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SriLankan Airlines is a popular choice for travelers to the Maldives given the fact that it operates several flights a day on the 90-minute route from Colombo to Malé. TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen recently tested out the carrier’s economy product. Here’s his review of the experience. (All photos are by the author).

After a two-week trip to Sri Lanka, I found myself with about six extra days on my hands so I started to think about where else in the Asia-Pacific I could go before heading back to the States.

I’ve wanted to visit the Maldives since I first heard about the island nation a few decades ago and this was the closest I’d ever been, so I started to put together a little trip-within-a-trip and to look into my flight options from Colombo to Malé.

Checking out the planes on the tarmac at Colombo.
Checking out the planes on the tarmac at Colombo.


Travelers to the Maldives who are transiting through Colombo have a few options for getting over to Malé. There are continuing flights on carriers including China Eastern and Korean Air, a daily flight on Emirates and up to four flights per day on SriLankan Airlines.

Originally, I thought I’d take Emirates’ flight, which was the cheapest at the time at about $181 round-trip. However, it operates in the evening out of Colombo and that would have gotten me into Malé too late to transit to my first hotel, so I ruled it out.

Instead, I started to look into the options on SriLankan and found a flight departing at 1:30pm in the afternoon and arriving at 2:25pm. My return trip would depart at 3:25pm and arrive into Colombo at 5:25pm.

Orbitz was pricing itineraries, including my preferred flights and several others like this one, at $277 round-trip.

SriLankan Orbitz

That seemed a bit high considering the Emirates flights were just $181, so I looked on SriLankan’s actual website and prices were listed as 30,828 Sri Lankan rupees, or about $211, so I saved myself $66 just by double checking.

SriLankan price

I was also curious to see how much an award would cost. SriLankan is part of the Oneworld Alliance and this is a short flight, so I thought my best option would be to redeem British Airways Avios. I priced out the award and it came to 9,000 Avios + $124.50 for a round-trip ticket, so I would just be saving about $87.50 for 9,000 Avios, a value of less than one cent apiece.

Avios options

The Avios + cash awards offered an even worse value, so I decided to just pay for my ticket instead with my Citi Premier Card so I would earn 3x points per dollar on the airfare.

Avios Cash options

I attached my American Airlines AAdvantage number to the reservation so I could earn award and elite-qualifying miles. My outbound flight was booked into the V fare class, earning me 75% of flight miles while the return trip was booked in the discount O class, earning just 25% flight miles. I earned 500 award miles as a minimum on each, though, thanks to my elite status. On the downside, I earned just 0.5 elite-qualifying miles per mile flown for a total of 482 EQMs.

My outbound flight was on an A330-200, while the return trip was on an A320. For the outbound, I was able to select an aisle seat in the second row of the economy-class cabin, but I noticed that the bulkheads, exit rows and a decent number of aisle and window seats were blocked off, so I wasn’t sure if I was just late to the game or if they were holding them for day-of assignments.

Airport and Lounge

I got to the airport about two hours before my flight. I had thought about checking in at a desk, but when I had logged in the day before to see if any seats in an exit or bulkhead row had opened up, they were still blocked, so I just checked in online and printed my boarding pass myself.

Pre-security at the Colombo Airport.
Pre-security at the Colombo Airport.

With that in hand, I avoided the check-in counters and headed straight for security.

Check-in counters after the first security checkpoint.
Check-in counters after the first security checkpoint.

There is a pre-security area for international flights at Colombo and after a quick screening, I went straight to the passport control area. Beyond that, you head upstairs to where the main concourse is.

Heading upstairs post-security.
Heading upstairs post-security.

This area is home to lots of little souvenir shops and the main SriLankan Airlines Lounge.

Shops in the main concourse area.
Shops in the main concourse area.

I didn’t have access to the lounge since I was traveling with an economy ticket, but thanks to my Platinum Card from American Express and the Priority Pass membership it confers, I could access the Lotus First Class Lounge just a few gates down from my departure gate.

Heading down the terminal to the Lotus lounge.
Heading down the terminal to the Lotus lounge.

The lounge receptionist swiped my Priority Pass card and handed me a slip of paper with the Wi-Fi code. There were just a few other passengers inside. While it’s not the prettiest lounge in the world, it was comfortable enough and there was plenty of seating available.

Was it pretty? No, but it was comfortable and functional.
Was it pretty? No, but it was comfortable and functional.

Mostly, it was full of generic armchairs and sofas surrounding coffee tables.

Mostly it was armchairs and coffee tables.
The Lotus First Class Lounge was mostly armchairs and coffee tables.

Though they were not exactly plentiful, there were electrical outlets here and there. Just a word of warning: They don’t have universal adapters so be sure to have a Sri Lankan adapter on hand if you want to plug in here.

One of the seating areas.
One of the seating areas.

The lounge had a cute little buffet area with hot and cold options.

The lounge
The lounge’s beverage selection.

Hot buffet options included a meat curry, vegetables and rice.

The selection of hot dishes.
The selection of hot dishes.

Also on offer were some cheeses and cold cuts, crudités and some sweets for dessert.

Some of the desserts and fruits.
Some of the dessert and fruit choices.

There were several spirits, white and red wine as well as some beers and sodas in the fridge. Guests could also enjoy hot coffee and tea.

There was a decent selection of spirits as well.
There was a decent selection of spirits as well.

The lounge does not make boarding announcements, so about a half-hour before my flight was scheduled to depart, I headed to my gate, went through the security checkpoint there and pretty much boarded right away.

I thought I’d wait until boarding was almost complete since I just had a carry-on with me and wasn’t too worried about overhead space on this wide-body aircraft. When the airline agents announced preliminary boarding for Oneworld elites, I decided just to go ahead and board.

Cabin and Seat

As I mentioned, I had snagged an aisle seat in the second row of economy — the cabin is configured in a 2-4-2 layout.

The cabin was laid out with two seats on the sides and four in the middle.
The cabin was laid out with two seats on each side and four in the middle.

Each seat in economy has about 31 inches of pitch and is a mere 17 inches wide. It felt like I was flying in economy on a domestic US airline!

The seats were a little...tight.
The seats were a little…tight.

There were 252 seats in total in two large cabins.

A shot down the middle of the front cabin.
A shot down the middle of the front cabin.

The cabin is done in an interesting — and bright! — palette of turquoise and orange. These planes are fairly new and mine looked pretty spotless, but something about the fabric and the colors made it feel a little tired.

The back cabin from the rear of the plane.
The back cabin from the rear of the plane.

Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment

I did appreciate that each economy passenger was given a free set of headphones and that each seat had a seat-back IFE screen with the entire entertainment selection available free of charge.

After the doors closed, I was able to move up to the bulkhead.
After the doors closed, I was able to move up to the bulkhead.

I kept tabs on the bulkhead row in front of me and while there were two passengers in the middle section, no one sat in front of us so as soon as the cabin doors closed, I asked a passing flight attendant if I could move up a row and she said it wasn’t a problem.

The seatback IFE screens.
The seat-back IFE screens.

Those seats had plenty of legroom and IFE monitors that stowed in the armrest, so I could only use mine (in bulkhead) during the flight after takeoff and before landing. I was working on my computer anyway, though, so it didn’t really matter.

In the bulkhead, you have to stow your screens for takeoff and landing.
In the bulkhead, you have to stow your screens for takeoff and landing.

Food and Beverage

One of the things I find both a blessing and a curse about flying in this part of the world is that the crew members manage to perform a meal service, even on very short flights like this one. That’s great if you haven’t had time to eat, but not so great if you actually want to get up and move around the cabin since the meal service takes up a good portion of the flight.

On this particular flight, there was just a single meal: Chicken curry with rice and a kind of coconut rice pudding.

Meal service included curry chicken.
Meal service included curry chicken.

I had stocked up on snacks in the lounge but I had a few bites of the chicken just to taste — it was pretty delicious. The rice was fine and the dessert was actually pretty bland, so I only tried a bite. Beverage service included water, juices and soft drinks while a second walkthrough included coffee and tea.

Aside from the brisk meal, I thought the service on this flight was great. The flight attendants were efficient and helpful without being pushy or fawning over me.

Overall Impression

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a lot from this flight. I figured it would be chock-full of honeymooners on their way to the Maldives, which it was, but that also meant everyone was in a pretty good mood.

Flying over the Maldives.
Flying over the Maldives.

However, like my first flight with SriLankan in its new A330-300 business class, this one impressed me and reminded me of intra-Asian flights I’ve taken on other top-shelf Asian carriers like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.

Just before landing in Malé.
Just before landing in Malé.

The airport and boarding experience were orderly and quick, the ground and cabin crew were friendly and competent and the plane felt clean and new.
Everything went according to schedule, the food was tasty enough to tempt me after hogging the snacks in the lounge and the in-flight entertainment was up-to-date. Not only that, but the flight was a bargain at just over $200 for a round-trip ticket (after I booked directly through SriLankan Airlines’ website rather than through Orbitz) and I was able to earn American AAdvantage miles on it.

All in all, I’d say it was a really good travel experience on an airline with a courteous and professional staff and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly SriLankan again. In fact, I think I’ll be doing so later this month and I’m looking forward to it!

Have you ever flown economy on SriLankan Airlines? Tell us about it, below.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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