A couple of months ago, I wrote about a friend that was looking to go to Male in the Maldives on holiday. There was seven of them travelling and they were looking at flights, and resigned to a large bill. Well, I did a few searches and came back with an option that saved them almost £15,000 compared to the flights with Emirates that they were considering instead. Alex has come back and written a review of their trip, which he wanted to share.
So this all starts in early August when I, along with friends, were planning a trip to the Maldives for a Special Birthday (for my second Mum and Dad). They had never been before, and the rest of us had visited (kid free) a couple of years back. The two certains were, it had to be Maldives and it had to be a nine day October window when the stars aligned in our combined busy diaries.
So we had the dates, on to the flight search. Five adults and two children over two years of age….. so seven seats. Business class was a must as it was a special occasion, and to be honest most of this party are too well travelled to slum it for anything more than a Malaga! All results were turning up a group price of £24k which was expected, but still high even in I class inventory. With kids in tow ex-EU was not an ideal option, direct flights (BA only) are seasonal and weren’t available at this time. At any price the long layovers and midnight shuffle with the middle-east three weren’t ideal, so I thought I’d drop Dave a line. He very quickly found a Sri Lankan promotional fare of just under £11k for us all. Amazing deal, and as a group of British Airways Executive Club travellers we could benefit from the tier points and mileage credits as Sri Lankan are part of the oneworld alliance. Incidentally the BA Gold Guest List telephone line quoted £50k for the same fare. I booked the fare on Sri Lankan’s own website and all was ticketed within a few minutes. There was even some flexibility with a £250 cancellation/change fee.
With a 21.30 departure we arrived at LHR T3 by car with 2.5 hours to spare. The usual hideous rush hour arrival, and the delights of the entrance to T3 via the tunnel, so we left plenty of spare time. I had pre-selected all seats for both sectors online (no cost) so check in at the Business Class desks was straight forward, and handled by an agent for Sri Lankan. The reams of BPs were printed along with invites to all the lounges along the trip; we needed a filing system for this amount of paper! We headed to the BA First Class Lounge at T3 (having a handful of Gold Cards amongst us it was our best option) to be greeted by an extremely curt BA lounge dragon. He couldn’t dampen our moods if he tried, we were all so excited. It isn’t the best lounge, and no First Wing like T5A, however with a few glasses of red, bubbly and some of the yummy sweet potato fishcakes we were all content. The kids ate and played happily in the kids room on the Playstation.
Boarding at 20.30 was displayed earlyish, however there was a bit of a walk, with the kids (and their annoying trunkies) we left in good time. Boarding was handled well and Business Class were called first, and as we had kids we got the advantage of being first on. We were greeted warmly by the immaculately dressed Sri Lankan crew (I asked if they were Sri Lankan) and taken to our seats by the traditionally dressed female crew helping us today. They really were beautiful, with a form over function of their uniforms. Onboard this Airbus A330-300 (around 2 years old) the seat is a Cirrus adaptation [reverse herringbone] of four across, and we essentially had row 1…. A E F K and some seats in row 2. The crew offered to help with the kids throughout the flight (a sky nanny service) which was amazing! We could all enjoy the hospitality of Sri Lankan. If you’ve flown American Airlines or Cathay Pacific this seat is the same, and I really like it. It is more aligned to Cathay Pacific as I find the American Airlines variant more upright and firm. Although similar to some Qatar Airways seats this just felt like a longer footprint as the IFE monitor is not a fixed screen right in front of you. 1 E and F had much larger footwells and were ideal for couples travelling. All window seats had two windows, with none having any obscured views. In terms of layout and seat this is far superior to British Airways and even Emirates. As much as I like the Emirates A380 with bar, this runs rings around their seats (in my view Emirates are also truly eight across despite the staggered four across config).
Pre-boarding Champagne came around, Piper Heidseck Brut, and this was perfectly acceptable, and a preference to the battery acid served in British Airways Club World. Some of us asked for red and white wine and this was no problem. Refills pre-takeoff were on demand and were delivered with a smile. How the basic things matter so much! Kids were given the kids pack of goodies too, and so with their iPads they remained very relaxed and happy.
Menus were handed out and we departed on time (with a 50 minute connection in CMB this was a relief) and a flight time of just under eleven hours. Perfect for some wine, dinner and a good amount of sleep. Now I didn’t take the menu wine list combo, but there were a perfectly drinkable selection of reds and whites including a Cab Sav, Shiraz Merlot, a drinkable Chardonnay and a Sauv Blanc. Port, Baileys and a lovely Camus XO Congnac were also on offer, as well as Bombay, Fever Tree etc…. you get the picture. Champagne was served in medium sized flutes after take off, and wine in stemless rather small glasses; however top ups were regular and use of the call bell was met with smiles. Cashew nuts came on a small plate, and were re-filled if you wanted more.
Food was very Sri Lankan, so spicy. We all enjoy a curry so this wasn’t an issue, except the kids would not really eat that. We suspected this and had the kids had eaten well in the lounge anyway. It was well passed their bedtime so both kids had been tucked up in bed with pillows, blankets, bunny and penguin of course. They slept almost the WHOLE flight. The A330 is not too noisy, possibly a little less than the 777 with its huge engines, but I don’t expect silence, nor would i want it with my snoring travel companions. I opted for a smoked salmon starter, a side salad, a Sri Lankan chicken curry, with coconut rice, daal, and a glass of the Shiraz. My friend went for the dry spiced lamb chops, which he sent back as they were not very hot. I noticed another passenger do the same. The food was replaced or reheated (not sure) and brought back without any fuss. Finally dessert & cheese silver service trolley came down the aisles. You could have both, and I am sure of you wanted more it was not an issue. I took a glass of Camus XO, encouraged my friends to as well, and after a few of these I put the bed down, using my blanket as a mattress (this seat is leather and I am always warm). I changed into my own pyjamas (not given out) and slept for seven hours until the breakfast service. I didn’t use the IFE however it looked good, and appeared to be exactly the same system as American Airlines. Movies, TV and some eastern options were all on demand of course, and the route map also offered a live nose and tail camera.
I was woken, as we all were, by a rather firm nudge from the cabin crew. I looked up to be met by the firm announcement of “Sir, it’s time for the breakfast service”. Almost as if its mandatory to have breakfast! Had I used the in-flight entertainment and my headphones I would have seen the stickers inside the packet “let me sleep” and unless you stuck this on the side of the seat they woke you up. We all thought it was rather funny how they woke everyone up so abruptly.
A cheese omlette, a Sri Lankan breakfast, a selection of fresh cut fruits, bircher muesli, cereals, hot croissants and muffins were offered along with good quality filter coffee (no espresso or cappuccino maker) and of course some excellent Ceylon tea. I enjoyed some ceylon tea and a cheese omelette with some fruits; and this was fine. We landed in Colombo at 12.45 exactly to be met with torrential downpours out the window as we taxied the far end of the runway. It all looked very green and wet outside; being just an hour from Male we all hoped that wasn’t the theme there as it was just about the end of the Maldivian rainy season.
Disembarking was handled well, business class came off door 2L with Economy held back. Now remember with just 50 minutes until our next departure I was a little anxious as we had kids and the next flight to Male wasn’t for seven more hours! We walked up the jet bridge, and the gate literally opposite ours greeted us with “UL115 to Male Boarding”. It was that easy.
Mum number two uttered “well this is much better than British Airways” and really she isn’t wrong, it is, in almost every respect. We didn’t use the lounge so I can’t comment on Sri Lankans hub lounge on this outbound. After a quick security check, Business Class were ushered into a separate zone of the departure area and as we had kids we were asked to board within a few minutes. Plane to plane was around fifteen minutes; amazing! Will our bags make it with such a tight connection? Well one comfort was that ExpertFlyer showed a clear pattern of the Male flight being delayed and always seemed to leave after the Heathrow arrival. I assume this is tactical as many pax are transferring on to Male rendering it more of a feeder than a point to point à la easyJet. But easyJet it wasn’t; we were greeted by the same immaculately groomed crews, on another A330-300 with the same business class seating as our long haul. No baby A320s for this one hour shuttle! Sri Lankan do have some A330-200 aircraft in their fleet, which are not fitted with the new flat bed seats, although for a one hour flight their older seat would more than likely be fine, and certainly better than the “block the middle” business class seat offered on European carriers.
We departed at 14.30, on time, and all the crew wondered round offering pre poured glasses of Piper Heidseck, water and orange juice. We were all wide awake and in great moods having slept so well, so I asked if they had any red wine…. “of course, sir, we have two”. There was a Shiraz and one Argentinian from the Mendoza Valley that they apologised wasn’t on the menu. They opened the Argentinian one and me and my friend consumed that for most of the short flight. For an hour they packed in a full hot meal service (a curry of course) and this was excellent. Very Spicy, lots of accompaniments and a huge amount of rotis to mop it up. I heard a small murmering echo from 1F “oh its ridiculous this is so much better than British Airways”!
We landed on time at Male Velana International, having glided over some stunning atolls on the way in, we were all extremely excited by now. Down some steps into the warm sunshine, we walked to immigration, without having been given any landing cards on board. We frantically scribbled some out and within fifteen minutes we were at the baggage belt, nail biting time for me as I thought with seven of us at least one bag could go on its own holiday! All the bags came through quickly and we exited with no fuss to be met by out hotel rep and Trans Maldivian Airways for the sea plane to our hotel. This is a long journey indeed, however because of the main sector being so long none of us suffered the dreaded eastern jet leg as we all slept for a good amount of time, with no need to wake mid-journey to tackle a monster middle-eastern hub!
I had low expectations for this journey from Sri Lankan. And how very wrong I was; I heard they don’t make much money at all (well not from us they didn’t!) but they deserve to grow and become a larger hub carrier. Their hard and soft product are good, they are a member of the oneworld alliance; I can only assume that they need to advertise more. The fare Dave found me was not showing on Google Flights or any of the more mainstream search tools, and even as an experienced traveller I wouldn’t have thought to search their website directly. Next time I fly east I’d still always look for non-stop direct flights, however I shall certainly consider them again.