the camera — I was thrilled that this plane had a nose camera! We were soon going to take off, and admittedly the camera wasn’t all that useful at night, but at least there would be a cool takeoff view at Changi with all the green runway lights.
As we began our snail-slow pull to the runway, United Airlines’ UA29 came in to land from San Francisco, while SQ34 prepared to take off to the same destination — at 16+ hours, not a journey for the faint-hearted!
Cruising past Terminal 1, I spotted a number of visitors, both from Oneworld and otherwise: an EK A380, a TG 777-300ER — if only I had the fortune of getting this instead of the -200ER — and a Qantas A330-200, VH-EBR, one of several daily visitors from Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.
The cabin lights were dimmed to a blend of royal purple and coral pink, while we drew close to the understated elegance of JAL’s ‘plane’ white livery on a 787-9, which can now also be enjoyed on the A350-1000 with its world-beating first-class suites. Unlike Korean Air’s ghastly, ancient sky-blue livery, unchanged for four decades, I quite like the simplicity of the pure-white liveries of Japan Airlines and alliance partner Finnair (also parked close by) — not too far from SriLankan itself — in contrast to most other avgeeks, especially on forums like Airliners.net, who cried foul when they were introduced in 2010–11, and call them an abomination even today.
However, China Eastern — which followed almost the same template of no design elements whatsoever outside the tail — is absolutely an insult to design, all the more so because it’s from China. It will never have the quiet finesse that JAL and Finnair do, with the fact that they belong to what I consider the best alliance for branding (despite its logo) being a halo on their heads.
This must be the longest taxi I’ve ever had, as for twenty minutes we did nothing but wait in line for the row of aircraft to take off. As you can see, we were no closer to departure at 8:06 than at 8:16, and it was only at 8:24 — after an SQ A350 had taken off for Hyderabad, and another had landed from Mumbai — that the engines started to rev up in that classic takeoff roar, one of my favourite sounds of all time.
And when they did, what a marvel it was to behold! I was constantly panning and switching between the window view and the nose camera, pushing my iPhone 14 Pro’s juice and storage to the very limit — a very generous one (512GB) but one that I’m always maxing out — with my videos and photos of the splendid view, accentuated further by the nose camera.
At 8:25 (5:55 IST/SLST) the A330-300 finally blasted off into the skies, above the lights of Changi and over the iconic ships of the Singapore coast — close to my home near the East Coast Park — for a nighttime journey westward. This, sadly, would remain the first and last usage of the nose camera for the entire flight.
Soon a row of black clouds presented themselves above the glimmering lights of the ships below, and while SriLankan’s A330 winglets are red — in contrast to Malaysia Airlines’ white — and hence not that prominent against the night sky, this was one of the best nighttime departures from Changi I’ve ever had, all thanks to the nose camera!
Minutes after takeoff, a message was screened: ‘To help serve you better, please provide your feedback through the survey application on your screens. Thank you.’ I bet most people, including myself, simply wouldn’t bother with that one, and instead turned to the entertainment selection — with the romantic chartbuster Chaleya from 2023’s biggest Indian blockbuster, Jawan, playing on my other (Android) phone.
I’ve mentioned this song before, on an unremarkable Singapore Airlines flight, and the film brings together two of India’s most trending composers and musicians: Arijit Singh, known for some of the most foot-tapping Hindi songs, and Anirudh Ravichander (or just Anirudh), the most popular voice in the Southern language of Tamil — which is an official language of Sri Lanka as well as Singapore and Malaysia.
I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that there was an actual onboard menu that worked! While the presentation of the UI left a bit to be desired — repeating the same two screens on either side of the central selection gave the unnecessary illusion of infinity — I was more than happy that SriLankan actually took the effort to highlight its meal choices through its IFE, something I’ve never found to work on other airlines like Thai Airways. But there wasn’t a vegetarian option listed, even though this was actually being catered.
The main course itself (branded as a ‘Hot Light Meal’) was very simple in nature: a Russian salad, a chicken curry — and a vegetarian side of a carrot and potato white curry to go with it — served with steamed rice. I would certainly have appreciated more nuanced descriptions (like on SQ) instead of these generic ones that did a disservice to the rich culinary traditions of Sri Lanka. There was also a list of beverages, alcoholic and otherwise, but not a single name-brand drink — though I bet business-class passengers upfront in their lie-flat seats would have got a proper printed menu with all these details.
After that I moved to the personal USB menu — I doubt I’ve ever used this facility on any airline before — where I plugged in my trusty SanDisk 64GB dual drive (both USB and USB-C) containing a number of Indian web series and music videos. Soon I discovered that the system was incapable of playing any of the big series-episode videos that were all upwards of 100MB, which was just as well as I wasn’t looking to watch any such series on this relatively short flight.
Now was the time for Kesariya Dance Mix, a party-disco version of Arijit Singh’s romantic Kesariya number from Brahmastra - Part One: Shiva (2022), another of whose songs — the powerful, move-you-to-tears Rasiya Reprise — I’ve mentioned on my SQ and Ethiopian flights in July.
The film (often referred to as just BrahmastraI) features Bollywood power couple Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt in the lead, who tied the knot in April 2022 — some months before it was released in September — and have a ten-year age difference, being born in 1982 and 1993 respectively.
Alia was pregnant for most of 2022, aged 29 then, and gave birth to her daughter, Raha — many of the major Kapoors’ names begin with R, including Ranbir’s late father Rishi (a veteran actor of his time) — in November. During this time four of her movies released: Gangubai Kathiawadi; Darlings; the global record-breaking blockbuster RRR, which won an Oscar for its foot-tapping song Naatu Naatu; and this one.
I also had a whole bunch of other Bollywood and Kollywood (Tamil) songs loaded on the pen-drive, and shuffled amongst them while waiting for food to be served.
An hour after departure (9:15pm SGT) Eranga, a flight attendant with long blue sleeves, rolled out the meal carts. I asked her for the food options, and got this reply: ‘We have chicken with rice, fish with noodles and a vegetarian dish.’ I noted that the on-screen menu showed only the chicken option, but I was going to have that anyway, and presently it was plated on my tray table. The meal came with quite the selection of accompaniments: the aforementioned Russian salad, an empty cup (for tea or coffee), a glass of water and a plastic cup for drinks — I almost always choose Sprite, and this was no exception — served with a full complement of metal cutlery replete with proper SriLankan Airlines embossed branding.
I also asked her what the dessert was, and was taken aback by her attention to detail. ‘It’s a coffee cake; you want me to go through the ingredients? We have that information, actually. Are you allergic to anything?’ Such a level of elaborate knowledge is rare to find on most airlines — including Singapore Airlines — so all I can say is this: full marks for detail, Eranga!
I quite relished the texture of the dish, and further appreciate the riot of flavours across the items, from the pepper chicken to the carrot-and-potato curry to the salad to the coffee cake. The only sign of the Oneworld logo anywhere was in the form of the much less offensive thin-circle variant, as also seen in the IFE (only on these A330-300s) — in contrast to Thai Airways which almost makes it a game to ‘count the number of times you can see the “A Star Alliance Member” logotype’, and Garuda Indonesia which does the same with SkyTeam on its catering products.
At this point, the IFE system inexplicably crashed when I was trying to go back to the inflight map, displaying just an ‘Ayubowan’ before blanking to a black loading screen — ‘Please wait, your entertainment will be available shortly.’ — followed by another version of the same with a spinning-dots loading animation, and it would be a good five minutes before normal functionality was restored.
Fortunately, such mishaps did not reoccur, and I now saw that we were cruising past the Sumatran coast and over the Indian Ocean. Too bad I wasn’t able to connect to the Wi-Fi — as is often the case with OnAir-equipped planes like this one — or I might have done the same on Flightradar24 (as I like to do on SQ flights with their unlimited free Wi-Fi) with much more detail!
Meanwhile the bulkhead screens were kept busy, alternating between this inflight map, health advisories (like the below one to drink plenty of water) and tourist ads, which I’ll cover later below…
…in addition to a number of useful promotional ads for the airline’s services — like a moving service for those shifting abroad, and a partnership with a local ayurveda brand for teas — which I did not feel were intrusive at all, unlike on alliance partner Malaysia Airlines’ A330-300 with its irritating and borderline unusable IFE.
Moving to other parts of the entertainment, I browsed through some of the sitcom episodes on offer, with some staples like Young Sheldon and others — including the ‘Hindi variety’ show The Great Indian Laughter Challenge — being among the offerings.
In the middle of the flight, some time after the meal service, the cabin crew came around with calls of ‘Cup of coffee?’ ‘Cup of coffee?’, which were heeded by a number of thirsty passengers but ignored by me.
I was also very piqued by a section on ‘BBC News Live’, and for a moment thought, ‘How come an airline as small as SriLankan Airlines has a live news feed?!’ But I needn’t have bothered: all the news items were from May 2022, a year and a half old, and UL probably shouldn’t have bothered to provide them. That said, I wouldn’t stop myself from scrolling through what was on offer, old as they may be.
One of the articles was ‘Why are kangaroos being spotted in India?’ — a question I was myself unable to answer, until finding out that they were smuggled into my birth state of West Bengal in the east of the country.
Another was from next-door Bangladesh, where a lawyer, Shagufta Tabassum Ahmed, shared her decade-long struggle in finding justice for the murder of her professor father in February 2006 — exactly 18 years ago from the date of publication of this report. It doesn’t matter that the actual text isn’t quite readable in the below pictures, but I’ve kept them regardless, and attached the link as well. It makes for a haunting, harrowing read that will likely drive you to anger and frustration.
A third (and last for me) story came from the increasingly repressive country on Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s return has brought in a number of clampdowns in public freedoms: all the more so for women, who are now prohibited from all education from Grade 7 onwards — the only such country in the world.
All that heavy news aside, I turned to the much more light-hearted topic of what lifestyle and news magazines were on offer from the IFE selection, given that SriLankan’s own Serendib is no longer published. As on my previous UL flight in April in the reverse (CMB–SIN) direction, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the plethora of topics, from weddings to business to tourism, that the island country’s rich publication industry continues to churn out.
Now, with the meal service done, the cabin lights were turned off entirely, and what remained was the glare of passengers’ IFE screens — helped in no small part by the bulkhead screens’ ads showcasing the many facets of Sri Lanka, from ayurveda to beaches to teas to wildlife.
Too bad that Colombo, with its extremely rundown, dilapidated, tiny and low-ceilinged Bandaranaike airport, remains the only international gateway to this island, as the country’s other airports — like Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Anuradhapura — have only domestic flights, many of which are served from Colombo’s second airport of Ratmalana. (Jaffna (JAF) on the northern coast does, however, have a solitary flight to my former home of Chennai, operated by Alliance Air, the sole Indian government-owned airline.) Not to mention Hambantota on the southeastern coast, whose Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (code: HRI) was built at a great cost but attracted barely any service at all, becoming the world’s most expensive white-elephant airport.
This was the time for the flight to become well and truly special: the cake which I’d ordered at the Manage Booking page — after selecting this flight when the original one (UL303) was cancelled — was now presented from the charming hands of Eranga, who wished me a Happy Birthday.
’No, it’s not a birthday cake,’ I told her, ‘more of a bon-voyage cake; this was actually for Diwali.’
‘Oh, that’s nice! Usually they order a birthday cake, from what I’ve seen.’
Anyway, the dessert itself had a Happy Birthday message on top of the chocolate base with white, pencil-shaving-like icing, garnished with a cherry and a split-in-two strawberry. The whole thing was immaculately presented in a mint-green box, which said ‘Happy celebrations on your special day at 30,000 feet’, and moreover came with metal cutlery that was very professionally wrapped in a tablecloth and tied with an airline-branded green ribbon. How very thoughtful and personalised! (The one thing that was missing was probably the Oneworld logo, and I’d rather it remained missing.)
What a lovely airline this is, I thought, as I munched on the cake — all the more so as it was served with an additional glass of apple juice — and what an asset to Oneworld travellers, with its heartfelt service, authentic friendliness and go-the-extra-mile hospitality. It’s a shame it doesn’t have an airport to match, and has a very limited fleet, but there are few more heartwarming airlines in existence (especially with such limited resources) than SriLankan Airlines. TL;DR: Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!
Nearly three hours after departure, we had commenced descent into Bandaranaike Airport, and SriLankan’s promotional video — released in February 2020, before the COVID pandemic took over the world — was now screened. Entitled ‘Serendipity Right Next Door’ — they should probably have inserted a Serendib pun there — the video features Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez and veteran cricketer Kumar Sangakkara, two of the most famous people the island has produced, who are undoubtedly familiar to most of the Indian Subcontinent.
Unfortunately, UL published only a short 100-second video on YouTube, instead of the full three-minute video screened onboard. As I said for my previous flight in April, I managed to record the entire three-minute version that time, despite the glare and lower quality of that A330-200’s screen in contrast to the clarity on this A330-300.
There are various close-up shots of Jacqueline by the beach, and Kumar being welcomed by the ever-smiling cabin crew into his business-class seat, while the captain flashes a smile before takeoff.
More sights and sounds abound: a fresh catch by the sea, a ride on a train with crispy local fried snacks…
…followed by more shots of Jacqueline as she lounges around by the beach, while Kumar tucks into a nutritious, delicious meal and gets a smile of approval from the cabin crew. Some kids play cricket, the country’s most well-known sport — much like neighbouring giant India — in a nearby field.
(The 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup was going on at the time, and unfortunately Sri Lanka’s team had a horrific outing, finishing barely above the bottom of the points table. Hosts India, on the other hand, dominated every single match and won by thumping margins — only to fall at the final hurdle a week later to Australia, who clinched a record-extending sixth title.)
More Jacqueline amidst the high seas, more Kumar with a fresh pour of Ceylon tea.
As day turns into night, the mood lighting of the signature A330-300 changes accordingly, and so does the party mood of travellers — our two celebrities included — looking to have a gala time.
To conclude the video, a number of female cabin crew in their azure sarees, dragging suitcases behind them, are perfectly silhouetted against the setting sun as an A330 (a -300, I hope) takes off to finish the proceedings. A ‘World’s Leading Airline to the Indian Ocean 2019’ ad is shown before the closing screen with the airline and alliance logos.
Yes, UL is an Unbelievably Lovely airline, and this video only proves it.
As we approached the suburb of Negombo — which hosts Bandaranaike Airport — to the north of the city, my journal entry was also completed, where I called it an ‘UnintentionaL UnusuaL reschedULing’ and highlighted the cake and the ‘tail cameras’ (sorry, should have written nose — I guess I’ve seen too many A350 tail-camera pictures!). The empty space was reserved for the next flight (UL173 CMB–BLR), which, given its middle-of-the-night times, certainly could not match up to this one — but it did succeed in being very memorable too!
At 9:15pm IST/SLST (11:45pm SGT), this majestic A330-300 called City of Senkadagalapura put down her wheels at CMB, while the bulkhead screens screened a number of thank-you messages in succession. The cabin-crew member’s serenely soulful Sinhala announcement, as you’d expect, ended with a Stuthi — something I wish were brought to the English version as well, which she ended with ‘…a member of the Oneworld alliance. Ayubowan!‘.
It was time to step off the dreamy aqua-blue seats with their intricate patterns, and deplane from this flagship aircraft of the blue-circle alliance’s smallest but most enchanting full member. I thanked Eranga for her impeccable service — especially that cake — and wished her great success in her career, along with expressing a hope for SriLankan to expand its fleet and destinations.
I stepped off 4R-ALO and into the dated, decades-old Bandaranaike terminal, which with its semi-octagonal arched ceiling is at least distinctive in its antiquity.
A number of ads for SLTMobitel, the state telecom company — the second-largest after the market leader Dialog Axiata — and Nippon Paint welcomed me to Sri Lanka, along with one for a big duty-free electronics shop that I didn’t see on this layover, but knew beforehand that CMB was known for.
To Bandaranaike’s credit, it had fast and free Wi-Fi that didn’t even require me to register again, as I’d done so in April. I headed to Flightradar24 immediately, and found an interesting Airbus A400M from the Royal Air Force landing from Al Minhad Air Base to the south of Dubai, while 4R-ANA, one of UL’s two A320neos, was arriving as UL196 from Delhi. After this I had a video call with my parents, expounding to them the beauty of SriLankan Airlines, and its A330-300 in particular.
On a nearby LG-sponsored screen were ads for ‘So Sri Lanka’, the country’s official tourism campaign, with elephants blissfully submerging themselves in waterbodies.
For such a small airport, CMB does a remarkable job in staying connected with the world, with the three major nearby regions of the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia all well represented — in addition to those from further afield, from a once-monthly flight from the Seychelles, HM264 — though another SEZ–CMB flight, HM262, operates a few more times a month — to Sydney to Paris to Frankfurt. (Air Seychelles has just two A320neos — S7-VEV and S7-PTI — in its entire jet fleet!) The low-ceilinged building also had a plaque marking a collaboration between the governments of Sri Lanka and Japan in building this airport.
The arrivals, too, had a healthy selection of airlines, with foreign carriers having the lion’s share, and only a few for SriLankan and the low-cost airline FitsAir — the only other international passenger airline in Sri Lanka — whose 8D822 and 8D814 had arrived from Dubai. Few other airports can boast of arrivals from both Karachi and Melbourne, that too such a small and outdated one!
I’ll leave you with this Visa ad — situated beside a meditating Buddha with hands folded — saying ‘Safe payments follow you to beautiful destinations’, and a great shot of 4R-ABO, UL’s Oneworld-liveried A320, standing at a jetbridge with an ad for Dialog Axiata, the country’s leading mobile network operator. Bandaranaike Airport may have a thousand and one faults, but at least fast, registration-free Wi-Fi and excellent tarmac views aren’t among them!
Ah, the sheer joy of flying SriLankan Airlines! The trouble to change the cancelled daytime UL303 to the nighttime UL309 was well worth it, and I will go out of my way — even at such subpar times, and even with the prospect of having to make a stopover at the dreary, dated Bandaranaike — to fly this Oneworld member again. I cannot even begin to say just how much I enjoy flying with them, making the months-long wait for the A330-300 all the more worthwhile. The entire all-Airbus fleet, limited as it is, already boasts of an excellent entertainment selection and intricate seat upholstery to boot. The meals are already quite well-thought-out and show the best of Lankan cuisine, and the cabin crew are already among the friendliest you’ll find.
But the A330-300 simply takes things up a notch higher, amplifying them for optimal effect, and this is THE aircraft to hope for with this airline. I’ve always been a huge A330-300 fan, with the sheer looks and length being a stiff rival to the cutting-edge A350 even today, and it remains a graceful giant of the skies. However, it wouldn’t be all that memorable if not for the little touches that set SriLankan apart from all the others flying this aircraft. From the unique-to-the-A330-300 IFE — revamped from its previous versions with a blue-green spinning cube (even though the menu descriptions were kind of abrupt, and the ‘live news’ far too outdated) — to the personal USB media player, to the single biggest thing for an avgeek, the NOSE CAMERA, this is an experience to behold, cherish and remember for life. This despite a SkyTeam/KLM 777 being 2023’s best overall…
It could only get better from here: thanks to Eranga, who was by far the best flight attendant I’ve had on SriLankan — beating the two flights in April, with their polite-but-reserved cabin crew — and who more than charmed me with her attention to detail, thoughtfulness and personality. I’d ordered the special cake with the expectation that it would be delivered with authentic Sri Lankan hospitality, and Eranga more than succeeded on that count. The captain’s welcome address included the words ‘and my charming cabin crew’, and this was as charming as it could possibly get. This A330-300, 4R-ALO, represented the very best of what SriLankan has to offer, and naturally I wasn’t expecting too much from the next flight — which I knew only too well (from the schedule) would be operated by UL’s sole A321ceo, 4R-ABQ, with not a drop of colour on the body of the aircraft.
As such, my expectations were rather low going in, but it seems you can never be disappointed on SriLankan Airlines — not when the next plane had greige leather seats, excellent seatback IFE and an equally wonderful cabin-crew member. (Quite unlike my subsequent flight on Thai Airways, a week later: that airline has mastered the art of disappointment — despite its picture-perfect velvety violet livery — by managing to completely gut me with that horrific 777-200ER once again, which is as likely to happen as its exquisite tail-camera-fitted A350-900.) SriLankan remains one of the two best airlines in the Indian Subcontinent, along with Vistara — codes UL and UK, respectively — with its much more modern fleet of A320/1neos and 787-9s; Vistara will soon merge with Air India, and then AI will have to uphold the same standards of excellence that these two have had all along. With its brand-new intended-for-Aeroflot A350-900s — which I’ll be flying in late February — and hundreds of aircraft on order, there’s every reason AI can and should redefine South Asian aviation standards. But SriLankan will always be my number one (alongside Garuda Indonesia) for its delightful loveliness.
TL;DR: UL is an Unbelievably Lovely airline, period. Stuthi!