The outbound travel sector officials while acknowledging the severe inconvenience that would be caused to passengers flying to China due to changes in the flight schedule of SriLankan Airlines said upgrading of the airport is a pre requisite to keep pace with global standards and attract travellers to the country.
However, experts in the travel industry said, changes to flight schedules should be done through broad consultation to minimize the inconvenience to travellers especially on long haul tours. SriLankan Airlines in a press release notified the changes to its schedule over a three-month period from January 6 to April 6 due to the closure of Bandaranaike International Airport from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm daily for maintenance work on the runway. Jetwing Holidays, Senior Manager Kosala Kuruppu said the new flight schedules to China will cause inconvenience to travellers. However they have to comply with the new schedule.
He said, the issue will be to those who have booked flights with SriLankan Airlines. Those who have not, will go for other options which will affect the business of the airline. “We will offer alternative options to travel to China,” Kuruppu said. Former Sri Lanka Tourism Director General and CEO Convention Bureau, Vipula Wanigasekera said the decision to shift flights to Mattala is inevitable. “I am sure the airport authorities will do everything possible to make passengers comfortable in Mattala although there may be some inconvenience which they will understand if they know the situation.”
“Passengers could be offered value additions during their stay in the airport which would override any inconvenience. Every country has faced issues like this when they have to expand or develop. This is for the benefit of the future tourism industry so the authorities and Industry must have a dialogue to find ways and means of minimizing issues arising out of this,” Wanigasekera said. Airline sources said the closure of the BIA will affect flights in and out of the country. International Air Travel Association (IATA) Agents Association of Sri Lanka President Tilak Wickremasinghe said SriLankan Airlines would have done its best to secure a slot in China but due to the heavy traffic there it has not been able to get new slots.
“There will be some inconvenience. Travelers will have to make a bit of sacrifice for a short time to help development of airport,” he said.
SriLankan Airlines Manager, Media Development, Deepal Perera said, the decision to fly via Mattala was taken due to the fact that the Chinese authorities were not able to give us landing slots as per our new timing. “At a normal operational level, Shanghai and Beijing flights were lined up to leave at around 12 noon and arrive in China around 10 p.m. (China local time).”