SriLankan Airlines Reviews


SriLankan Airlines History

Sri Lankan Airlines has its roots back in the routes of Air Ceylon, a small carrier set to fly between Singapore and Ceylon, until it was closed in 1978.

The government of the newly independent island of Sri Lanka decided it needed a state owned airline if it was going to complete on the world stage: or indeed, have any links at all with the outside world, and promply set up Air Lanka in 1979. It used two Boeing 707 jets on lease from Singapore Airlines, which it later purchased outright, and a Boeing 737 for shorter routes to India,

Air Lanka slowly expended, and by 1984 purchased its one and only Boeing 747, as part of a plan to capture on the then burgeoning demand for long haul tourist travel. Alas, the airline couldn't fill enough seats on this, and it was sold on, and by 1992 it became and Airbus customer, and served 26 destinations, including the mainline long haul route back to London.

However by this stage the airline was staggering along under the weight of government interference, which meant that some routes were maintained for prestige reasons, and loads were very poor. Privatisation was the name of the game in the late 1990s, as the Sri Lankan government tried to raise cash, and half of Air Lanka was sold on to Emirates in 1998 for US$70 million, along with a ten year management contract.

SriLankan Airlines
SriLankan Airlines Basic seatback TVs on the ex-Emirate A330s

Emirates promptly scrapped the Air Lanka brand, and rebranded as SriLankan Airlines, bringing in a new profitable culture, and senior management from the UK. Also to go were some of the older and tired planes, and a new fleet of long haul widebody Airbus jets were brought in, including six Airbus A330-200s to complement the fleet of Airbus A340-300 and A320-200 aircraft, which arrived in 2000. Also to go was the old three class layout: First Class was mainly just the domain of government officials, and Emirates brought in a new two-class configuration (business and economy class) on the A330 and A340 aircraft, using seats that were pretty much a standard Emirates design.

The ongoing Civil War within Sri Lanka has still continued to cause problems for Sri Lankan Airlines, and a terrorist attack on its main hub in Colombo which wrote off half of the airline's fleet could have been disastrous. However it actually turned out to be a lucky break for the airline, which had fully insured the planes, and as a result it was able to go shopping for a brand new fleet.

With a strong management and a firm grip on costs, SriLankan was on the up in the late 2000s, continuing expansion in the region, using it's core nonstop routes from Colombo, and Malι (the Maldives) to London, Paris and Tokyo.

Unfortunately for the airline – and it's passengers – the Sri Lankan government had other ideas, and rather liked playing with what it felt was its own airline. Even though it had given total control to Emirates, government officials were still in the habit of turning up at Colombo without tickets, and demanding free Business Class travel whenever they liked. It came to a head in 2007 when the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage of 35 were on a Christmas trip to London, and demanded that 35 passengers were removed from a fully booked flight to allow them to go shopping. The airline refused. The government retaliated by cancelling the work permits of management, and it all went downhill from there.

SriLankan Airlines
SriLankan Airlines A330 in the dusk at Colombo

Emirates walked away from SriLankan Airlines in March 2008, saying that the Sri Lankan Government was seeking greater control over the day-to-day business of the airline. Since then, SriLankan Airlines has gone back to its old ways of removing tourists from flights to make way for government officials.

The newly nationalised airline has once again introduced a policy of expansion, however some of these new routes have been poorly patronised since they were introduced in 2010, including Shanghai, in China. Another Chinese destination, Guangzhou, started in 2011. The latest route is to Toronto in Canada with a stopover via that old favourite, its flagship route to London-Heathrow. Alas the introduction of this route meant that Sri Lankan Airways had to downgrade it's heavily overbooked route from Singapore from an A340 to and A320 – which with hindsight may not have been the most sensible commercial decision. Equally, the flagship London route is now only once a day - previously it was twice a day.

SriLankan Airlines is now joining the Oneworld alliance.

Next Page: SriLankan Airlines Hints & Tips
SriLankan Airlines An A340 waits to leave for Colombo from Heathrow
All reviews and opinions on SriLankan Airlines food, service, seats, planes, upgrades, lounges, and the Frequent Flyer scheme are given as a personal opinion. No legal liability is accepted if you take my advice.
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