Old May 2, 07, 6:38 pm
SAT Lawyer
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SIN, CMB, the Maldives, BKK, and HKG: Star Alliance and Sri Lankan business class

My wife and I recently flew a Star Alliance business class award SAT-LAX-SIN (layover of 17 hours)-CMB (destination)-SIN-BKK (stopover for two days)-HKG (layover of 10 hours)-SFO-DEN-SAT. We chose CMB as our destination because it offers particularly good value at the 90,000 mile level (compared to India and the Maldives, both at the 120,000 mile level), and we nested in a revenue trip to the Maldives to and from CMB on UL (Sri Lankan), also in business class, with transfers to and from our resort in the Maldives operated by a Maldivian Air Taxi seaplane.

The SAT-LAX segment was in first class on a UX/Skywest CR7, with the returning domestic segments from SFO-DEN-SAT on a UA 752 and a UX/Go CR7 respectively. The LAX-SIN segment was operated on a SQ 345, the SIN-CMB-SIN segments on SQ three-class, regional 772s, the SIN-BKK connection on a SQ three-class, regional 773, the BKK-HKG segment on an old-style TG 744, and the HKG-SFO flight on a SQ 744. Although at the time we booked our tickets UA had just announced a new policy purportedly restricting the ability for those on Star Alliance business class awards featuring SQ transoceanic segments to sit in business class on SQ-operated inter-Asian flights, we were able to get our itinerary ticketed in “I” class on all SQ segments and retained our business class seats even after making at least one routing change. Interestingly, my UA, SQ, and TG boarding passes reflected my “UA *G” status, which was accurate at the time of ticketing, but had elapsed at the time of travel and the time we made our one change.

I would like to dedicate this trip report mostly to our UL (Sri Lankan) flights and the lounges at the CMB and MLE airports since there is a dearth of information on FlyerTalk about both, and plentiful information about the products offered by UA, SQ, and TG. I should note that SQ, as usual, met or exceeded our lofty expectations for seating, entertainment, and service. Row 17 on the 744 Megatop must be among the absolute best business class seats in the sky. We "Booked the Cook" on all available flights (the CMB segments and the SIN-BKK morning flight were not eligible) and found the lobster thermidor and Singapore chicken rice ex-SIN to be excellent, as was the beef sukiyaki ex-LAX (although ex-NRT it is supposed to be even better). The filet steaks ex-LAX and ex-HKG were not quite as good and my wife was downright unhappy with the seabass ex-HKG, although SQ quickly allowed her to substitute the regular halibut entrée that met with her satisfaction. I only wish that we could fly SQ more frequently and that our domestic carriers could take a lesson or two from SQ about service.

UL #101 from CMB-MLE on April 24, 2007 was operated by a two-class 320 aircraft. We sat on the port side of row 3, the last row in business class. The seat pitch was extraordinary: well in excess of 40 inches to my naked eye. On this one hour and fifteen minute flight, UL offered three breakfast options; we both chose a chili-cheese omelet, which was quite acceptable. The flight departed and arrived as scheduled, although we did have to circle the Male airport for about 10 minutes due to traffic ahead of us.

MLE is one of those tropical island airports that lacks a taxiway and requires arriving aircraft to make a u-turn and taxi back down the runway after landing before parking at a remote stand where airstairs are used for deplaning and emplaning. If you have the misfortune of arriving behind a couple of widebodies, be prepared for a long wait at customs and immigrations. There is but a single shared premium cabin lounge at the airport, but it is well equipped with comfortable chairs, a handful of snacks, and about seven computers with internet access, not all of which appeared to be in working order. Be forewarned that the lounge does not serve any alcoholic beverages based on cultural norms.

UL #104 from MLE-CMB on April 27, 2007 was operated by a two-class 340 aircraft, which appeared to continue onward to NRT thereafter. We sat on the port side of row two, the second row in business class. The seat was not a lie flat seat, but it did provide significant recline and an automated footrest, more than enough for the return flight of approximately one hour and 20 minutes. The pitch was slightly inadequate if a passenger in the seat in front reclined and the legrest was fully deployed. One warning: the bulkhead row one appeared to offer even less pitch and should be avoided, if possible. We did not explore the entertainment system and its individual seat back monitors other than to avail ourselves of the forward and downward facing cameras, features that are generally not offered by American carriers. We both chose a chicken entrée, one of the three choices, but it was not very good. Although the menu highlighted various cocktails and alcoholic beverages, I don’t recall ever being asked for a drink order after we were offered a pre-departure choice of champagne, water, and orange juice.

For our roundtrip CMB-MLE business class tickets, we paid $357.73 each on Sri Lankan’s website. The booking experience was somewhat frustrating because Sri Lankan is very slow in opening up the booking window for its flights. In our case, they did not become available until about 10 weeks before our travel, which is strange given that you would expect that any airline, never mind one in a third world country, would be happy to sell premium-cabin seats and collect the revenue at the earliest opportunity.

As for the CMB Airport, it has four lounges as well as several transit rooms with separate shower facilities. The flagship Serendib lounge is for the use of UL and EK departing passengers; another lounge beginning with an “A____”, the name of which presently escapes me, is for the use of SQ and TG departing passengers, among others, and there is also a Lotus lounge (Priority Pass) and an Executive lounge, the latter of which, I believe may be used by any passengers for a fairly nominal charge. A shower in the transit facilities costs $3 and a double room in the transit facilities costs $20 for up to 12 hours, if I recall correctly.

When we arrived from SIN at around midnight with an onward departure at just after 7 a.m. the following day, we inquired about reserving one of the double rooms in the transit hotel, but were told that it was fully booked. The Serendib lounge has four tiny slumber rooms, each containing one recliner, a night stand, and a battery-powered alarm clock. Unfortunately, only one was available when we arrived. My wife and I tried sharing the reclining chair, but our efforts proved futile despite her petite stature. As a result, she slept in a regular chair in the main lounge and I used the recliner in the private slumber room for myself. I was not provided a blanket and it got fairly cold during the night after starting out rather warm at the beginning. Moreover, the rooms are not particularly well designed since they are open to one another at the top; as a result an eye mask and a good set of earplugs is a necessity, especially when a loud snorer is using the adjacent room as was my experience. Despite these flaws, with an overnight layover of such an abbreviated duration, I would choose to stay at the airport again rather than waste time traveling to the nearest hotel which is approximately 15 minutes away by shuttle to my understanding.

The Serendib lounge itself is rather good. It offers a fairly generous assortment of food, snacks, and libations, a large plasma television, and multiple computers with internet access. I believe both the men’s and women’s restrooms have one shower each, although my morning shower featured rather cool water.

On our return, we used the A-whatever lounge before our SQ flight. It did not have any showers, so I took a $3 shower in the paid shower facility attached to the transit rooms. The water temperature was fine, but the shower facilities were not as clean as would be desired. The SQ lounge offered alcohol and a limited selection of munchies, but not anywhere near the spread that was offered in the Serendib lounge. The SQ lounge also had four computers with internet access.

We interlined our luggage on the return from MLE-[UL]-CMB-[SQ]-SIN-[SQ]-BKK and it made it to BKK with no problems. However, checking-in for our CMB-originating SQ flights at the transfer desk left a lot to be desired. We were first told to have a seat for twenty minutes even though the monitors suggested that check-in for our flight was ongoing. Then when the CMB airport staffer retrieved our boarding passes, they were printed on economy class card stock, although our seat assignments were correct. Based on our transit experience, I would probably recommend actually clearing immigration and checking-in through the normal channels when connecting at CMB to a non-UL-operated flight, time permitting, as we did on our outbound journey.

As for our hotels, we stayed at the Vilamendhoo Island Resort in the South Ari atoll in the Maldives and the Conrad Bangkok in Thailand. The Vilamendhoo Island Resort delivered great bang for the buck at $229 per night including half board, a pittance compared to many of the much more pricey Maldivian resorts. The house reef, offering shore diving and snorkeling, is reputed to be one of the best in the islands and we were not disappointed; I would highly recommend this resort to anyone who doesn’t have money burning a hole in his or her pocket. The Conrad Bangkok, on the other hand, was a disappointment. We had booked the Presidential Suite courtesy of the much ballyhooed Priceline mistake, but were downgraded to another suite at check-in based on a rather lame excuse. While our suite was nice, it was hardly the palace that we had expected and I wish the Conrad had done a better job of managing our expectations in advance by offering the downgrade beforehand, rather than extending a subsequently-breached written promise that the Presidential Suite would be ours. The executive floor lounge, however, was superb, with a nice complimentary morning breakfast and complimentary cocktails and canapés in the evening.

Last edited by SAT Lawyer; May 3, 07 at 10:41 am
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