Colombo Airport Will Be A Mess For The Next 3 Months

Filed Under: SriLankan

Not only is Sri Lanka a beautiful country, but some of the world’s best premium cabin fares are published out of Colombo, so it’s an airport I pass through quite often in order to take advantage of great fares. While the airport isn’t especially nice, I’ve always found it fairly easy to transit. Because security is at each individual gate, there’s not much variability in wait times, which I appreciate.

Qatar-Business-Class-A340 - 49

Well, the airport only has a single runway, and some major repairs are needed to it, as cracks are starting to appear. So Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport will be closing for eight hours per day, in order for that to be able to happen. Planes won’t be able to take off or land between 8:30AM and 4:30PM, and apparently work will take place for about four hours each day, and then they’ll allow four hours for materials to harden.

The renovation work will be taking place from January 6 through April 6, 2017, meaning during that time the airport will only be open from 4:30PM until 8:30AM.

Because of this work, the airport is recommending you arrive five hours prior to departure, with check-in closing 90 minutes prior to departure, rather than 60 minutes. Per Lanka Business Online:

Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport day-time shut down for a runway repair has resulted in airport authorities increasing the reporting and check-in-time for flights to avoid delays.

“This means that you need to arrive 5 hours early for any flight and not the usual 3 hours. So there will be some congestion but it will help to avoid delays,” a duty manager at the airport told Lanka Business Online.

“And in addition the check in counters will close 90 minutes ahead of a flight departure and not 60 minutes.”


Now, I think arriving five hours prior to departure is a bit extreme, especially as they’re normally recommend arriving three hours before departure. In practice I’m sure arriving three hours before departure will still be fine.

I imagine the airport is going to be a huge mess during the time, as it looks like most airlines are simply shifting the times at which they operate flights to Colombo, rather than actually canceling many flights. So expect lines at immigration and check-in to be longer, since you’ll have 24 hours worth of passengers in 16 hours.

The biggest issue is that there’s not really anywhere for people to sit while waiting for their flight. As I mentioned above, each individual gate at Colombo Airport has its own security checkpoint, and typically a gate won’t open much more than an hour before departure. Outside of the gates, there aren’t many places to sit.

Qatar-Airways-A340-Business-Class - 1

So I wouldn’t adjust my plans too much because of this work, though it’s something to be aware of, if you’re traveling through Colombo Airport.

(Tip of the hat to LoyaltyLobby)

  1. the several layers of security checks certainly mean that it takes a bit longer to get into the airport, check in and get to the gate areas. I was also shocked to see the 5 hour recommendation. When I flew back out of there a few months ago I think we arrived about 2 hours ahead and had enough time. It is a pretty small airport. Not sure I understand why they are closing check in so far ahead.

  2. When I was there it was complete chaos. No formal lines for Immigration. Waited for an hour shoving my way through hoards of people. One of the worst major airport on earth.

  3. Is a visa required to transit in CMB? What is the recommend buffer for transit there? Is it any easy transfer (e.g. well staffed transfer desks etc)? Thx

  4. Gatwick will also be a mess as all the airlines have just decided to swap terminals. Would love to hear your views on the Heathrow 3rd runway vs Gatwick expansion debate Lucky!


  5. ‘So I wouldn’t adjust my planes too much because of this work, though it’s something to be aware of, if you’re traveling through Colombo Airport’

    Lucky, I know you make lot of money from the blog but the planes might be an exaggeration. 🙂

  6. Not the news I want to hear 12 hours before my flight to Sri Lanka. Not sure if it was intentional but it makes sense why all my flights to and from are between 11pm-6am

  7. Meanwhile, the new Mattala Rajapaska International Airport sits unused. Seems like this would be the perfect time to start using it.

  8. Just traveled out of Colombo today. 7pm flight, arrived at just after 3pm. No issues at all though we were flying in business so getting into the airport was pretty quick. Serendip lounge was quite full/cramped

  9. @John: “Gatwick will also be a mess as all the airlines have just decided to swap terminals.”

    They aren’t all moving and its been carefully planned for many months (over a year?), they haven’t just randomly decided today! I can’t really see it being a “mess” – certainly not of this magnitude.

  10. 5 hours before departure? Crazy! And that’s in a so-so airport at the best of times. Just imagine the crowded terminal with such a buildup of passengers for flights squeezed into a 16 hr window ( and that’s arrivals and departures!) Sounds like a lot of red-eye flights too 🙁

  11. You can get a free 48 hour transit visa for Sri Lanja. Back in October we arrived on a QF coded Sri Lankan flight from Sydney. With the OW changes QF would not interline bags to a connect QR and IB flight on a seperate tickets to MAD and LIS. We asked nicely at the transit desk and they re tagged our bags without having to leave transit area. We were flying business class. Though do double check at the gate if bags on board and ensure you have ample time for connection.

  12. Just on my way back from Sri Lanka, (thanks for the tip on the cheap Business class fares – that’s why we went!)
    Yes, it is 5hours before, it has been published in the local newspaper.
    Very, very crowded, but thankfully they are only allowing passengers in the terminal.
    Left Colombo at 11.30pm, got to the airport by midnight, but at least 3/4 security checks, before check in.
    Business class (Ethiad) lounge packed, private lounges full. People sitting on floor everywhere.
    Fabulous country, so worth the inconvenience!

  13. Travelled out of Colombo last night on CX610 (00:40 departure), lines getting into the terminal and through the two (!) baggage pre-screening checkpoints to reach the check in desks were ok, as was the emigration desk (only a couple of minutes wait.
    The Araliya (contract) lounge used by Cathay and a bunch of other airlines was PACKED – have never seen a lounge so full, had to wait ~20 minutes for seats to become available. The poor staff throughout the airport were harried too, and pretty unhelpful.

  14. We transited on Jan 5. If you have a boarding pass and don’t have checked luggage you can do the whole airport checkin thing in 30-60 minutes. If you need to check in luggage SriLankan has a special business class queue, we had to wait about 20 minutes there.

    On the way back transit visa took 10 minutes to go through. Just apply for it in advance on line.

    If you’re looking for transport outside the airport, I’d recommend Leelandra at dreamtourssrilanka7 at He charged us $100 for a two day tour of Sri Lanka (driving to Sigiriya, transport to elephant safari, stops at a cave temple and getting spa massage) and back to the airport. And he drives a Prius. Tell him “Rom and Josyn from California” recommended him. All the other drivers I tried to get cost twice as much.

    I am sitting here at CMB now having just endured the departure, check-in, immigration process. In summary, if you are flying Premium, 5 hours is a joke. You need nothing like that. I would arrive 3 hours before* if I was you, but anymore than that is simply the airlines and the airport covering their collective backsides.

    My details:
    Departing QR 669 at 0325. I had driver pick me up from Negombo at 23.15. Highway was relatively clear. On approaching terminal less traffic than normal. They are keeping all the visitors out of the place while this work goes on.

    To enter the terminal a guard checks your passport. You then go through a bag scanner, a guard frisks you. There was a few more people here than normal. 10 minutes. Done.

    To enter the Check-In zone you will get passport checked again and your bag x-rayed. No line. Straight through.

    I headed to the Check-In area for QR and the Business Class line had one person in front of me. They were Italian and as Italians are, they take twice as long as anyone else to do anything. 10 minutes.

    Headed to the far end of the terminal towards Immigration. It is a tiny, non air-conditioned hall. There would have been 10-12 desks open, each with about 15-20 people. Patience is a virtue at CMB immigration because many people are NESB and haven’t filled in forms properly, have language issues etc; etc; etc; I happened to pick the worst line ( ie; the slowest ) and it took 45 minutes ! I could see other lines moving much faster than my slow lane so allow 30-45 minutes for immigration clearance.

    Through immigration, into the Serendib Lounge at 0040. ( if you are with UL or One World Emerald you can use this lounge ). Otherwise one of the awful small lounges on the main concours ( Aruvayla I think it is, bloody awful ).

    If you are flying any airline in Premium except UL, allow 3 hours maximum. If you are in Y on any airline except UL, maybe 3.5 ( QR had a long line for the Y passengers , very long line! )

    But if you are flying UL Y, all bets are off. You would need 4 hours at least. It was chaotic down that end. UL Premium though is probably OK because they have a separate check-in called Silk Road in another terminal.

    I hope this helps anyone travelling through CMB whilst the works are being done to the runway. Also remember this is peak season in Sri Lanka so there are lots of ( too many! LOL ) Europeans here until mid-Feb. After that, when they all bugger-off back to where they came from, most of the times I have provided could be reduced. I suspect the airlines and the airport will also do a new press release with reduced waiting times.

  16. Flt details – 13 Jan – 0725 dep CMB-SIN. SriLankan Air Economy

    Arrived at airport 4 hours before departure. Given no traffic it took us 30mins from Galle Face Hotel to airport.

    Have sat in the lounge (which is pretty underwhelming made worse by the gentleman snoring loudly nearby) for almost 3 hours! (Was very lucky to get a seat). There is very few places to sit in the airport in general.

    Security checks were straight forward – 10 mins max
    Check-in took 30mins
    Emigration 15 mins max – make sure you walk to the counters further away from the entrance as no one was there.

    5 hours is unnecessary – everyone is covering themselves.

    Depending on flight time 3 hours should be ample.

  17. We took Tuk Tuk at 345 am to cmb airport arriving 3 hours early. Our flight was srilankan air to Bkk at 720am. No lines for vehicles entering airport. No lines to enter airport. No lines at “online checked in”. 45 minutes to get thru emigration and a bit disorganized.

    Got to gate 2 hours early and waited in a chair. Plenty of chairs available outside gate.

    Summary: We arrived at airport 3 hours early and got to gate 2 hours early. Bag drop 15 minutes. Emigration 45 minutes.

  18. Be sure to have passport, proof of ticket for cmb, and proof of ticket exiting destination country. All required for check in.

    We had an unannounced gate change at the last minute so check the monitor about 1 hr before departure.

  19. I appreciate this is an old post – I don’t know if they’re still monitored.

    How good/bad is it really? The general consensus from the last few comments (and indeed the original post) seems to be that the airport won’t be much fun, but that five hours early is probably overkill.

    Travelling Sri Lankan, business, flight departing (or due to depart!) CMB 1840.

  20. Thanks everyone for the info! We saved hours of sitting around. You could probably save more.

    I am Sitting in business class lounge 90 minutes after leaving Galle Face Hotel in Colombo!!!

    Car ride took 55 mins. Some traffic in town but we were on the freeway in no time.

    Two security checks (a small line but moves fast) and business check-in took 15 mins. (No line).

    Then passport check (no line) and a short walk to lounge.

    We now have 3 hours to kill 🙁

    Do not get here too early!! Everything is running really smoothly. Sure it would take a little longer if travelling economy since there was a line at check-in counter. But line was small.

  21. Don’t turn up 5 hours early believing that it’s possible to relax in the lounge: both lounges are plagued .by totally out of control kids. Best to spend bare minimum time in them.
    Sri Lankan offers its own J passengers on a long transit the opportunity to go to a hotel, FOC and no visa charges either: they organise everything.
    I’ve done this a couple of times with flights from Bangkok to Dubai with a 6 hour transit in Colombo.

  22. Thanks all , Finally I understood 03 hours time is enough to check in from departure flight time.
    JUST TO avoid disappointment or any other inconvenience they might have requested to come to AP 05 hours

  23. Travelled back home from Colombo last night (UL to DXB, business), and whilst the runway is obviously still closed for eight hours a day, it looks like the airport has settled into a bit of a routine and five hours is definitely overkill.

    Getting into the airport at 1530 or so was a bit of a faff, but no worse than usual (My fourth time there recently). There was an organisation of some sort (I guess pilgrims) who were all waiting outside in a line for… I don’t know what; they made no attempt to enter the building. It made it look really busy but it only took a few minutes to get through.

    Check-in (UL) was fine and there was zero queue at emigration. We were in the lounge about 25 minutes after the taxi dropped us off. I was pretty impressed with the lounge (and with Sri Lankan in general; have been Emirates that last few times), though it got quite busy and by the time we left new arrivals were struggling to find seats together. We were amongst the first wave of flights leaving in the early evening so I imagine it would quieten down after about 1900, but I don’t know.

    Does anybody know if there is a separate business class entrance (The Silk Route?); I thought I saw a sign for it from the road, but the taxi driver wasn’t having it and I couldn’t see any entrance from inside the building. It seemed safe to assume he knew the airport better than I did!

  24. @Matt
    There is a separate entrance, with security screening, for business; from memory it is at the far left of the building when facing it ( my memory can be faulty in these matters but that’s my recollection).Takes about 20 seconds to go through.

  25. @Paolo
    Thanks. That makes sense, and also ties in with where I thought I saw the sign. I don’t know whether I am more impressed with Sri Lankan for having the facility, or irritated that it was so hard to find. I’ll be back, I am sure.

  26. To be honest, if you are travelling Business with UL, you are far better off checking in in the main terminal, rather than the Slik Road facility. I have used Silk Road 3 times and after the last I swore I would never use it again. The staff buggerise around, and if there are other guests it takes so painfully long……. too slow and inefficient. Besides, it’s a further distance from the main terminal which is where they slowly and eventually get you to.

    Meanwhile, in the main terminal, they always have 2 counters open, you very rarely have to wait, you’re checked in quickly, through immigration and into Serendip Lounge. All at your own pace, rather than standing around waiting for the Sri Lankan staff to get their act together.

    Anyway, just a tip if you are passing through CMB and flying UL ( Usually late )

  27. It’s on the left about 50-75 metres before the main terminal. Don’t worry though, you’re not missing much. If anything, it takes twice as long while the UL staff stuff around. They are hopeless. You’re better off heading to the main terminal and doing the Business check-in there, like you did. 25 minutes. Very good. Through Silk Route, would take 45 to an hour.

  28. We checked in for our 07:25 flight this morn, we were travelling with Sri Lanka airlines in economy. Arrived at 4am and by 5am we were through check in and security and settling down for a coffee.

  29. Just checked in for 7:40 to London economy. Biggest queue was the coffee shop after emigration!! Everything seems pretty normal airport stuff so 4hr check in time that we allowed has left us looking for some seats to snooze on for 2 hours. Advise trying seats near gates where there are plenty free. I agree with previous posts 3hrs is plenty.

  30. I flew CMB-DXB-HEL in February. Bandaranaike airport was a total mess. It was a surprise that a largest international airport in the country could look like this – and during high season. I arrived about 4hrs before my flight, but nobody was controlling this “5hrs time limit”. 4hrs was well enough.

    – There were two electric blackouts that lasted for few seconds – but they blacked out the whole terminal. Doesn’t create a trustworthy image…
    – Was I in sauna? Was the A/C system off?
    – When they opened the airport, flock of tourists rushed to restaurants. I wanted to bite something fast, so I went to Burger King. Due to queue, heat and all that hassle, waitresses had problems delivering food & cleaning tables etc.
    – I wanted to send postcards. Ok, no mailbox and no stamps available. But still stalls were selling cards.
    – Place was one the most expensive airports I have been compared to local price level. DXB was much cheaper to my surprise.
    – Multiple security screenings seemed like a cosmetic extra. People brought big opened bottles to plane even though they had passed three different screenings. Security was leaking like a sieve.

    I was so relieved to finally get to my seat in Emirates B777.

  31. A modern express train setup from Colombo to MRIA is perhaps the only way to revive that airport and

  32. To Mattala Airport:
    Lies in the middle of a nature reserve and has lots of birds there. They shut it down for safety and ecological reasons. The last premier just wanted to set himself a monument. Totally useless.

  33. No, just ensure your baggage is checked to your final destination and you have a boarding pass. If you don’t have both, you have to pass through immigration and you will need a visa.

  34. I just flew out of Colombo on the 23/03/17 and came in 5 hours before my flight time as per most of the airline and airport websites.. it was a total waste of time.. security and check in was done in under twenty minutes.. and then I was waiting for four hours to board.. information given is totally wrong!!

  35. With the ongoing repairs in Colombo airport’s runway, do you think the repair works will be completed on time by 6 April 2018. We are scheduled to transit via Colombo enroute to Bangkok with a 2 hour gap between plane change over in June.

    Do you think it will be a smooth transit or will there be a prolonged repair work schedule thereby affecting flights and transit delays? We have another flight option via Muscat as a Plan B, if Colombo airport transit is likely to result in delays. However, we need to purchase the tickets in the coming days for either plan..

    Any advice or inside tips?


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