Flight : UL502
Aircraft : A340-313 4R-ADC
Gate : 2 Terminal 4
Schedule Departure : 21.45
Actual Departure : 10.00 - Blocks off : 21:40 Taxi: 21:42.
Sector : London (LHR) – Male, Maldives(MLE)
Flight time: 10 hrs 15 min.
Heathrow T4 was a hive of activity on a Friday evening. There were the usual two sets of long queues winding its way zigzagging across the length of the terminal for BA check-ins. I made my way through the throngs of passengers to the extreme left end of the terminals where the Srilankan (UL) check-in counters are located. I was surprised to see that two of the counters previously allocated to UL were taken up by Asiana now, thereby there were only 4 economy desks and 1 Business class desk was operating on that busy Friday. Add to that there was a lot of confusion as to which queues was for whom amongst the Asiana (747 to Seoul) and UL passengers as the different lines were cutting across each other. This is made worse by the fact there is a Costa Café which takes up a fair bit of space at the end of the check-in area, thereby forcing the check-in lines to curve around rather than be straight. Looks like a full flight tonight!
Check-in was a breeze, as there were only two people in front of me in the Business class check-in which Skywards Silver/Gold passengers can use as well. The check-in staff are actually BA personnel and the boarding passes are also on BA stationery. The lady at the desk was quite cheerful and efficient. As we were making an immediate connection to Delhi (transit time 40 minutes) in Colombo our bags were tagged with large “Immediate Transfer” labels (These were on Srilankan logo). We were given the two sets of boarding passes and got the pre-assigned bulkhead seats for both sectors.
Photo © Rotate
I missed doing some spotting, which I normally do, as we had a drink with my mother-in-law who kindly dropped us off at the airport, and after the long queues at security (again no problem here – no removing of belt/shoes) got to the gate as passengers were being called out to board. Boarding commenced ( read – intended) with passengers with infants/children and the elderly requiring assistance, followed by rows 29 upwards. followed by the rest. Surprise surprise!, there was the usual mad rush of people converging at the desk (Don’t they listen to the announcement- rows 29 upwards only!! – as I saw quite a few people being told quite firmly (and quite rightly too IMHO) by the now stressed out staff at the desks – I do admire their patience – imagine faced with this kind of thing day in day out!! I mean, c’mon, they won’t leave you behind. Nor will you get the best seat. Duh!!
I just sat there until the last of the passengers had boarded, and then boarded through doors L2. Greeted by two smiling stewardesses with the “Ayuobowan” greeting. All the flight attendants were wearing a badge with “World’s friendliest Cabin crew” – an award Srilankan won from Skytrax earlier this year.
Photo © Ben Pritchard
I settled into my usual seat 6A, which is in a little section of 3 rows (Rows 6-8) just behind the Business class section backing on to the galley/L2. This is a good choice for 3 reasons .
a) you are guaranteed, there won’t be any screaming kids in there - because of the business class up front,
b) Passengers in that section get to disembark first, followed by Business class and then the rest of cattle class! (This is only applicable at places where aero bridges operate) And
c) It's just in front of the wing, so one gets a good view of the ground as well as the no 1 or 4 engines depending on which side you sit.
Hot towels were handed out and push back commenced soon afterwards, right on time. Notable was the absence of the usual welcome address from the flight-deck. The safety video was played while taxiing to RWY 09R. As soon as that finished the forward camera was switched back on the monitors. Taxi was short and we passed a few BA’s parked at remote stands G-CIVB (452), G-ZZZA (456). After a short wait, we lined up and were soon hurtling down the runway. As I was sitting on the left couldn’t see the planes that took off before us, but I did see a Thai 744 and a SAA 747 waiting to take-off behind us. The take off roll lasted 50 seconds, and we were finally airborne, and after an early right turn and then a slight left we were on our way towards Dover. I know a lot of you on A.Net don’t like the slow take-off, but I personally love the graceful, smooth ascent of the A340’s. Surprisingly for September, the sky was nice and clear all the way till we reached Frankfurt and Salzburg. We climbed steadily to FL350, which was maintained till we got to Dubai.
Drinks service started and the smell of hot rolls in the oven began wafting through the cabin. Drinks were brought out in a tray (Orange/Coke) in the front section as opposed to a trolley, and we were asked if anyone wanted Beer/ sprits, which was then brought individually to them. (Unusually, the savoury snack packet that is normally served with the drinks never materialised!) Food was soon served, again brought in trays from the galley just behind us. As I had requested a Vegetarian meal, I got mine early. I don’t think the veg. meal has been changed in the past 2 years!! It was the same each time on the night flights.
Asian Vegetarian Meal
Mixed beans and Chick pea salad (Called fresh green salad) & French dressing
Dahi Ghobi – (Steamed yellow rice with raisins, tempered dhal & Spinach)
Dinner - Asian Vegetarian meal
The non-veg options were :
Smoked salmon Waldorf salad
Filet steak in mushroom sauce
Buttered carrots & Sugar snaps
Chicken Biryani with Sauteed Aubergines
Tropical coconut Bavarois with chocolate sauce.
fresh strawberries for the Veg. option.
The following was served with all the meals:
Hot roll & butter
Cheese & Crackers
Coffee & Ceylon Tea
Flight attendants also came around with Red & White wine while the meal was in progress.
Lights were dimmed soon after the trays were cleared and the stewardesses came around asking the window blinds to be drawn down.
Seats were quite comfortable, with lumber support and adjustable winged headrests and foot rests. Obviously mine being the bulkhead seat did not have foot rests but ample leg room, although the hand rests cannot be moved because of the PTV screen and the tray table in them.
PTV’s were not as large as the ones on VS/SQ, but much bigger than the one's on UAL. I found them quite adequate. There was a good selection of films including Daddy Day Care with Eddie Murphy, The In-Laws with Michael Douglas, The Italian Job, Matrix Reloaded, A Man Apart, X2, Whale rider and Rugrats go wild , not to mention the TV channels, Tamil/Hindi/Sinhala/Hindi film channels , not forgetting the Forward, Downward cameras and the Airshow channel. There were a choice of 16 games, as well as 30 or so music channels offering a variety of music ranging from Pop hits, Rock, Jazz to Indian film songs.
It was a pretty un-eventful flight with hardly any turbulence at all. We climbed up to FL370 coming up to Dubai, which was maintained till we got to the Maldives. Most passengers were sleeping, so the cabin crew did not have to do too much, apart from going around with trays of water/Orange juice every hour or so. There were sandwiches and biscuits for those who felt a bit peckish (Which yours truly obliged of course!! – well I could never sleep on a plane, so got to keep myself occupied. (and I think eating is a good way to go about it!!).
Engine No 1 in flight
Lights were switched on 2 hours out of MLE and hot towels were handed out again together with OJ/Apple Juice and then breakfast.
Golden rice Omelette
Broiled mushroom & Grilled Tomato
Broiled Chicken Sausages
Sautéed mushrooms & Grilled tomatoes
( Note the play of words here – The Poultry sausage above and chicken sausage / Broiled mushroom/ Sautéed mushrooms They were the same thing!!)
Or the vegetarian option :
Sweet Corn cookies(not to be confused with sweetcorn!!)
Spinach with diced Tofu
Fresh fruit salad
Warm roll & Croissant
Butter & preserves
Ceylon Tea or Coffee
Breakfast - Vegetarian Option
Descent commenced 25 minutes out of Male, and I must say this must rank up there in one of the most beautiful approach sceneries in the world. Lots of tiny islands surrounded by beautiful blue sea like emerald/jade stones scattered on a blue velvet cloth., It was one of those moments in life you feel truly exhilarating - This is when I envy the Pilots....... Imagine having to turn up for work everyday, with their office floating over such wonderful scenery
View of an Male Island
View of descent into MLE
We landed on Rwy 18 at 12.06pm local time, which meant it took us 10 hrs and 06 minutes. Male airport is on a tiny strip of land, where the sea is only about 20 feet away from the runway!! This in turn means there is no taxiways, hence the aircraft goes to the end of the runway, does a 180 degree turn and back tracks along the runway to the mid way point and turns into a small apron where normally planes park one behind the other!
Photo © GPaolo Colombo
This time there was a LTU 330 D-ALPD, which was taking on passengers on its way to Colombo and then on to Germany.
LTU 330 at MLE
There are no aerobridges at MEL and I counted 20 passengers alighting at MLE and around 15 coming on board for the journey to Colombo. We were on the ground for 55 minutes. None of the other passengers were allowed to get off the plane and a team of cleaners came on board to clean the plane. With nearly a full load of passengers still on board, all they did was pick up some rubbish, Hoover the aisles and give the toilets a once over.
An Island Hopper Aircraft
There was a flight deck crew change and all the old crew (2 captains and one F/O) took up seats in Business class section on the MEL - CMB leg. The new cockpit crew came on board. The Captain did the walk around before coming on board.
Sector : Male (MLE) – Colombo (CMB)
Flight time : 1 Hr 5 min
While we were on the ground the LTU departed for Colombo. Headphones were then collected together with the Menu cards. The reasoning behind this was that the MLE – CMB sector only shows silent Charlie Chaplin short films on the PTV's. I as always, asked to keep then as I wanted to listen to music (as the music channels are always on till well after landing), which if requested they allow it. Hot towels were again handed out, and this time the towels were quite soggy – had poured more hot water over them than necessary before handing them out. The engines were started at 13:01 and started taxing back along the runway to the end of RWY18 and did another 180 turn. It always amazes me as to the skill of the pilot flying’s ability to turn such a long aircraft within such a tight space. On the way I spotted a few light aircraft as well a Private Air 757. I think it was HB-IEE parked at the end on the apron – must be on a private charter?
Private Air 757 parked at MLE
Take-off roll lasted 40 seconds and I am sure all of those watching the take-off on the forward camera might have feared that we were going to run out of runway space and use the sea too!! Luckily we rotated with about some 200 feet before the end. We climbed straight out to FL330.
A light snack service commenced soon after the seatbelt sign went off which consisted of two slices of sandwiches and orange juice served in a small tray. There was a choice of :
Tuna with Herb Mayonnaise
Descent commenced 150 miles out of Colombo and we approached the airport from the north-westerly direction landing on Rwy 22 at 15:15 local time. There were quite a few aircrafts there including the LTU (seen from Male), an Emirates 330, Indian Airlines A300 Unfortunately I could not spot the numbers as I was sitting on the left side and one Srilankan 320 (4R-ABB) and a A330 (4R-ALD)
Srilankan A330 at CMB
and a surprise one - 5X-GLA a 707-379 cargo
GLA+at+CMB.jpg&.view=t&.done=http%3a//uk.f1.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/ssg747400/lst%3f%26.dir=/UL1%26.src=ph%26.view=t>GLA 707 cargo at CMB
Maybe used for Armed forces transportation...
GLA+with+Airforce.jpg&.view=t&.done=http%3a//uk.f1.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/ssg747400/lst%3f%26.dir=/UL1%26.src=ph%26.view=t>GLA 707 at CMB
I though I might give you all an Indication as to the mix of passengers on the flight.
65% Expat Srilankans or people whose origin was from the Indian sub continent. – There were a lot of passengers from the USA connecting as well as Indians – South Indians.
35% Europeans – There were a couple of large group of package tourists and
There were also a small group of Oriental & Middle Eastern passengers.
Stairs were brought over to L1 and L4, so disembarkation was not too bad. Took the bus to the arrivals terminal and on to the transfer desk, where they were waiting for the transit passengers for Delhi and was asked to go straight to the gate!! We made my way to the seating area to find my Mum, who was joining us on the trip to Delhi from Colombo. They have this habit of getting passengers down to the gate area early and then have to sit in the cramped area for another 45 minutes before the coaches arrive to take us to the aircraft. Hence they had shepherded all of the passengers down to the departure gate. So instead I went to the toilets to freshen up and watched the Srilankan A330 (4R-ALC) that had just landed from SIN and UL / WMKK), Malaysia">KUL taxi to the parking stand. By this time they were putting out the final call for passengers to Delhi. So I skipped a trip to the Serendib lounge and made my way down to the departure area. There my boarding pass was taken from me and the lady said they would get a new one over to me. I was thinking that they must have arranged us to sit together. I spotted mum and went over to her. The ground stewardess came back with a new boarding pass and they had exchanged the BA pass I got from LHR to a Srilankan one with seat number 1D (Business class). Mind you , normally I would have been over the moon if this has happened, but with me travelling as a family, I was a bit embarrassed! I went over to the lady at the desk and explained that I was travelling with my wife & Mum, and unless they can upgrade them too I would rather have my original seat back again! She was totally confused at that and in the end she had to call the supervisor, who after apologising called the person’s name who was given my seat (Who turns out to be a back packer) and she got upgraded. I got great joy in watching her face light up on hearing the good news. I guess lady luck was on her side that day. But what puzzles me is does the system pick elite tire members randomly, with no human involvement, as it would have been obvious if anyone had cared to check, that we had booked at the same time and same surnames etc
Aircraft: A320 4R-ABB
Sector: Colombo – Delhi
Schedule Departure: 16:20
Actual Departure : 16:35
Flight Time : 3 hrs 5 min
Srilankan A320 Awaiting passengers
Boarding commenced at around 15:50. From the amount of people there plus the upgrade saga, I knew this was going to be a full flight. The Indian flights are always entertaining, as long as it does not directly affect you! What I mean is one has to see to believe what people consider as hand baggage on these flights. I kid you not, I have seen big boxes with TV’s in them being brought abroad as hand luggage! This occasion was no different. Bags & Boxes of different sizes (The only this common was they were all extremely heavy!!). By the time we got on as one of the last passengers, there was no space in the overhead luggage bins. Luckily as I had the bulkhead seat just behind Business class cabin, the purser managed to find a space in the Business class section. I felt quite sorry for the gentleman behind me, as he must have been at least 17 stone and had to squeeze into the window seat. The stewardess had to bring a seat belt extension to enable him to wear the belt. The two ladies in the aisle & middle seat refused to let him sit in the aisle seat when the Purser asked them if they would mind swapping seats. On my part, I did refrain from reclining my seat though. Had I been travelling on my own I would have swapped seats. Seats were not that comfortable unlike the ones on the A340’s and you had the feeling that one might slide off it any moment! Didn’t have footrests either.
Anyway, then just as everyone was on board, they asked all the passengers who had just arrived from SIN & UL / WMKK), Malaysia">KUL to go down and identify their baggage. Apparently this is a security measure, only applicable to people travelling from anywhere other than Europe. So does this mean that Srilankan Airlines thinks the security procedures at big airports like Changi & UL / WMKK), Malaysia">KUL inadequate? I haven't heard of any other airlines doing this? Anyway this caused a bit of delay and doors finally closed at 16:35, 15 minutes late. Once the doors closed the pushback commenced immediately and engines were started even before push-back was completed. It was a short taxi to the runway (RWY 22) and the safety demo was done manually. This was quite a powerful take-off roll compared to the A340 lasting just 30 seconds(Even with a full load) and we were airborne.
Antonov Cargo at CMB
After a sweeping 180-degree right turn over the coast of Negambo we flew along the west coast of Srilanka and then across the middle of India. One of the failings on UL's A320’s is that there are no on board cameras or TV for entertainment. I missed the moving map display, which would have given info on the route we took. The Flight deck crew did not elaborate on the route either, apart from telling us the flight will last 3hrs 5min and expecting a bit of turbulence along the way. On a flight time of over 3 hours, the lack of even music was poor show on the part of Srilankan. This compared to Air Sahara, who in their domestic flights have 4 channels of music was a real let down. (See separate trip report.).
A drinks service commenced and it consisted only of soft drinks (Coke/OJ/ Apple). The person across the aisle from me asked for a beer, which was brought to him (must be a frequent traveller, therefore he knew), which then prompted several others to ask for beers too! In the end the flight crew came around with a tray full of beer cans! .Probably a cost saving exercise on these short flights? The little packets of “Savoury Snack” was served this time around though.
Meal service commenced after about 30 minutes.
Spirally Noodles with Veg Salad
Main course a Choice of:
Chicken Tikka Makhani with Dal Tadka and Peas Pulau
Mustard Fish Curry with Tempered Green beans and onions and Vegetable fried rice
Navarthna Khorma with Baigen Masala and Dry fruit Pulao
Strawberry Mirror Slice or Fresh fruit
Well looks like, if you didn’t like spicy food, then you were out of luck! I am sure they must have done some research in the past and come up with this selection. I had the Veg option of Navarthna khorma and it was quite nice.
There was a bit of light chop quite frequently, but overall it was a pleasant flight. Landing was un eventful and with it being quite dark outside and the lack of good lighting (Why oh why do all Indian airports have these hazy yellow lights?) I couldn’t tell what runway we landed on ( I guess it might have been RWY 28 as the international terminal buildings were on the left when we landed ) .
Airport itself was very quite (we landed at 19:36, hence it was before the rush hour period of 23:00 – 02:00 when I think most of the international flights seem to land) except for a JAL MD11 and an Indian Airlines A320 (VT-ESG), the Internationa terminal was deserted and we docked at Gate 46. I was pleasantly surprised on finding the International arrivals has changed for the better (Last visit was back in 1997), with air conditioning and nice indoor plants along the way leading up to the immigration counters. Immigration was a complete joke as usual, there were still some Japanese passengers waiting at the counter, and with our arrival the queues were getting longer. Still they only had 4 counters open for non-residents and one for Indian passport holders. Eventually after 10 minutes or so two more officials came and took their time in switching on the computer terminals and finally after queuing for around 25 minutes it was our turn. It always amuses me when they look at the passport and the photo of you and then ask you are you Mr so and so Com’on with the passport being renewed every 10 years or sooner and being over 30, one's facial features doesn’t change much does it from that on the photo? Ok I agree one’s the waistline does get bigger but the face?
Now having got through that with reasonable ease, we encountered another Indian Airport peculiarity – They put your hand baggage through the scanner!! Now, I can’t for the life of me understand why? I can understand the check before boarding but surely upon disembarking?? Maybe they were making sure we did not nick any of the airport plants/bulbs etc on the way or anything from the plane you had just arrived for that matter?!! Bizarre!
By the time we got to the luggage belt our bags had already been taken off the belt and kept in a long line!! People were pushing each other to get their bags, so we waited until it quietened down a bit and found ours at the extreme ends of the line of bags! One has to make sure that you have the tiny portion of slip torn from the immigration form for handing over to the customs personnel waiting. There are no Green/Red channels here. The customs official inquired as to where I had come from and waved us through when I replied “London”. So after 25 hours of travelling I was looking forward to a week of relaxation, sightseeing and of course lots and lots of excellent Indian food and sweets!!
On this Colombo Delhi sector around 70% were of Indian origin. Mostly business/tradesmen, including passengers returning from Singapore and Malaysia. I would have thought it might have been cheaper flying SIA/AI/MH direct – unless UL were offering some good fares? No wonder they are looking to increase frequencies to India. Looking at the passenger load factor its surprising Indian airlines does not operate their own metal on this route. They code share on UL metal.
The rest were a mixture of Srilankans and foreign nationals on holiday and I did speak to two families travelling to the US with Air India via London/Paris. Apparently this is preferable to the usual changeover in Singapore or London as families with elderly persons / children do not have to change aircraft, but continue on the same plane!
(All marks given out of 10)
Check-in : (8/10) Very efficient but Economy class lines were a mess due to the lack of space. Having been a long term T4 user, I would have thought UL would have had a bit more clout to get extra desks as opposed to a few taken away by Asiana.
In-flight Service : (9/10) Lived up to their “World’s friendliest Cabin Crew” reputation. Service was very good. Came around with Water/OJ quite frequently during the night. Hot towels were dripping – too much water poured on them on one occasion caused them a 10/10 this time around!
Catering: (8/10) Food was Hot and rolls were warm on all the sectors. From a frequent flyer’s point of view the lack of variety on the menus (The Vegetarian Menu had not changed the last three times I had been on since last September) was a bit of a let down.
LHR-CMB (9/10) Good choice of films, TV shows, Music channels & Games not to mention the on board cameras. I only gave a 9 since there is no AVOD, which IMHO is going to be industry standard soon.
CMB-DEL (0/10) A 3 Hrs+ flight with not even Airshow/music ???
Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
Apologies if I have rambled on a bit!!