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Wednesday, November 09, 2016

My Experience with Srilankan Airlines

This post shares my first time experience booking and flying Srilankan Airline. Didn’t have a chance to fly them so far- both my Srilanka trips were on Spicejet. Few months ago, accidentally saw a low fare on Srilankan to go to Male, Maldives, a destination that was on my radar since months. Normal fare in Spicejet or Air India or Srilankan was around 15k, but on that day I say a low fare of 11k, the dates were sort of convenient and I immediately booked ticket, for travel during Oct 29-31 period. (2 days only). It was a full service airline, supposed to be good and better than Spicejet or Air India (other two main airlines connecting India and Maldives) Since I hadn’t tried Srilankan before, I booked my Maldives trip with this airline, with a transit at Colombo, with lots of anticipation and curiosity as to how the experience will be.

In summary, the flights were good and flying experience was great, but they could do some improvements on the website and other pre-flying process.
The Booking experience
1. Currency conversion expense: Though website shows fares in INR, your card will be charged in USD- which means card issuing bank will charge a commission & conversion fee at par with international transaction. This means your actual cost can be about 5% higher than what is shown on the website. If you buy on Air India or Spicejet, this additional currency conversion expense will not be there. Given that India is a major market for Srilankan, they should accept payments in INR to save customers this extra cost.

2. No Modify option
As we search for a ticket fare, there is no option to modify the request to say change the date or destination etc. If you hit back, you have to key-in all the information once again. This is very inconvenient to me, because I often try to figure out when it is cheapest or to where it is cheapest, by editing dates and destinations. In the chart where it shows fares, knowing the timings is also difficult- we can see that only in next stage. Because of this, I am forced to use websites like MakeMyTrip first to know cheapest destinations and flight timings, then come to airline website for actual booking may be. This part also airline should work upon and make it easier for customers to search

3. Loyalty Membership issue
I bought ticket first (because I didn't want to risk losing low fare) and then created an account on Srilankan website. Once I logged in, there was no way to retrieve a booking and link it to my account. I was asked to send an email to the support team. I have sent one, no reply received in 3 months as of this moment. So I have to retrieve my booking every time using last name and booking reference. Because of this disconnect, I lost whatever loyalty points I could have got on my Maldives ticket. Overall, the website experience is not the best in the industry- they can improve it a lot better.

4. Web Check-in and Airport Check-in
  • I tweeted to their twitter handle asking how many days before departure web check in can be done. There was no reply.
  • I tried 3 days before, but system would say “No passenger found” instead of saying “Ticket is not open for web check in yet”. No passenger found is a scary message to show to your prospective passengers.
  • Eventually I figured out that web check in opens only 24 hours before flight departure. This is too late in my opinion- Air Asia opens Web Check in 14 days before travel date. 
5. Delay
Apparently one of my flights was delayed by 5 minutes. For this the below big message was shown to me. Though the screen says I can select new flights free of charge, there is no option to do so online. I called their helpline and asked me to be put on an earlier UL125 (0040 departure), but I was denied this move flight. (I was asked to pay INR 6700+ for this change that was 50% of what I paid for entire round trip ticket- Chennai to Male and back- there is no way I am going to pay another 7k just to be put on an earlier flight. I asked for free move flight. The lady checked with her supervisor and said it is not possible since the delay is only 5 minutes and free move flight is offered only if delay is more than 2 hours)

So if my only option is to confirm the change of timing, why show all these messages to me? This delay was not communicated via email or SMS, I was shown this only when I retrieved by booking on the site.
6. Bid for business class
They send multiple mails asking me to bid for business class upgrade, but didn’t send any email about flight timing change. Looks like they have an auction system in which you can bid a price for upgrade to business class- if your bid proves to be the highest, you get to upgrade at that price. I didn’t participate in this, as I was reasonably sure someone else will big higher and I don’t have a chance. Minimum bid amount is 50 USD per passenger per leg

7. Check in and boarding experience
Was pretty standard. No issues. Srilankan allows 30 kg baggage allowance, more than many other international airlines. All my 4 flights were on time.

8. In flight Experience- meals, entertainment, WiFi
Meals were great. Though Chennai-Colombo and Colombo - Male were short flights (little more than 1 hour each), full meals were served and they were good. Many other airlines only provide sandwiches or such light items on short duration flights. So my full marks to Srilankan  for providing tasty food. Tea/Coffee were served but no juices were on offer.
There was no option to select meals.(Veg Non Veg or type of meals)- Thankfully we got veg meals on all flights- one of the flights didn’t even stock non-veg,meals.

In-flight WiFi
Srilankan offers a paid WiFi service, but their package is similar to what I had experienced on Air Asia. 3 MB is good for nothing, but is good to have if you have some emergency communication to make which can't wait till you land. I didn't try this. If 3MB is 5 USD, for 10 USD I should get 6 MB or more, but Srilankan logic of 5 MB for USD 10 looks like a joke. Any sensible person will buy two x 3MB packs.

The Aircrafts
Were nice. Interestingly, we got all wide body aircrafts on our trip- A330-200 and A330-300. Flying on these double aisle wide body aircrafts complete with entertainment systems is lots of fun- feels like true international experience, compared to flying an A320 or 737. So I thoroughly enjoyed the aircraft and flight experience. Srilankan do have a few single Aisle A320-200 and A321-200, just hope you get the 330 series. (Spicejet doesn't even have widebody aircrafts and I doubt if Air India will ever deploy their widebody aircrafts to Maldives)

Entertainment:
No earphones were given, even on request. If I had known this earlier I would have carried one of my own. Because I didn't know, I couldn't enjoy the audio. Of the 4 legs, Colombo- Male A330-300 didn't have any movies enabled, but on remaining 3 legs I could watch movies. Movie collection was good- included Hindi, Tamil and other movies which were released in past 1-2 years.
The Srilankan Network:
Srilankan offers connectivity to 100+ destinations worldwide, with about 7 new destinations added from November 2016. But only about 30+ destinations are served by Srilankan on its own, rest are via code share partners- Air Berlin, Malaysian, Etihad, Mihin Lanka etc. So if your ticket is not serviced by Srilankan then the experience may not be same.
Upgrade:
On our return journey we had 10 hour transit in Colombo. I tried my luck asking to be put on an earlier flight, I was told that flight is -5 (meaning overbooked by 5 people). I tried my luck requesting lounge access- I was told I can buy one at USD 15 for 3 hours. A couple ahead of me tried negotiating an upgrade to business class for their Colombo-Singapore flight- they were told an upgrade would cost them about 250 on Srilankan operated flights and 350 USD if operated by other partner airlines. Essentially you can't hope for any free upgrade or facilities. The passenger sitting besides me in Chennai-Colombo leg was heading to London and had a pass for lounge. Not sure if he got it free or because of loyalty points or purchased it.

While my experience was overall great, friend and fellow blogger Umesh says in 2013 his checked-in bag was unlocked and goods stolen, on a Srilankan flight to Bangkok- many other passengers also suffered similar theft and nothing much was done by the airline towards it. I am hoping that was an one off accidental occurrence and not a regular risk.

Air hostess were in their early or mid 30s mostly- if those things matter to you.
I had noted few other complaints/inconveniences about the website, as the navigation was way different from AirAsia, Spicejet and other airline websites I frequently use. But after sometime I got used to it, so I think it just takes time.
Good things I liked about Srilankan airlines
  •           Wide body aircrafts with good entertainment systems
  •           Full meals even on short flights
  •           Reasonable to cheap fares
  •          On time performance
Where they can improve:
  1.            Open web check in bit earlier
  2.          Allow easy modification of booking inputs
  3.           Allow easy association of bookings done without membership details into membership accounts
  4.           Allow payment in INR
  5.           WiFi plan is not really practical. Any normal use will exhaust 10 MB within minutes. Something like 100MB for 15-20 USD is a fair deal in my opinion.
Indian Bloggers So that sums up my Srilankan experience. If I spot similar low fares, I am looking to book few more trips with them in future.

7 comments :

The wild said...

Widebodied planes are flown/decided purely based on load factor ,depending on the destination they will have different planes during different seasons to cope with the load factor.

Again in case of A330-200 depending on the seat matrix ,generally it has less leg room.

A320 and A321 are again very good short haul flights.Even current age ,flying hours ,maintainability by the airlines all play a major role on the customer experience.Srilankan airlines was in bad shape financially about 3 to 4 years ago but they are trying to keep it simple in going for an Airbus Fleet with a decent ratio of short vs long haul

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Ok thanks.

Aircraft type was known right at the time of booking, some 3-4 months ago, so not a last minute change but yes, could have been planned for a season

Thanks for your comment

rupam sarma said...

Thanks for sharing :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Rupam- You are welcome

Renuka said...

Thanks for sharing such a detailed and useful post. I hope Srilankan airlines is listening and ready to improve where it needs to.

Prasad Np said...

looks like Sri Lankan is a good airline, based on your detailed review...

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Prasad- Yes, didn't spot any major issue or deficiency, website experience can be improved

@Renuka- You're welcome.