By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Staff of national carrier SriLankan Airlines are upset over the withdrawal of the facility of the usage of the Business Class lounge in Colombo. The Pilot community are up in arms over the issue. Previously, staff entitled to Business class travel were permitted to avail themselves of lounge facility at Colombo Airport during both Duty and Personal travel for themselves and dependents. Since lounge facilities at overseas stations involved the payment of a fee on per person basis, this facility was not permitted to staff and dependents at airports abroad. The lounge in Colombo is operated by the national carrier and the cost involved is only for the food and beverages consumed.
Manager Industry Affairs of SriLankan Airlines, vide circular MIA/GN/03/089 dated 01 July 2016 titled Policy Guideline on providing lounge facility for passengers holding Agency Discounted / Industry Discounted (AD/ID) tickets has announced the withdrawal of this facility.
The circular announcing the withdrawal of lounge facilities contains the following exceptions.
- Chairman / Board of Directors and their eligible dependents travelling on official or vacation will be entitled to lounge facilities at Colombo and Overseas Airports.
- Chief Officers travelling on official duty will be entitled to lounge facilities at Colombo Airport only
- All other staff members entitled to Business Class Firm tickets travelling on official duty will be entitled to lounge facilities of Colombo Airport only
A maximum of 5 staff from categories ii and iii are permitted in the lounge at any given time.
The cost per person for use of the One World lounge used by SriLankan Airlines at London Heathrow Airport is GBP 25. At Paris Charles De Gaulle and Frankfurt Airports, it amounts to Euro 40.
Cost saving measures, especially in loss making concerns is not a matter for protest or industrial action. Cost saving should not be limited to some categories of staff. All those in a company, top down, starting with the Chairman and Board of Director all the way to staff in the lowest grade need be involved in cost saving efforts. The exemption granted to Chairman and Board members by themselves to themselves, spouses and dependents, bearing in mind the high costs involve for lounge facilities at overseas airport while depriving staff of the facility can only be described as callous. It indicates a total disregard to any sense of decency and a mentality described by the Sinhala idiom ‘handa athe thiyanakota atha diga erala bedaganna’ – serving one self liberally when serving spoon is in hand.
Chairman, Directors and dependents are entitled to Business class travel on both duty and vacation travel on firm basis. When making reservations for duty travel, staff are required to make reservations in Economy class. Seats for those entitled to Business class travel are confirmed 48 hours prior to travel, in case seats are available. However, reservations for Chairman, Directors and their dependents for both duty and vacation travel are made directly in Business class and are confirmed immediately, if seats are available. Business class cabins of SriLankan Airlines aircraft have 28 seats. Prior confirmation of seats could easily lead to loss of revenue especially in busy routes such as London, in the event cabin becomes full after confirmation of seats, something this ailing carrier can ill afford. The appropriate policy should be, seats for all concerned on duty travel to be confirmed in Economy class and those entitled to Business class travel be given seats, in case cabin does have empty seats, at time of closure of check-in counters for the flight.
Another little known fact is of a privilege enjoyed by the Pilot community. Whereas all other staff receive their privilege (vacation) travel tickets on a seat available basis, the Pilot community enjoy a special facility of one set of tickets (for staff, spouse and children) on a firm basis, annually. No other airline grants privilege travel tickets to staff on a firm basis unless it is a contractual requirement of expatriate staff.
A recent photograph that made the rounds was of a selfie of Minister of Public Enterprises Development and his spouse seated in Economy class cabin during a flight to India. The news report stated he had declined an upgrade offered at the airport. The news report did not state if the Minister and spouse were travelling at state or private expense. Nevertheless, the deed need be applauded. The Chairman and Directors may take the cue from their line minister in the future when making reservations in Business class and using lounge facilities, both in Colombo and overseas where it involves payment. One hopes Minister of Public Enterprises Development will set a further example by travelling in Economy class during his next trip to the west on state business at state expense.