Review: SriLankan Airlines Business Class A321neo Colombo To Abu Dhabi

Filed Under: SriLankan

I’ve passed through Colombo Airport more times than I can count, and in general have had decent experiences. It’s by no means a great airport, but I’ve never had an awful experience. So there’s a first time for everything.

We got to Colombo Airport around 4PM for our 6:40PM flight to Abu Dhabi. We had already checked in online, and departure immigration lines were on the long side. We queued for over 30 minutes before it was our turn.

Then when we got to the immigration counter the agent informed us that mobile boarding passes weren’t valid at Colombo Airport, and that we’d have to go to check-in to get “real” boarding passes.

Seriously?!? Why does SriLankan Airlines issue mobile boarding passes for flights departing their hub if those boarding passes aren’t actually valid? Mind-boggling.

So we went back to check-in and printed out boarding passes from a kiosk and got back in line. This time around the immigration line was twice as long.

As it turns out, the airport has a shift change for immigration officers at 5PM, and starting around 4:30PM many of them start to leave, meaning the checkpoint is just staffed with a few people. It ended up being about an hour before we were through. Ugh.

Once through immigration we briefly stopped at the SriLankan Airlines Lounge. I’ve reviewed this lounge before, so won’t be doing so again in this post. The lounge is totally fine, though the thing that always sticks out to me most about the lounge is that pilots have access, so it’s about half pilots and half passengers.

Boarding was scheduled for 6:05PM, so we headed to our gate around 5:50PM. Colombo Airport is fairly small, and despite the evening rush of flights, the airside didn’t feel that crowded.

SriLankan Airlines A321 Colombo Airport

Colombo Airport terminal

We were departing from gate six, and fortunately the line for security was short, and we were through within minutes.

Colombo Airport departure gate

Once through security we were in the “holding pen” for our flight.

SriLankan Airlines A321neo

As it turned out, boarding was delayed a bit. Our inbound flight only arrived at 5:40PM, and then at 6:30PM boarding began, starting with business class.

While I had flown SriLankan Airlines before on their narrow body Airbus jets, this was my first flight on their fairly new A321neo.

SriLankan Airlines 207
Colombo (CMB) – Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Thursday, January 31
Depart: 6:40PM
Arrive: 10:00PM
Duration: 3hr50min
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo
Seat: 3C (Business Class)

At the forward door I was greeted by two very friendly flight attendants, in stark contrast to my previous SriLankan Airlines flight. SriLankan’s A321neo business class cabin consists of a total of 12 seats, spread across three rows in a 2-2 configuration.

SriLankan Airlines A321neo business class cabin

SriLankan A321neo business class cabin

I also quickly peeked into the economy cabin, which was quite large.

SriLankan Airlines A321neo economy cabin

For a regionally configured plane, SriLankan’s A321neo business class is quite nice. The seats were colorful and well maintained, and the legroom was excellent.

SriLankan A321neo business class seats

I had assigned us seats 3A & 3C, the window and aisle seat on the left side in the last row.

SriLankan A321neo business class seats

SriLankan A321neo business class seats

The armrest between seats was different than what you’ll usually find on planes. It felt more like what you’d have in the middle of the back row of a fancy car you’re being chauffeured in, rather than what you’d expect on an airplane.

SriLankan A321neo business class armrest

To the side of the seat were the entertainment controls, which could be extended for easier use, as well as the buttons to control the leg rest and recline.

SriLankan business class entertainment controls

SriLankan business class seat controls

Then underneath the center armrest were the power outlets and headphone jacks.

SriLankan business class power outlets

The tray table folded out from the far armrest, and could be folded over in half.

SriLankan business class tray table

There were individual air nozzles in the overhead consoles.

SriLankan business class air nozzles

Also waiting at my seat were a pillow and blanket. For the fairly short flight to Abu Dhabi this was more than sufficient, as it was the same bedding they have on their long haul flights (like our flight from Tokyo to Colombo).

SriLankan business class pillow & blanket

Also waiting at my seat upon boarding were some headphones and service stickers, should you not want to be disturbed, or should you want to be woken for a meal.

SriLankan business class headphones

There were no amenity kits, socks, or eyeshades.

The boarding process was busy, given that economy was full. So it was about 20 minutes until pre-departure drinks were offered. We were offered water, orange juice, or champagne — I had champagne, while Ford had water.

SriLankan business class pre-departure drinks

A few minutes later we were offered warm towels, and after that we were offered menus for the flight.

SriLankan business class warm towels

SriLankan business class menu

By the time boarding was done, five of 12 seats in business class were taken. We were initially the only two people booked in business class, but I believe there were three last minute operational upgrades, as I believe economy was oversold.

At 6:55PM the main cabin door closed, and five minutes later we pushed back, at which point the safety video was screened. One thing I didn’t realize is that SriLankan requires you to turn your electronics off completely for takeoff. I don’t think this was enforced on the previous flight, but this meant that I had to turn my phone off, and not just keep it in airplane mode.

As we taxied out the purser came out to shake everyone’s hand and welcome them onboard, which was a nice touch.

At 7:10PM we were cleared for takeoff, and five minutes later the seatbelt sign was turned off for our 3hr45min flight.

As we climbed out I browsed the entertainment selection. Each seat had a personal television, and the selection was similar to what was available on the previous flight.

SriLankan business class entertainment selection

SriLankan business class entertainment selection

There was a surprisingly good selection, including 70+ TV shows and 125+ movies.

SriLankan business class entertainment selection

SriLankan business class entertainment selection

I also checked out the airshow, to take a look at our route to Abu Dhabi.

Moving map enroute to Abu Dhabi

Moving map enroute to Abu Dhabi

SriLankan also has wifi on their A321neos. They use OnAir, which is not only incredibly slow, but also billed based on data usage (then again, because of how slow it is you’d be hard pressed to actually use a lot of data). The pricing is as follows:

  • 20 minutes & 9MB costs 4USD
  • One hour and 25MB costs 8USD
  • Three hours and 80MB costs 15USD
  • The full flight and 240MB costs 25USD

SriLankan Airlines wifi pricing

Just 20 minutes after takeoff the meal service began. The menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

Service began with drinks. I had a Diet Coke and water, which was served with some cashews.

SriLankan business class drinks and nuts

The entire meal was served on one tray.

SriLankan business class dinner

For my main course I ordered the “polos curry,” made from young jack-fruit and served with mixed vegetable stew, tomato curry, and country rice.

SriLankan business class main course

For his main course, Ford selected the masala marinated and stuffed chicken breast served with mixed grilled vegetables, saffron lentil rice, and masala sauce.

SriLankan business class main course

To accompany the main was some fresh fruit, as well as an appetizer consisting of moutabel and tabbouleh salad combined with grilled paneer and pickled vegetables.

SriLankan business class starter

Service was personalized, given that the purser and another flight attendant were taking care of the five people in business class. So as soon as we finished our main courses we were offered dessert and drinks.

I decided to order a spicy chai tea to go along with the opera cake with vanilla sauce. This was all served on a cute tray, something I wish we’d see from more airlines.

SriLankan business class dessert & tea

The meal service was quick, and by the time we were done we were just off the coast of Southwest India.

Moving map enroute to Abu Dhabi

After the meal I checked out the lavatory, which was clean but basic.

SriLankan Airlines A321neo lavatory

I decided to watch a couple of sitcoms, and much to my surprise even managed to nap, which is incredibly rare for me, since I’m not much of a napper. Before I knew it we were starting our descent to Abu Dhabi.

Moving map enroute to Abu Dhabi

At 9:50PM UAE time the captain announced we’d be descending in about 10 minutes. Shortly thereafter the seatbelt sign was turned on, and to my surprise, we touched down 25 minutes after that announcement.

Moving map enroute to Abu Dhabi

While our descent was really quick, we then had a long taxi to the gate, as is the norm in Abu Dhabi. We ended up arriving at a gate at 10:30PM, quite a bit behind schedule. On the plus side, at least we got a gate rather than a remote stand, which is like winning the lottery in Abu Dhabi.

We bid farewell to the crew — they were doing a direct turn right back to Colombo — and headed towards immigration and then took a taxi to the EDITION for the night.

SriLankan A321 business class bottom line

SriLankan offers a nice product on their A321neos. While they don’t offer flat beds, the cabins are well maintained and legroom is significantly better than you’ll find in most similarly configured cabins.

The meal service was tasty, and on this flight the crew was excellent as well. In general I’ve found SriLankan to be inconsistent when it comes to service, with some crews being great, and others being… not great. We lucked out on this flight.

I wouldn’t hesitate to fly SriLankan’s A321neo again.

  1. There was a time when SriLankan was partially owned and wholly managed by Emirates. Same planes, great service, good prices and the airline at a point was even profitable even though it suffered strikes from the Tiger rebels from time to time. I was even getting my skywards miles when flying with them. Then the then Sri Lankan president had to take an unplanned flight to UK but the premium cabins were full and the airline’s policy (same as with Emirates) foresees that no passenger is neither downgraded nor taken off the flight. In that case the demand was to bump 35 passengers off the plane to cater not only the President but also his full entourage. The CEO Peter Hill at that time, had his work permit revoked but to add to that also the negotiations to renew Emirate’s management contract did not go very well. Emirates gave up it’s management role and partnership (over 40%) which took years to finalize and since then, as per my knowledge, things didn’t go as well. The product shown in these pics was unthinkable when EK and Sri Lankan were in business together. Any flight short as it might be would have been made by a wide body aircraft with the same comfort of the longest flight. This is what EK is famous about and policies were implemented in the same way for its managed business and affiliations.

  2. I don’t think what you were told about mobile boarding passes at CMB is entirely true — I transit CMB at least 4 or 5 times a year on my way to India and have always been able to use a mobile boarding pass to board my India-bound flight. Granted, I simply transit whereas you originated and cleared immigration in CMB, so there might be a difference, but I agree that it’s annoying af for SriLankan to issue mobile boarding passes when they’re supposedly not allowed

  3. Presumably this flight took place prior to the recent terror attacks; in that regard it will be interesting to see how things change at CMB. Things had become rather ‘relaxed’ following the end of the Tamil Tiger civil war but already I read some reports of visa waivers/visa on arrival initiatives being deferred.
    During that troubled period it was necessary for passengers to go onto the tarmac and identify their luggage, prior to it being loaded.
    In contrast to Nicola’s view, I don’t see any diminution of service since the end of the EK deal; on the contrary, I think things are better. I will continue to use them unless the restrictions post the terror attacks become too onerous.
    They’re ‘cheap and cheerful’ but I’m fine with that.

  4. You describe what the food was, but you don’t say whether it tasted any good. It looks delish. Should we read your silence on the matter as a statement that it was meh?

  5. @Nicola Interesting history. I think the livery on Sri Lankan (especially the lettering) looks similar to Emirates. Is that the reason why?

  6. FYI, Chai means tea. So, call it Masala Chai, or Masala Tea, but not Masala Chai tea. The “Black tea” being referred to in the menu is the type of tea (black vs. green)

  7. That’s nuts about the line for departure immigration check. Why more countries don’t just do what Canada and the U.S. does and have the airline collect the passport info and not do a physical departure check beats me. Singapore has a departure check, but they enable visitors to go through the automated gates since they collect your thumbprint upon entry.

  8. @Jim

    Well I think so because Emirates in fact has managed Sri Lankan for ten years until 2008, which means 11 years back. Was utilizing its influence to purchase aircraft at convenient prices and I recall boarding a business class of an A330 of Sri Lankan and seats, IFE, everything was resembling Emirates Except for the entertainment language in EK was in Arabic/English and in Sri Lankan was Sinhala/English. So since I guess many of the old staff are still there, things might not have changed dramatically.

  9. Good review. I’m taking this flight in business class August, looking forward to it.

  10. I noticed the sticker “Wake Me Up for Duty Free”. Other airlines have that too. Wonder if anyone uses that anymore. Still, Sri Lanka does have a very interesting Duty Free selections that includes Sri Lankan items such as jewelry that can be very nice and very good value. I ordered it in advance and got a discount too. I checked before the flight to confirm my order was on board and it was. On board they did not bring me my purchase and I had to remind them of it a couple of times. Had to pay cash on board as not all flights accept credit cards. I think one of the reasons for that is Internet is not permitted over India (as I remember). This affects credit card payments as well as on board access.

    Another issue is interlining in Delhi with British Airways. It may not happen, which will be a problem for me later this year.

  11. Lucky, I flew CMB to DOH in February, but not on UL.
    Seems I was told UL had their own terminal. Not true? The process for QR was like being in a garbage can, including the Business Class “lounge.”
    Did you ever report to us about the new airport that continues to sit empty?

  12. Indeed, it looked like a great flight – the J cabin looks modern & updated.
    I flew CMBKUL last month in Y & the service, cabin crew & aircraft cabin were all excellent.
    The local meal choice was tasty – fish curry – I’d definitely love to fly with them again
    CMB the airport itself tho’ … umm not so good

  13. Hmm. UL don’t enforce “no electronics” during take off or landing, so not quite sure what happened there – I’ve done over 40 UL flights this year alone, and always been able to use my iPad and BT Bose headphones during taxi, take off and landing without hindrance.

    Moreso, and just as a data point, that menu hasn’t changed in over 2 years – same meal on the AUH-CMB route, and same wines too. It gets very boring. But remember you can book your business class meal in advance if departing from CMB via

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