Bandaranaike International Airport, sometimes called Colombo International Airport, is currently Sri Lanka's only functional commercial international airport. It opened in 1967, and is named after a past prime minister of the country. The airport is the hub of national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines and domestic air taxi service Cinnamon Air (which provides connecting flights to various regional tourist spots).
Although Bandaranaike International Airport has improved markedly in recent years, it's managed by the government and is in need of a makeover. The airport has far exceeded its capacity of 6.9 million passengers per year, it only has one runway, and its international terminal is aging and inefficient. As a result, congestion occurs during peak hours. The overdue construction of a new and modern environmentally-friendly international terminal, designed to handle an additional 9 million passengers, was scheduled to begin in early 2020 and is not expected to be complete until 2023.
There's another, smaller airport (Ratmalana International Airport) on an air-force base south of Colombo. It used to be the city's sole international airport before Bandaranaike International Airport was built. Now, this airport is mainly used for domestic flights, with some international corporate jet and charter flight operations as well.
Bandaranaike International Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information
Know Before You Go
Bandaranaike International Airport has one international passenger terminal with arrivals and departures areas in the same building. Cinnamon Air's domestic flights operate from a separate dedicated terminal within the airport compound. Passengers are transported there, either from the international terminal or the remote car park, by shuttle bus. If you're transferring to a Cinnamon Air flight from the international terminal, an airline representative will meet you at the Cinnamon Counter in the arrivals area after you clear immigration and customs. Allow at least 60 minutes to complete the transfer process.
The airport's international terminal has 14 gates. Gates 5-14 are located along the same concourse on the upper floor, reached after passing through security and the duty-free shopping section. Gates 1-4 are labeled as "R" gates and are all downstairs on the ground level. These gates have a shared security check, stuffy waiting rooms, no food and beverage outlets, no restroom facilities, and bus transport to the aircraft.
Sri Lankan Airlines flies to many destinations in Europe, the United States, Southeast Asia, Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan. The airport also services the following major airlines: Air Arabia, Air Asia, Air India, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Fly Dubai, Gulf Air, Indigo Airlines (India), Korean Airways, Kuwait Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Rossiya Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Silk Air, Singapore Airlines, SpiceJet (India), Vistara (India), Thai Airways, and Turkish Airlines.
Because the airport is rather old, passing through security can be quite tedious and there is a lack of comfortable seating. There are also few water fountains and the restrooms can be unclean.
Bandaranaike International AirportParking
There are two open-air parking lots for passengers—short-term "terminal parking" and long-term "remote parking". The terminal car park has space for 400 vehicles. Cars pay 200 rupees, while the rate is 250 rupees for jeeps and vans. The larger and cheaper remote car park, situated 300 meters from the terminal, also accommodates motorcycles and buses. Rates are 50 rupees for motorcycles, 100 rupees for cars and vans, and 200 rupees for buses.
The Colombo-Katunayake Expressway is the quickest way of traveling between the airport and Colombo. The journey takes about 30 minutes in normal traffic and an hour in heavy traffic. The expressway starts northeast of Fort, at Kelani Bridge, in Colombo and passes the airport. Turn on to Canada Friendship Road to reach the airport. To use the expressway you will have to pay a 300-rupee toll, however, it's worth it to save time.
Public Transportation and Taxis
If it's your first time visiting Sri Lanka or you're not traveling on a budget, skip public transport and take a taxi to/from the airport to avoid hassles. Most tourists arrive on late-night flights, from midnight to 6 a.m., and opt for pre-arranged airport transfers provided by their hotel. Expect to pay 3,000-5,000 rupees for this service.
Uber offers fixed-price rides from the airport to Colombo, starting from 1,200 rupees. and Prepaid, fixed-price airport taxis can be booked at the counter next to the information desk in the inner lobby of the arrivals area or to your left after you exit the international terminal. Expect to pay 2,800-4,000 rupees depending on your destination in Colombo. Touts and taxi drivers will also approach you after you exit the terminal. Be prepared to negotiate.
Air-conditioned bus 187-E03, operated by the Sri Lankan Transport Board, runs directly from the airport to Colombo Central Bus Stand via the expressway. It departs from the bus stand across the road from the airport terminal every 30 minutes or so from 5.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased onboard and cost 130 rupees ($0.70). Private buses are available at other times but they have multiple stops, making the trip twice as long.
There's no longer a direct express train between the airport and Colombo. The closest railway station is Katunayake, about a mile from the airport. It's possible to take a commuter train from there to Colombo Fort Railway Station. Reservations aren't permitted but you might get a seat if it's not peak time. Tickets cost 30 rupees, and the trip takes a bit over an hour. The train timetable is available online. (Search for Katunayake, not Katunayake Airport station).
Where to Eat and Drink
Colombo Airport has a very limited range of food and beverage outlets. Items are costly. Expect to pay US$12 for a burger at Burger King, and US$15 for a curry and rice at the Palm Strip Restaurant and Bar. Pizza Hut is similarly overpriced. Relaks Inn is the pick of places for quick bites on a budget. Rotis, sandwiches, cakes, muffins, and coffee are served there.
Food isn't available in the domestic terminal, although complimentary drinks (soft drinks, tea, and coffee) are provided.
Where to Shop
Duty-free stores at Bandaranaike International Airport are more expensive than other airports in Asia, so bargains are rare. In addition, most stores don't accept Sri Lankan rupees. That said, the duty free zone is dominated by stores selling electronics such as washing machines, TVs, and refrigerators. These items are purchased on arrival by local Sri Lankans, who are returning home from working abroad and are eligible for a special annual allowance. Visitors will be most interested in the specialty stores stocking teas and handicrafts.
- The First Class Lotus Lounge is the best option for Priority Pass holders.
- Araliya is the business class lounge for most airlines. It also accepts Priority Pass holders but does get crowded.
- The Serendib Lounge belongs to Sri Lankan Airlines and can be used by business class passengers and frequent flyers.
- The Palm Strip Lounge (an extension of the Palm Strip restaurant) and Executive Lounge are rather ordinary pay-to-use lounges.
Wi-Fi and Charging Stations
There is free Wi-Fi at Bandaranaike International Airport. The signal is weak though, and sometimes there's no connectivity. Phone charging points are sparsely available at various locations in the airport terminal.
Bandaranaike International Airport Tips & Facts
- Bandaranaike International Airport began as a military airfield in 1944, during World War II, and part of it remains as such.
- The airport is relatively small and easy to navigate.
- The separate cluster of immigration counters facing the tarmac usually has shorter lines.
- You can store your baggage at the airport, with rates starting from US$6 per 24 hours.