Dr. Tilak S. Fernando London - Passenger 11F

After the SriLankan and Emirates 'divorce' at the end of March 2008, one would have expected hiccups and teething problems in computerized systems as Emirates dominated this area throughout their marriage over a decade, but who would have expected to find the odd rotten apple, mixed among the cabin crew, who would defy President Rajapakse's morale boosting speech recently to the airline staff to take pride in our 'own' National Carrier?

SriLankan flight UL 503 Colombo - London on 1 May was quite contrary to what President Rajapakse would have expected from the cabin crew to maintain 'ape kama' (national feeling) when serving passengers on board.

The case in question was a steward who, while serving a trolley round of drinks to front cabin passengers, refused a request made by a female passenger seated next to me for two cups of tea, point blankly saying, " we are very busy madam, it's a maid service' !. When the passenger pressed the service call button next, this steward immediately switched off the seat indicator in a quite high handed manner! This was immediately after observing tea being served to a couple (white foreigners) who were seated in front of the lady passenger. The defiant lady passenger was courageous enough to question the steward about his unacceptable behaviour and summoned the Check Steward who was on board during this flight. Two cups of tea was brought by a charming hostess with a smile only after such a complaint.

About ninety minutes prior to the landing at Heathrow airport the passenger toilet allocated to the front cabin section was locked (by the staff) for a long time as the cabin crew sat next to it and relaxed while this male steward in question stood near the 'kitchen' area chatting to them and directing passengers who were queuing up to use the toilet to a far away toilet at the tail end of the plane. Having waited opposite the 'engaged' door for more than 10 minutes, (thinking a passenger was using the toilet) a white passenger and I were also directed to the tail end toilet saying 'there are two more toilets at the other end sir'!

What was obvious during this flight was not a single announcement was made in Sinhala or Tamil throughout, but only in English! (Much to the yearning of President's advice). This was also the case at the Bandaranaike International airport terminal where a Sinhala lady with two young children was seen nonplussed, probably not being able to understand English announcements. A ground hostess's explanation to this was because there were lots of foreign passengers in the flight. However when reminded her that SriLankan Airlines was our National carrier she became dumb founded.

Another passenger, seated next to me during the flight explained his experience at the checking in counter at the airport. He was an ex Sri Lankan Air Force Officer who is now working and residing in London. He was taken a back, according to him, when a white woman right in front of him in the queue was upgraded to business class at the airport. When queried as to why there was discrimination and Sri Lankans are given a step-motherly treatment, she too had became intentionally silent.

The majority of the foreigners who travel to Sri Lanka are on cheap package tours to Maldives and are on transit in Colombo. The irony is that they seem to get the best of attention and upgrading etc while Sri Lankan passengers who pay much more in fares are at times treated shabbily.

Sri Lankan Airlines seem to advertise more on Maldives Islands during in-flight service, while nothing is shown about Sri Lanka ! Three hearty cheers to our National Airline and Ape Kama! The time is ripe for our own national carrier to learn from mistakes at the very onset in our own operation and put them right and make Sri Lankan passengers also feel that they get equal and quality service.

It is not going to pay in the long run to see some of the staff still prefer to keep on bending into two and three in front of white faces and say 'yes sir, no sir three bags full sir'! After all, have the SriLankan crew forgotten the fact that it is their bounden duty to serve passengers courteously, it is their living and their job and it's the Sri Lankan passengers who pay a full fare and not the tourists who come on cheap holiday flights that help them to take bacon home at the end of the month !