Srilankan Long haul economy experience-Colombo Beijing

All my flights with Srilankan so far were of short duration- Chennai-Colombo, Colombo-Male and Colombo-Gan Island. These sectors are mostly served on narrow body A320 (with occasional exception of A330) and is too short to experience anything. A light snacks- sandwich is served and often they won’t even have time to serve coffee as descent would begin within an hour of take-off. Previous post on Srilankan short haul experience here. But recently I got to experience their long haul flight between Colombo and Beijing, served by A330-300. Though I’ve had multiple long haul flights this year- Auckland, Gold Coast etc) they were with LCCs, without food, entertainment or any other comfort. [AirAsia X Auckland experience] My previous long haul flights on a full service airline were Lufthansa, Air France etc couple of years ago. Hence I was looking forward to the Srilankan flight to Beijing- hoping to have a relaxed flight with couple of meals and probably a movie or two during the 6.5 hours flight.
Colombo-Beijing experience:
Srilankan A330 has 2+4+2 configuration, which is much better than Air Asia’s 3+3+3 configuration, which tries to pack one per person per row. There won’t be any need to pass 2 people in the 2+4+2 configuration. If you can get your seat in the 2 seater portion, your trip will be fairly comfortable.

Food: I was expecting two meals- one after take-off and one before landing. But we were served only 1 full meals after take-off and a light snacks before landing. Since the flight is only 6.5 hours long, technically speaking Srilankan is justified serving only one meal. But then, from my point of view, I boarded at about 1 PM, it was 11 PM when we got off the plane, so I was under Srilankan’s care for half a day. It would be midnight when we reach our hotel from airport and finding dinner at midnight is difficult- so if Srilankan had served dinner as well it would have been super great. But obviously airlines need to watch their cost and can’t afford to be too generous. Food was fine- my vegetarian meal was served upfront so I didn’t have to wait. I noticed that instead of rolling the cart in the aisle, crew personally carry the meals in hand and serve the guests, which takes a bit more time if you’re in the back, but feels lot personal.
Collection of empty tray took longer than usual. 

Entertainment was fine. I watched a few movies. Headphone was provided (they are not provided on short haul flights). But before each video we’ve to see an announcement that we should watch our belongings as there have been reports of thefts and a long ad video. It can be skipped using forward bar.

Compared to a low cost carrier like AirAsia X, full service airline crew have lots more work in their hands- they have to distribute pillows and blankets, issue n collect headsets, serve drinks at regular intervals, serve meals, collect blankets and so on. Srilankan crew did very good job of servicing the 300 odd guests.

PEK or Beijing Capital International Airport is one of the busiest in the world. But somehow didn't feel like that during my visit- probably because my flight was during off-peak hours and I had seen only a small portion of the airport (we were in terminal 2, there're 2 more terminals)

The check-in counters at PEK were a mess.
  • No separate counter for those who have done online check-in.
  • Business class counter won't process any economy passenger even if there's no business class customer anywhere nearby
  • Every 3rd passenger has an argument with staff- either they have too many bags or too heavy bags. With check-in counter staff's English not being that good, conversations often lead to frustration and delay.
  • Security scanner is right behind check-in counter- at times if the scanner beeps, a security staff has to come in, open the bag along with its owner, inspect and rescan- adds more time
  • Many people make friends while waiting in check-in line- mostly with people from their own state/language and by the time they reach the counter their friendship gets so strong, now they want to sit together in the plane-so staff now has to find them a seating together!
  • I was given this meals card- not sure why. Upon boarding I asked crew if I need to submit it- they said "keep it with you". If I have to keep it with me then what is the need to give it? I think this is probably because of possible language barriers- if a chinese passenger can't communicate with crew as to what kind of meals he/she needs, they can just show this card to the crew (a Chinese check-in counter staff would understand their needs better and write it down on this card)
On the return leg, Beijing to Colombo, I chose seat 20C for its extra leg room. Got a bit extra leg room, but realized that leg room varies aircraft to aircraft- the next flight- Colombo-Chennai, also served by an A330, had more leg room due to a slightly different positioning of bulkhead. Problem with row 20 are that the arm rest that doesn’t move and entertainment screen that needs to be stowed during take-off and landing. Some compromises for a more comfortable leg room. Return flight arrived from Colombo 30 minutes ahead of time, but our return flight was delayed by 30 minutes due to some ATC issues. Only one breakfast was served and nothing much- most guests slept during the flight.

At Colombo, I was expecting to get out through an aero bridge and connect to Chennai flight, but we were assigned a remote bay and had to take bus to terminal. I had a 90 minute connection time- of which some 30 minutes were eaten by delayed arrival and gates for next flight close some 30 mins prior. Effectively I had 30 minutes to go to terminal by bus and rush to the gate for next flight. As I got off the bus, entered the terminal and referred to the display screen, it was showing “Final Call” for the Chennai flight. That was scary- I had to literally run. But once I reached the gate I realized that they haven’t started boarding yet. Boarding didn’t start some 30 minutes after my arrival at gate. Why do they display “final call” and scare people if they don’t mean it? I could have walked comfortably. Chennai flight was late by an hour in total- it left late by 30 minutes and landed 30 minutes late because of bad weather in Chennai. Also I had ordered redemption of my FlySmile points on this flight- that is a different experience- read it here in detail

Overall it was fine. Despite some minor shortcomings, thanks to Srilankan for facilitating my China trip in budget. Staff are friendly, aircrafts are decent and service is fairly reliable. They do fly to various destinations long haul- London, Melbourne, Seychelles, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo Narita etc. If the ticket fares are tempting, then I would suggest booking on Srilankan without any hesitation. Waiting for their next 50% off sale to decide where else I can book next.

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