SriLankan new Business Class Bangkok-Hong Kong – An airline that improves
SriLankan is Sri Lanka’s national airline, based in Colombo Bandaranaike airport. The airline may seem distant for us British, but will soon become much more relevant as in the spring, they will join the One World alliance. SriLankan has previously flown with a variety of seats and cabin configurations, in most cases, a holdover from the airline that previously owned the aircraft. Just over two years ago they put in place a full-fledged business class product, now available on the company’s Airbus A330 aircraft. We set out to Asia to test this on a flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong, one of Srilankan’s, so-called, fifth freedom flights.
At the Airport
The day’s journey began dramatically when my taxi was hit on the road between downtown Bangkok and Suvarnabhumi. The damage was manageable and we proceeded relatively quickly towards the airport. Luckily I had a good time margin should anything go awry.
SriLankan use the check-in area S and the full five counters were open for the early afternoon departure to Hong Kong. The check-in area was completely empty when I arrived 2.5 hours before departure and a friendly young woman immediately checked me in at the business counter. The check-in process was very thorough and she even wanted to see the credit card I paid with and a return ticket from Hong Kong, though I was traveling on a one-way ticket. The latter proved to be to my advantage as I would travel on from Hong Kong, five hours later, on a separate ticket and after some negotiations she agreed to tag my bag all the way, despite separate tickets on two different airlines. A blue SriLankan priority tag was attached to the bag and I got the boarding pass with my pre-booked seats, 02A, and lounge invitation to any Louis Tavern lounge. A fast track card was also printed during check-in which meant that I did not have to queue up at the usual security check. Everything went very quickly without any waiting.
After many visits to Bangkok, I was well acquainted with the various Louis Tavern lounges and elected without difficulty, the G-pier lounge which is both the largest and the nicest. The food and drink are similar in most Louis Tavern lounges and all offer free wireless Internet access but the lounge in the G-pier wins on size, interior and facilities.
Boarding and First Impressions
The incoming flight was slightly delayed from Colombo and because of this they expected a small delay on to Hong Kong. As usual, the “Go to gate” message appeared early on the screens but when I passed lounge reception on the way towards the gate, I was informed by the woman that the boarding process was delayed and that I could stay put. She had an eye on which flight I was catching and already had contact with the gate staff who would call when it was time to board. This was a very impressive gesture, both that she remembered me and where I was going, but especially as it was a third-party lounge that manages many airlines and passengers. Later it turned out that I was the only premium passenger who would board in Bangkok, which of course made everything slightly easier.
Fifteen minutes later, I chose voluntarily to go to the gate, G2, which lay opposite the lounge. Boarding for economy class was almost complete but they asked me to wait a minute at the gate as they were not yet finished with cleaning and catering in business class.
Finally, I boarded via a separate door at the gate and through the front passenger bridge that led directly into the business cabin. The cabin crew were still preparing for departure and my welcome therefore became pretty non-existent. First impressions of the cabin were positive. This was something completely different than when I last flew with SriLankan, I was greeted by a rather shabby Airbus A340, which SriLankan had taken over from an Italian airline, based on the signs in the cabin.
At my seat there was two pillows and a blanket, and shortly after I assumed my place, I was also offered a welcome drink, a choice of champagne, water or orange juice. It had to be a glass of bubbly and I also had a refill before departure. I was, however, offered no newspapers in the cabin. Shortly after, the flight purser came past and saluted, a very nice and enthusiastic man named Farih who shook hands and introduced himself and was hoping I was comfortable on board.
Both ground staff and cabin crew was working quickly and we were able leave the gate 25 minutes after schedule and took off five minutes later towards Hong Kong. Before take off, a safety video was played on all screens and SriLankan must undoubtedly have the cutest safety video I have seen in any of the 88 airlines I’ve tested. Definitely not what I was expecting.
SriLankan has previously flown with a variety of seats and cabin configurations depending on the route and aircraft type and in some cases, depending on who owned the airplane before. SriLankan have now developed a completely custom seat and cabin design which is in itself an advantage as one simply now knows what to expect.
By and large, they have done well with the new seat. It is modern and has excellent legroom. The seat is in light brown leather with details in bright blue and other cabin interior in grey. On the Airbus A330 aircraft, there are only three rows of business class in a 2-2-2 configuration and a total of 18 seats. Most airlines would have probably squeezed in another row. Ample legroom also means the seat can be fully horizontal in the reclined position, without any kind of special configuration.
I tested the folded seat for a minute and thought it felt comfortable to sleep in. However, I was offered only a blanket to pull over and I, personally, like a proper quilt to sleep comfortably on flights. To rest in the seat in an intermediate position, however, was somewhat less comfortable as the whole seat construction went up a little over an inch from its normal position, which felt a little strange.
The seat also had a lot of storage facilities with storage for everything from water bottles to shoes and reading materials. This in itself was a positive but they could make design a little more pleasing to the eye, it was simply a bit too much, with shelving and brackets sticking out everywhere, which affected the overall impression of the cabin. The design would be better if they instead had built-in storage in the seat construction and also invested in a little more privacy for each passenger.
We were only two passengers in business class on this flight, me and an American man, sitting at 02K, who went all the way from Colombo to Hong Kong. In the row behind me, sat four people that I later learned were the cabin crew who had either worked to Bangkok or would be working on the return flight. They were very discreet and it was not until well into the flight that I understood they were airline employees.
Once up in the air, I turned on Srilankan’s entertainment system, which was also ultra-modern with a good selection of movies. They were not just from English speaking countries; there were also movies, for example, in French, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Malaysian. The entertainment system also had a decent selection of documentaries, a variety of games and a flight map, although, for some reason, the map did not want to work properly on this flight. The entertainment system was perhaps not spectacular compared to what some other airlines have managed to cobble together but in general it was good and above all, it felt very fresh and modern.
Headphones were missing in my seat when I came on board so I had to ask for this, but this was quickly fixed. The headphones that came to my place were pretty simple and not on par with the noise-cancelling headphones that many carriers offer in their premium cabins. The image quality, however, was very good with a great sharpness and resolution.
The entertainment system was navigated by using the remote control that was in the armrest and was done with a kind of mouse function, similar to a regular computer. Basically, the entertainment system was a positive experience and a surprise, if only they could provide better headphones.
The menu was distributed while on the ground and had a very attractive design with a large pineapple on the front and contained both the breakfast menu between Colombo and Bangkok and the lunch menu between Bangkok and Hong Kong. The menu also contained the drink list and a separate tea list with ten different choices.
A number of airlines operate on the route Bangkok-Hong Kong as part of a longer flight from, for example, the Middle East, Africa or South Asia. What is being offered on this shorter distance varies greatly. I have experienced everything from a simple cold snack or a simple hot meal to a proper three-course meal served in business class. SriLankan had chosen the latter, with cocktail and nuts followed by a proper three-course lunch. Lunch consisted of an starter, four choices of main course and dessert.
The menu also included the drinks list with a wide range of alcoholic beverages, especially spirits, liqueurs and cocktails. However, there was no information about the different wines that were available, under the ‘Wine’ heading, was only a short comment, “A selection of red & white wine from an international range”, the same with the champagne. I was only able to see the champagne that was served when the flight attendant came by with the bottle to offer a refill, it was Jean Pernet, a fairly simple champagne. I assume wine and champagne is not something that SriLankan focuses on particularly.
Once up in the air, a light yellow cloth was laid on the table and a cocktail was served with a dish of nuts. I ordered another glass of champagne to drink.
The table was then prepared for lunch service. No trays were used in business class, something that always earns a plus. Instead, one of the flight attendants set the table with a very proper and stylish layout, with different dishes and glassware, silverware, butter and salt and pepper shakers.
The starter was a Thai-style pomelo salad. Pomelo is an Asian fruit that tastes a bit like grapefruit and was combined with salad and a Thai-inspired sauce that gave the starter a very distinctive flavour. It was not a favourite for me personally but was nice to experience something different. For the entree, bread was offered from a basket as well as a refill. I requested two slices of garlic bread.
There was a full four choices of main courses which is really good for a flight of two and a half hours. The four choices were curry “laksa style” with shrimp and rice, Thai-style chicken breast with rice and vegetables, beef stew with potatoes au gratin and a vegetarian option which was tofu and mushrooms with Chinese vegetarian noodles. I chose the chicken and it was really good. Just enough spices and an impressive presentation. I was also offered more bread and a refill of my glass.
The meal was finally rounded off with fresh fruit and dessert. I asked to have both and simultaneously ordered a cup of black coffee. The dessert was a strawberry mousse cake.
The meal service was entirely satisfactory with good food, interesting choices, as well as a stylish and elegant presentation. This combined with friendly and very attentive staff. In addition, a big thumbs up as they chose not to use trays in business class, which requires considerably more work and coordination for the cabin crew.
The flight started out somewhat uninspiring when no one was there to greet me as I boarded. Everyone was still busy trying to finish the preparation and minimise the delay. This was something I think is highly undesirable.
Basically, the service was very friendly and attentive and they really made the best of the flight with frequent refills of my glass and all the attention i required. All the serving was from sleek silver trays. The purser also kept an eye on the service and later during the flight, came by to ask about the food and if the service had been satisfactory.
Just after 5pm Hong Kong time, we began the approach and were simultaneously offered more to drink. I ordered a glass of orange juice. Before landing we were also given a thank you and goodbye, with the cabin crew coming into the cabin and giving a wai bow to us passengers. A very friendly and respectful gesture.
The weather in Hong Kong was not the best with a lot of cloud and some turbulence, although it did give a few glimpses of the city minutes before landing, including a view of the Grand Harbour. At 5.25pm we finally landed, 15 minutes behind schedule. Once again, we used the front door in business class, where the enthusiastic purser took my hand and personally thanked me by name as I walked out.
A very good flight with excellent food, good service, a very attentive cabin crew and a business class seat which is a distinct improvement on what was previously offered. A decent wine list and a slightly more stylish design of the cabin were pretty much the only things that were missing. With SriLankan soon becoming part of the global alliances, I have no objection whatsoever.