As I mentioned in my last post, the check-in for the flight was quick as there was nobody at the counter and I was off in couple of minutes. Thereafter, I visited the Plaza Premium Lounge B at Terminal 3’s International Departures area.
Related Trip Review: Reviewing Plaza Premium Lounge, Terminal 3 New Delhi
I left the lounge at 1745 hours, as the gate was a short stroll away from the lounge. I arrived to see most passengers still sitting, while the gate staff was preparing their final departure sheets. I quickly fired up FlightAware to check the status of the incoming aircraft from Colombo and it showed arrival 1708 hours. After a short wait Boarding was called and the usual gate crush rush happened. As my turn came, the agent told me that I was upgraded to Business Class (SCORE!) and he issued me a new boarding pass. I was assigned seat 2D.
SriLankan Airlines 196
New Delhi IGI (DEL) – Colombo Bandaranaike International (CMB)
Friday, December 19th
Departure: 18:53 hours (18 minutes late)
Arrival: 22:02 hours (8 minutes early)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200
As I was glowing over the late upgrade and settling down on my seat, A SriLankan couple requested if I can move to Row 5 so they can sit together. I thought about it considering the last cabin row usually has limited recline but then I was not going to come between two lovebirds. I happily obliged and shifted my wares to 5D.
This was my first time on a SriLankan aircraft, and I was looking forward to checking out their hard and soft product. The SriLankan Business Class seat on A320s is recliner type and unfortunately has no leg support. It is a 20 seat Business Class cabin in the front, with a 2-2 layout. The seat pitch is pretty respectable for regional operations at 39-40 inches, and overall I felt comfortable while seated. Fair to say this has nothing on their new A330-300 Business class product, which features lie-flat beds along with WiFi & mobile calling, but those aircraft are used on the medium to long haul sectors, with higher yields.
The economy section at the back has about 120 seats, and is in the usual 3-3 layout. This particular flight looked completely sold out to me, in the front and back cabins.
The seat already had a pillow, a blanket and a pair of headphones. Pillow & Blanket looked & felt comfortable, but I must put in a quick word about the headphones provided. Quite honestly, besides looking poor (for a business class headphone), they sounded poor too, I even had to replace my first pair, as they weren’t working properly.
The captain came on the PA to tell us our flight path and apologised for the slight delay in boarding and expected departure.
Business class was served by two very friendly and cheerful attendants. One was a middle-aged gentleman, who probably was the cabin supervisor, and he was assisted by a young lady. Both of them were great and it showed that they enjoyed their jobs. and Did I mentioned that I absolutely loved their SriLankan accents? To me it is probably up there with the Carribean accent, smooth off the tongue and a song for the ears 🙂
I digress. As final checks for the flight were ongoing, we were offered a hot towel, followed by a welcome drink. The choice was between Apple, Orange and Mango juices, and I went with Mango.
Soon I turned my attention to the IFE screen in front of me. My first thoughts were it is too small for a Business class cabin, especially considering that economy seats these days get bigger screens than that.
As we rolled down the runway and rotated towards Colombo, I had spent approximately 12 minutes with the touch-screen system, without getting much done. The lag exhibited by the system was quite a bit, and I noticed similar experience for my seatmate as well. He was a Sri Lankan businessman and later told me that he flew SriLankan mainly for their genuine service, which was definitely hard to argue against.
The common area between the seats also featured two USB & two electrical plug points, which is always very useful.
Few minutes after we were airborne, the cabin attendants sprung into action and distributed well-designed business class menus. Little touches like this matter a lot and it staggers me to think how few airlines, notably Air India, still are so inconsistent with this practice in their premium cabins.
Weirdly, post this we were offered a selection of newspapers, which I thought should have been offered during boarding or in the earlier stages of the flight. The crew has lots going on while preparing the cabin and serving simultaneously, so I’m prepared to overlook such matters, provided it is a rarity and not a regular practice.
After few minutes, the cabin attendant came over to ask for our orders and I requested Chicken Rogini, which was served with Saffron rice.
The meal came over with Dahi Bhalla salad and a Fruit bowl. All this was plated before hand and served together. I did enjoy the taste of meal, where the Chicken and Rice were well made and tasteful. I’m personally not an Okra fan, so did not even bother to touch it. During the meal, both attendants made frequent hot bread rounds, which was appreciated. They even had thin stuffed paranthas in aluminium foil, and which were pretty decent too.
However, I did not personally liked the presentation of the meal. Serving the meal on course basis does lengthen the process, but I think it considerably ups the ante in presentation and overall impression as well. May be SriLankan ought to consider that.
All that of course was gulped down with a hearty dose of the local favourite, Lion Beer.
Post meal, we were offered a round of coffee or tea and I politely declined. Only to ask our attendant about the champagne they had on-board 🙂
They had Jacquart and me & my seatmate were happy to raise a toast to our journey. I had a good conversation with him spanning politics and cricket, and realised both of our nations had many things in common. The re-fills kept coming without even asking for them 🙂
As we started our descent into Colombo, the attendants came by to offer a bottle of water, an arrival form, and most important a fast-track pass. Always useful.
The final round of the cabin before landing was another round of hot towels. Few minutes later, we made a smooth landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport in rainy Colombo. In the words of the late Tony Greig, “They must be playing Cricket somewhere”.
Did I enjoy my business class experience, although a short three hour flight, with SriLankan? Absolutely Yes! Was it because of their hard product? Not at all.
The fact of the matter remains that SriLankan right now is running an older product on their regional routes to India, and even markets like Singapore. That is certainly not an ideal position but keep in mind SriLankan is not running on unlimited oil money. For a carrier having a limited fleet, they are doing a phenomenal job, coupled with a great soft service proposition, one world affiliation and being the only game in town, as far as direct flights between DEL & CMB are concerned.
It is certainly more challenging for them to operate out of Mumbai and other southern states with direct competition from Jet Airways and other Indian carriers. Bottomline: Fly SriLankan for their genuine & warm hospitality but don’t expect wonders in their cabin product, unless you are on one of their latest A330-330s.
Have you ever flown on SriLankan before? What were your thoughts on their service?
I will be continuing this series with reviewing SriLankan’s flagship Serendib Lounge at Colombo International, followed by UL195.
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The transformation of Jet Airways, from a (Premium) Full Service Airline to a confused brand, and back to a Full Service Airline happened recently. The public announcement of the last bit at least. Industry watchers expected the switch after Etihad & Jet made their partnership public last year.
“I give you my commitment, that by the end of the year, Jet Airways will have the best domestic full service product in the country. We will always be competitive to ensure our customers get the best value for their money,” Chairman Goyal had thundered. He had even welcomed Vistara, saying it will make “us stronger”.
It is a different matter that Vistara’s AOP certificate is still stuck at DGCA.
For long time Indian air passengers (and the impassioned frequent flyers over at FlyerTalk), Jet Airways was like one of their own gone astray. The Airline which had strong credentials to be among the very best in the world for service, had switched to the cut-throat game of lower cost (not low cost) operations. Multiple brands made things even messier which confused consumers to no end. A return to the full service product roots was welcomed with a prayer, and a quiet approval.
Thus, I was excited to sample Jet’s hospitality before the official FSC switchover date of 1st December 2014 and check out if the transformation was already under way. I chose to fly Jet’s low-cost-confused-service-brand, Konnect last month, for my trip to Vaishno Devi, Jammu.
Jet Airways 7008/S2 4607
New Delhi (DEL) – Jammu (IXJ)
Departure: 1317 hours (2 minutes late)
Arrival: 1423 hours (2 minutes early)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
I was running late for my flight but the ICICI Jet Airways card came handy and I was able to check-in quickly at the airport through the Premiere lane. The security check took few minutes and I made my way to Gate 39 for boarding. The occupancy was quiet light for the flight, with a guesstimate of 55%.
You know that moment when you step into your flight and the “Hello” from cabin crew tells you this is going to be a great, friendly crew. That happened.
I soon settled into my seat and the pushback started around 1309 hours, with an almost on-time departure. It is always fun to check out airports from the sky and Delhi’s Terminal 3 provided interesting scenery.
The legroom in the economy cabin for an average/athletic built passenger is enough, especially considering this was a very short 45-50 minute hop, to India’s northernmost state. And Yes, I was wearing fancy pants 🙂
Soon the curtains were drawn and service started exactly 13 minutes after the takeoff. As this was a Jet Konnect flight, meals were charged.
I ordered a Malai Paneer Tikka Sandwich, which I thought was poorly presented and came with an iffy quality ketchup from an unknown brand.
The sandwich tasted better than it looked. Gaurav on the flight was especially helpful, along with the other crew members. Our descent into Jammu started around 1357 hours, a mere 40 minutes into the flight. The Captain came on the PA to announce that we were 3rd in sequence to land, with expected ETA of 1425 hrs.
We landed at exactly 1423 hours with quite a big thud and more-than-usual speed. The disembarkation was quick due to a low flight load.
Besides the pleasant Jammu weather, another sight to behold at the Jammu Airport was Air India’s special A320 aircraft with Star Alliance livery.
My return flight couple of days later was slightly more eventful.
Jet Airways 7009/S2 4608
Jammu (IXJ) – New Delhi (DEL)
Departure: 1543 hours (33 minutes late)
Arrival: 1644 hours (19 minutes late)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
I reached the airport almost 90 minutes before my scheduled departure of 1510 hours as there are multiple, extensive checks at the Jammu Airport. The Airport/terminal itself is pretty barebones but I was able to snag a quick check-in. When I asked the agent at the counter about the flight, I was told it is on-time.
As it turned out the flight arrived late from Delhi, and boarding (done on a remote stand) started only at 1520 hours, though it was fairly quick. Pushback started at 1539 hours and we were airborne by 1543 hours from Jammu’s single runway number 36. The first officer apologised for the delay as we reached 10000 feet.
The all male cabin crew on this flight was friendly & attentive. As I saw on my earlier flight couple of days back, the aircraft seemed to have many empty seats, with a similar guesstimate of 55% occupancy.
While I was trying to fix the overhead knob that kept leaking cold air directly on my head, I happened to overhear an amusing yet typical conversation in the adjacent row behind me. It seemed to me that the lady, imported straight out of a Page 3 party, was trying to convince an attendant to upgrade her to the business class in front. Her reasoning was that her travel agent misunderstood her and booked her in economy for a 1 hour flight. Oh the horror I tell you. Anyways, the attendant politely declined and I guess with that my IFE for the flight was over 🙂
As this was a late afternoon flight, I wanted to grab a quick bite. By the time, the service cart reached me, they were only left with vegetarian sandwiches. Knowing fully well how good their vegetarian sandwiches are, I chose to go for a mango drink and eat something after landing in Delhi.
I’m guessing the attendant gauged my disappointment and came back later to ask me if I wanted to buy a vegetarian Indian meal for 300 bucks. I readily agreed and it was brought over in couple of minutes. It had Rice, Chapati, Spinach Curry and Lentil as Main, along with a Cake. Although the mains were packed in recyclable tray and tin foil, the cake was served on Bone china, along with proper steel cutlery and a hand towel. I would hazard a guess that it was a spare business class meal.
As I was about to finish the meal, the FA came by again to thank me for my patronage to Jet Airways and offered to give the meal charges back to me. I politely declined but thanked him for the gesture. Few minutes later he appeared again and insisted on me taking it back saying the cabin manager wasn’t happy with him for taking money. Ultimately I had to relent.
The descent into Delhi started around 1620 hours, with the cabin manager appearing on my seat and thanking me. I told him I appreciated his kind gesture and the attentive service done by his team for the flight. He asked me if he could do anything else to make my flight better, and I requested for a little peek into the cockpit once we land.
We touched down at 1644 hours and were at our gate by 1654 hours. DGCA inspectors were in the cockpit for a while and once they got out, I got a good look into the Boeing 737-700 cockpit. Overall pleasant, if not a perfect flight experience.
There needs to be a tangible service differentiation to be a full service carrier and not just an extra free meal-on-board. Jet Airways definitely has the pedigree and the legacy to offer fantastic service, but the hard product to go with it also needs improvement. Needless to say, it will be tough for Jet to compete with the likes of Vistara in terms of aircraft equipment. but at the same time, Vistara will take time to become a national player and Jet can take that time to get more competitive. Another emerging school of thought on the other hand stresses on Jet’s increased and obvious focus on international operations, rather than lower margin domestic ops.
The Indian consumer has evolved a lot since the last time Jet Airways operated as a single brand. VFM remains the key but the definition varies from consumer to consumer. Some may want the cheapest possible transportation, while some may want extras like lounge access, frequent flyer benefits, better meals, Enhanced seating and IFE etc. If Jet Airways is able to solve that equation, with the appropriate cost structure to go with it, this transformation to “Full service operations” may very well work wonders.
And yes, don’t forget to change that lousy ketchup brand 9W. May be some inspiration to package the offering can even come from the lower cost stables of 6E.
Indian Carriers, followed by Foreign Carriers