30 September, 2023


Business ‘Class Divide’ @ SriLankan Airlines

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

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.

  1. Chairman / Board of Directors and their eligible dependents travelling on official or vacation will be entitled to lounge facilities at Colombo and Overseas Airports.
  2. Chief Officers travelling on official duty will be entitled to lounge facilities at Colombo Airport only
  3. 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.

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Latest comments

  • 9

    “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.”
    Since you did not name the Minister involved it is Mr.Kabir Hashim and his wife.Sri Lankan Airlines comes under Mr.Kabir Hashim and presuming they were travelling on an official or private trip the airline would have upgraded them.If reputed businessman or leading professionals get upgraded wont the Minister whose purview under Sri Lankan airline comes be upgraded? Whatever the case maybe it was an act of “Good Governance” by the Honourable Minister.

    You question whether the Minister would repeat the same act on a fight to the West in my opinion on a long haul flight involving official business he should be upgraded as most official visits to the West lasts a few hectic days and it would not be proper to send a Minister who would suffer fatigue and be unable to carry out his official matters half a sleep.Any Private Sector top Executive is given a Business Class ticket not through love of the Company towards him, but to ensure that he carries on his task less suffering of travel exhaustion/ This theory should also apply to our Ministers when they go on official matters. As for private visits by Ministers the option is up to the airline using their discretion as they do with other Corporate executives.

  • 5

    Colin: I appreciate your point of view on travels undertaken by Government Ministers and other top rung officials and how they should be accommodated in allocating seating. However the bone of contention here is the protest by S/L Airlines Pilots’ protest of denying the facilities at the Business Lounge for them and their dependents. As Mr. Jayaweera complains, I do not see anything wrong in Chairman and the Board of Directors using that facility. Having said so, I also wish if those people would use their own proper senses and avoid as far as possible to help out the ailing airline at this critical point of time. As regards the Pilots claim – when was this concession allowed and why only to them? The problems are created without looking into long term effects and when such matters have to be handled in a way to correct these problems do arise. Did the “Authorities” evaluate the NEED to have a Business Lounge and for WHOM it has to cater to. It should not have been another “Resting Station” or a “a la carte” Restaurant” for staff and their dependents. It is so with this Business & First Class travel for staff and dependents. Mr. Jayaweera has explained it very well.

    In this regard, I wish to refer the attention of these “Big Wigs” in peoples’ services to what a world known Sri Lankan said the other day appearing in a TV show called “Pathikada” of Sirasa. He is Dr. Sumitha Pilapitiya who resigned recently from the post of Director General of the Wild Life Department. He said, whenever he visits wild life sanctuaries under his command on any day outside his officials duties, he had always obtained “Visitors Permits” and never ever violated any of the rules laid down for the administration of those outfits. Incidentally this Dr. Pilapitiya resigned from his lucrative post in the World Bank and accepted the position of Director General of the Wild Life Department. Of course, he found his own mistake within a short period of time of wrongly assessing the “Political Culture” of this country in opting to serve his Mother Country.

    The best REPLY for this Pilots’ demand, I found, is in a speech that the Late Mr. Lee Kuwan Yeu gave in a speech he made when the Pilots of Singapore Airlines went on strike. Please listen to him on:
    https://youtu.be/zocoCf-tyuU. In that speech he gave 65 minutes to decide on return to work or else he said for and behalf of the people of Singapore the Airline will be closed down and he knows how to start AFRESH a “Better Airline” for the Nation. After you listen to his speech, I am certain, you would also think: We must have LEADERS like that. Leaders with NO NONSENSE MANAGEMENT capabilities.

  • 10

    Isn’t it a fact that UL pilots are a law unto themselves and arrogant? Why are all these article failing to get comments from management before being published as if it were fact? Pilots do not want to lose the lucrative Long Distance flights where they get so many allowances. There is a glut of pilots in the world right now and UL can easily find experienced pilots if it so wishes to. If management also lead by example this will not be an issue. CEO and COO are not using these facilities either. If the board which is a political panel uses it and the chairman uses it , the Minister should tell them to lead by example too. Give some of the professionals who came back to SL to do a good job a break. This money pit will take a long time to reform. They are already doing a decent job leasing out the white elephant Airplanes Rajapakses bought. PIA is taking some. Perhaps more will be leased out so the losses are reduced. Perhaps the A-350 is indeed needed because the A-340 is an inefficient gas guzzler past its prime. Also give them time to find a partner. If that fails then make it just a regional flag carrier on the lucrative routes only and get rid of the massive overstaffed bureaucracy. Look at all the gamey lathas hired as stewardesses during MR’s time. They can barely speak English!

  • 13

    All involved with SL Airlines are a privileged and arrogant lot. Starting from the chairman to the porters. They do not believe in serving the public – who’s paying them – but rather feel that the public had to beg, plead and bribe them to avail themselves to the services.

    Once I waited in line for 3 hours to check in, while dozens of people who bribed the porters and the gate agents skipped the line ahead of me. I nearly missed my flight!

    On another occasion, there were no directions where to go check in. And none of the gate agents could or would help us. They were just standing around looking fashionable. There were 10-12 of them just hanging out and chatting amongst themselves while passengers scrambled trying to find out how to check in.

    The flight attendants too are arrogant and believe them selves to be catwalk models, rather than high-paid waitstaff that they really are.

    All of these people should be taken several notches down from the pedestals that they are unworthy of.

  • 11

    Cannot understand the fuss about business class lounge usage.

    2016/17 financial year will record a minimum loss of Rs 15 billion and the monthly loss is averaging now around Rs 1 billion. The loss will be a few more millions if the pilots and directors kids and girl friends use the lounge and hence this does not matter much as long as paying passengers are not inconvenienced,

    Let it be very clear that no one is accountable for losses or wastage at Sri Lankan. If this was the case most board members in the past would be in jail by now.

    Govt should get out of running airlines and that is the bottom line.!!’

  • 8

    Yakkala Simon you hit the nail on the head.Instead of talking about Business Class facilities etc etc the SL Airline pilots should ponder over whether their jobs are secure.The pet hobby of some of these guys seems to be a campaign against the CEO Suren Ratwatte and Chairman Ajith Dias.This combination in my opinion are doing a thankless job to give oxygen to a dying airline heavily burden with debts and the Airlines Pilots should extend their fullest cooperation to this duo instead of harping on Business Class facilities for their families.
    Wake up pilots your career is on the chopping block due to the present management inheriting a debt ridden airline and this is what the pilots should focus on.They should also realise in case Sri Lankan Airlines puts down thr shutters (God forbid it does)these pilots will be without billet and due to a surplus of pilots both locally and internationally our pilots would find their careers which they slogged for several years ending up in smoke

  • 1

    Mr Rajeeva , I am glad some times write sense (infrequent though but I am sure you will improve) . The airline urgently needs to change hands to a privatised management. Government has never proven its ability to run the airline. It is shocking that the pilots trash the management in such an uncultured manner whenever a policy is introduced , with personal attacks. I agree with one of the writers who commented that they (pilots) should run with their jobs and allow the airline to flourish , they are part of the employees too !! I am told even the cabin crew association too attack the management with unfair requests . I think the last regime has driven the airline to the lowest level . Lounge for employees , speaking to two airline managers I know , they said it is laughable that such a demand is made . Most airline have very strict access policy, hardly allowing employees in. So what to do the passengers who paid fares to access the lounge do ?? Ridiculous . Some one wrote about free and confirmed travel for pilots and family , why dont we add company paid holiday for all employees ? Will help to sink the airline quickly . Good or bad the new management (not the directors) have got about doing what they should with all the problems the owners can create . They should be supported
    Let us not be a nation without an airline

  • 2

    Debt Ridden Srilankan Airlines management should take bold decisions and not give into the demands of the pilots and cabin crew. Enough is enough and for the past Rajapucksa years none dared to challenge the then management run by Jarapaksa henchmen and cronies.

  • 3

    It is high time that Sri Lankan airlines is transferred to the management of South West Airlines of the USA. They will teach these corrupt and self serving organization how to make this business venture profitable, provided the sticky tentacles of the political overlords were forced to keep off the airline.

    • 1

      The correct decision should have been we are losing money and in a bad state let’s all sacrifice for 2 years and forego this facility.This would have got you more respect and avoided this undue conflict and negative publicity..Again boils down to leadership.

  • 8

    Pilots and other permanent employees actually work for Sri Lankan airline.

    The board is all political appointees, mainly crooked businessmen and deal making lawyers. Most of them are settled down in foreign countries. They are only there to make maximum amount of money and enjoy their perks. We had had so may boards and if at all they did more harm and damage to the airline.

    even this board is doing many things to make commissions and other benefits.

    so why should any privilege be given to them and their foreign residing families ?

  • 3

    Does the Chairman draw a salary or any other allowance from the Air Line. I heard he does not.

  • 1

    Let’s talk basics on Pilots abusing the airline:

    Chief Pilot – Training and Standards are given an allowance to travel to work. BUT they uses ECD transport service so they can save that XX,XXX thousand value THUS making an expenses (LOSS) to the company.

    When they work in office they are paid an allowance as OFFICE ALLOWANCES. Frankly they don’t have much of work to do.

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