BA Direct to the Maldives (Sort of)

BA Direct flight

Last January, BA resumed it summer direct service to the Maldives, the only UK direct service available. Until then, it was only offering a winter sun service. But when the lock-down relaxation roadmap was announced then, it was key that vaccination penetration was one of the main considerations of whether UK would give countries the “Green” light. At the time, the Maldives boasted one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world so it seemed a sure thing that they would be at the front of the pack. While others like dithered about the risks, we jumped on the opportunity for a direct flight for our annual July tour. As a result, we were even able to use Avios points to pay for our booking. Everything was starting to look up.

And then a few months later, the “Delta variant” hit. And as its erstwhile moniker, the “Indian variant” would imply, it hit the Indian Ocean destination early and hard plunging the Maldives into the Red list. Fairly soon after, we received notice that our flight has been cancelled. So we called BA to see what to do.

On the plus side, despite being an Avios trip which usually has considerable booking date restrictions, BA let us change our flights to any date we wanted. We thought of just moving the whole thing to the following summer during our traditional July period. But BA informed us that the summer direct service would be discontinued (again) in 2022. So we settled for November which is usually a relatively lighter month for resorts.

Despite the COVID flexibility, the run up to the departure was a bit fraught with difficulties.

  • System glitches: We paid hundreds of pounds for extra-leg room seats (given my height). A week before the flight, I went to double check that everything was all okay in the “Manage My Booking” section. For some reason, it would even let me see seat selection. I assumed that it was because we had already chosen our seats. Then, when we started the pre-flight COVID paperwork a few days before the flight, we could see our seats an they were no longer extra leg room at all.
  • Terrible Customer Service: I tried for two days to get through to BA customer service on the phone to try to fix the problem. I got the now ancient “due to usually high call volume” (that has been that “unusually high” for decades now), you may have to wait. But after running through the barrage of menu selections (where they try to foist you off to a computerised recording), I final got to the point where they said, “Unfortunately, no customer agents are available right now. Please try back later.” And line went dead.

As a courtesy for their mix up, the gate agent offered us complimentary access to the BA Lounge which saved us a bit of money from going to Gordon Ramsay for a pre-flight nibble. Their replacement to their buffet (due to concerns over COVID spreading) was intriguing as you ordered your food online and gave them the number of where you were sitting and they brought the food to you.

In the end, we were stuck in the very rear of the plane for the long (10+ hour) red-eye flight. Extra legroom seats are sort of “poor man’s business class” which we were disappointed to miss out on. But we did luck out on “impoverished man’s business class”…a 4-seat row to ourselves. When we booked our seats, we saw just a couple empty rows at the back of the plane. We each took an aisle seat in the hopes that being sat n the middle between us would be the last place subsequent set bookers would choose. And it worked out.  Another bonus is the BA in-flight wifi which is allowing me to post this piece from 30,000 feet.

Our flight was a pretty much typical of post-COVID traveling – lots of changes and complexities that aren’t always handled that adeptly, but with a bit of perseverance and luck, you can be back traveling again.

To compare airline experiences, I have now added the tag “Flights” to the blog.



Tour 17: Flying the COVID-Free Skies to Paradise

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to escaping to paradise is getting there. With the “Tier 4” lockdown announced in the UK, that will scupper possibilities for many. But for those living in areas still able to do international travel, the flying is the first, and perhaps most stressful aspect of getting there is the flying. And our trip was no exception as we grappled with impediments from 3 major carriers:

  • QATAR AIRWAYS – I purchased my ticket through British Airways where I had a bunch of “vouchers” accrued from COVID cancelled trips. BA did not have any flights available, but they did present “One World Partner” options for me to use including some flights from Qatar Airways which worked well enough. What they don’t tell you (and it took hours for me to figure out) is that you cannot purchase extra legroom seats on partner flights. A big concern for me because I am so tall. BA said contact Qatar because Qatar controls seat allocation, and Qatar told me to call BA because BA issued and controls the ticket. As I have experienced in the past, these “partnerships” like “One World” are more gimmicks and be aware that if you get drawn into them, you are likely to face huge complexities in your travel. As if COVID isn’t introducing enough complications at the moment. Also, their “Privilege Club” has probably the worst customer service of any airline I have ever dealt with. I spent 6 weeks and countless communications to get a typo fixed in my profile (which is critical because if your booking name doesn’t match your passport name exactly, they can prevent you from boarding).
  • EMIRATES – I give Emirates credit for a great booking experience including and easy refund when the UK Lockdown II required us to cancel our first trip booked. The biggest problem is that when we tried to re-booked we learned that the required stop-over in Dubai violated the “travel corridor” requirements and meant we would have to quarantine in the UK on return. That provision has since been modified to allow certain stop-overs, but at the time we didn’t want to face the possibility of paying for two weeks of freedom in paradise with a fortnight of sequestration (little did we know).
  • BRITISH AIRWAYS – BA turned out to be really the only option not wanting to quarantine over Christmas And yet, shortly after booking our flights, Sir Lankan offered direct flights and Qatar/Emirates got an exemption from the stopover constraint. The prices were better than usual for this time of year, but not the super discounts of November. The booking was smooth as well as a steady stream of travel advice from BA to help preparations.

Off we go. Yes, the trip there was more complicated, but in fairness matters were no worse than travelling to the Maldives a decade ago. Back before online check-in, airport kiosks, efficient boarding, rich shopping options and in-flight amenities. I know all of us living through 2020 dream of turning back the clock, but this might have gone too far back. In fairness, aside from a few temperature checks and squirts of hand sanitizer, the primary COVID imposition was the PCR test required for the Maldives (and many other destinations)

No online check-in as they had to check PCR certificates and the Maldives QR code (you get when you complete your Maldivian arrival Travel Health Authorisation). So for the first time in years, we arrived at Terminal 5 confronted by snaking queues as agents did check-in the “old fashioned way” (boarding passes, baggage check and passport port check all done by the far-too-few overworked agents at the desks). The agents were especially exasperated by so many people trying to travel and not really having a clue as to the requirements (One family of about 8 took 45 minutes to check-in, if they succeeded. We know because we were in the queue for 90 minutes and watching this one hapless family occupy one of the precious few gate agents was one of our bits of entertainment to pass the time).

The flight itself was very well managed with lots of safety protocols. Chief among them were mandatory mask wearing at all time (except for when you were “actively eating”, ie. take a bite and put the mask back on to chew). Frankly, in the spectrum of possible airplane discomforts, this added one was pretty trivial.

We arrived to Male airport facing arrival queues also not seen for a decade since the agents were coping with the other side of PCR tests, health declaration paperwork and a generous helping of tourist confusion. Our flight had been delayed a few hours and the long lines meant that our PCR test was literally about to “expire” (ie. be beyond the 96 hour requirement). We made it through with 10 minutes to spare, but in fairness, the authorities I approached about the issue seemed pretty understanding about the delays and I don’t think they would have turned us away because we got to the desk a bit after the official expiry.

One final moan on my soapbox. My wife Lori works in an NHS-supported care facility and as such get COVID tested every week as a matter of SOP. But the results that she gets back are not PCR certificates and simple electronic messages saying “test negative”. It would seem to me that in addition to rounds of applause, a simple and pretty cost-free gesture that would save NHS staff some money would be to adapt the weekly COVID test results to be PCR “Fit to Fly” ready. Then, NHS staff wouldn’t have to pay considerable amounts for extra tests (on top of the many they already take) if they want a well-earned break.


Maldives 2019 Tour: Arrival

Tour 2019 Bunyamin

We’re on our way! Whew. It’s a shame that Turkish Airways which excels in so many ways as an airline to take to the Maldives, especially with its sparkling new Istanbul hub, is so Byzantinely archaic with its website and ticket purchasing.

Seriously, Turkish Airlines online system is a disaster. It took me 2 hours to purchase the ticket. And then, because of a fault in their system, the booking required a repair that took (no exaggeration) over 4 hours of my patient time on the telephone to fix. Here are some of the most glaring problems that hit me…

  • English Illiteracy – The biggest problem of all that triggered so many problems is that Turkish Airlines considers ALL of your forenames (ie. your first name and any middle names) to be your “First Name”. When it asks for your “First Name”, it wants you to enter them in one big string. So for me, my “First Name” is “BRUCECHARLES”. Maybe this is some sort of Turkish language convention, but it is not English. And if they want to follow this esoteric grammatical convention, then they need to be much more explicit about it on their website. Instead, it just shows the following…Turkish Airlines - webform
    My “Name” as shown in my Passport is “Bruce”. But when I entered that, all hell broke loose. It did not match mile Miles & Smiles record (which had me as a “Bruce”). As a result, half of the functions didn’t work in the online booking (eg. seat selection, passenger passport information).
  • Poor Data Integration – So I call the Miles & Smiles programme on the phone. When you call, they ask you to enter your membership number and then they laboriously repeat it and ask you to confirm it. When you get through, what’s the first question they ask you?…”What’s your membership number?” (which you have to laboriously repeat to someone for whom English is not their first language).
  • Poor Customer Service Training – I called their Customer Service center before I had completed my ticket booking due to the problems of putting “Bruce” as my “Name” for some guidance on how to resolve the problems it was presenting. The useless Customer Service rep then told me to do something which was the exact opposite of what someone should do and something which ended up costing me 4 hours of further aggravation. She told me that if I just went ahead and paid for the ticket, all the issues would resolve themselves. Simples right? So I followed her instructions. The issues did not go away.
    So I called the service centre again. This rep informed me of the huge problem that I now had on my hands. He explained that for Turkish Airlines, “Name” meant this conglomeration of all your non-surnames (ie. “BruceCharles” in my case). He said that I would have to change the name on the ticket or else at the airport I would be refused getting on the plane (because the “Name”…well, Turkish Airline perverse notion of what a “Name” is).
    • Ok, got it…let’s fix the name.”
    • “Sorry sir, I can’t do that. You will have to go onto our website and fill out an online complaint form and then in 7-10 days we will get back to you as to whether we determine that your request to change you name is approved and then you can call back with your reference number and the name might be able to be changed.”
    • “What if someone determines that it can’t be changed?”
    • “Then you lose the entire ticket and the £2000+ you paid
      #facepalm (I did not go into an apoplectic fit of rage because I still had confidence that sanity would previl at some point
  • Antiquated Computer Systems – After 10 days I got an email saying that my application to change the name on my ticket from “Bruce” to “BruceCharles” had been approved. All I had to do now is call their customer support center and sort everything out. They explained that their (medieval) computer systems would not allow them to change the name on the ticket so we would have to cancel the old tickets, arrange for full refunds and then book new ones from scratch. Good grief.
  • Using American Express Confuses Them – As I had faced when I booked, they seem to have no idea how American Express works. When I booked my tickets, the website asked for the “3 digit security code the back of the card”. Well, lacking all confidence in their competence at this point, I went ahead and put in the FOUR digit security code which is the convention for Amex cards (even though they do have their own 3 digit on the back of the card) which worked. Also, American Express cards can be used for booking flights, but not for booking seats. Which I discovered through trial and error. The customer service rep didn’t have a clue. He knew that Amex was accepted for some things and not other…but he didn’t know which things.
  • Even More Antiquated Transaction Systems – It turns out that for some reason they could not process the new credit card charge in one transaction. Instead, I had to enter my credit card details once for my new ticket and one for Lori’s new ticket. Each time, the service rep switched me to an over-the-phone system to tediously enter (and confirm) my credit card details. If that wasn’t bad enough, I had purchased extra-leg room seat and those purchases all needed to be paid for individually. That’s 2 legs (Istanbul flight change), 2 directions (going and returning) for 2 people. I had to go through the torturous phone credit card entry EIGHT times (hence the 4 hours on the phone).

It is a shame that the process of buying a ticket on Turkish Airlines is so painful, because the process of actually traveling with them is really quite a treat. Speaking of treats, the food served is actually quite tasty. Nothing Cordon Bleu, but I found everything from the Mediterranean salad to the mousse dessert to be very palatable (I usually find something in an airline’s food service that I just can’t stomach).

But it is the transfer in Istanbul that really distinguishes Turkish Airlines. With the rise of Asia, the Middle East is indeed in the middle of everything. The junction of these two continents (not to mention emerging Africa to the south). Hence, the race by Emirates (Dubai), Qatar Airlines (Doha) and Turkish Airlines (Istanbul) to establish themselves as the hub of the eastern hemisphere. Despite, the former two airlines extravagant airports and extensive service, Turkish Airlines is now really winning this race by clear blue water.

Turkish has long been able to exceed all other in service options. This means that you have the most choice of flights to suit your schedule and the shortest lay-over times (I can always find Turkish Airlines flights with a total travel time of about 13 hours, while the shortest I can find with the competition is about 15). It has flights leaving every couple of minutes in and out of Istanbul 24 HOURS A DAY.

In most other airports, things are shuttered up late at night and the floor polishers are out by the janitorial staff. When we did our transfer at 2:00 am, Istanbul airport was like Grand Central Station buzzing with passengers filling its cavernous terminal packed with more extensive stores than Westfield shopping centre. Istanbul has always had a busy terminal, the epitome of late-night shopping and round the clock bustle. But recently it just opened it state-of-the-art monstrosity Istanbul Airport which took their hub game to a whole new level. More space, more amenities, more stores, more restaurants, more inviting architecture and décor (see photo below).

Ever since BA stopped its non-stop service to the Maldives in the summer months, we have been using Turkish Airlines more or less satisfactorily (we especially appreciate its in-flight entertainment system which shows a live video of the plane landing), but after the ticketing fiasco this year and the plans for BA to resume direct service next year, I suspect that our Constantinople stop-over will come to an end.

The best part of our journey was being greeted at Arrivals by Maldives’ own digital ambassador, Bunyamin Ahmed (see photo below). Maldives and Bunyamin…#WeMeetAgain!

Istanbul Airport

Turkish Airlines Update – Istanbul Airport

Tour - Turkish Airlines update

Turkish Airlines has been our go-to carrier when travelling to the Maldives from the UK in the warm months (when British Airways does not offer its direct service). I already posted a pretty comprehensive overview of the flight experience, but I didn’t mention much about the Istanbul hub (just that it had a few food outlets and relaxation areas). The Istanbul airport has come on massively in just the three years since.

From the UK from April through October, there is no direct service to the Maldives. So visitors have to choose from an array of stop-over options among the hub titans. Unless you want a bit of a detour for one of the Far East hubs (eg. Singapore, Cathay Pacific, or even Sri Lankan), the most prominent choices are the three battling for dominance as the crossroads between Europe and Asia – Turkish (Istanbul), Emirates (Dubai) and Qatar (Doha). Turkey has held the title for much of history as Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople has been the nexus where East meets West). And they are not going to yield that strategic position easily no matter who much oil money the upstarts on the Arabian peninsula have to throw at the battle.

Istanbul airport has long been a bit of a “Third World” facility with more brute force (sheer numbers of flights) behind it than elegance (compared to the flashy new constructions at Dubai and Doha). But Istanbul is slowly but steadily making improvements to turn itself into a world class airport. A profusion of cosmopolitan shops and trendy eateries have cropped up with Sbarro and Burger King edging aside the tired beef stew in the generic airport café, and Hugo Boss encroaching on the Turkish Delight stands. They have fixed most of the bottlenecks with security in the International Transfer section which used to mean long queues as x-ray machine in the middle of the night and the middle of your long journey.

The one aspect are that remains decidedly Third World are the restrooms. Packed with queues and horrid smells. Your best option is the ones at the lower level underneath the food court (somewhat cleaner and very few people).

That area is where you will also find some quite attractive “rest” options. The first is quite literally a “Rest Area”. It is two rooms (one for men and one for women) with dimmed lighting and thick, padded mats on the floor (like you used to nap on in kindergarten). For those who couldn’t sleep bolt upright in the long-haul first leg and have a long lay-over, it is an oasis of comfort and repose. Free of charge too.

The whole area by the Food Court end of the terminal is also filled with a selection of 5 lounges to provide a range of transfer creature comforts. The first option is to check whether any of your frequent flyer status or bank/credit cards provide you with free access (one of the lounges is the HSBC lounge with free access for its premium card holders).

For the past couple of years, we have opted for the Premiere Lounge. It has sizeable space including two separate areas where one is more quiet than the other. It is the most extensive and with the widest range of amenities including a modest buffet, soft drinks, beer, pretty good coffee machine. It is also one of two lounges to have a shower (which I found refreshing after my 7 hours flight from Male) as well as a gym (!) for those who are really keen. The cost is 69 Euros for a “membership” which provides a day use with a guest (so 35 euros per person)

Note that if you plan to re-charge your electronics devices at Istanbul, the power outlets at European (if you go to Premier Lounge, they have an adaptor they will loan you).

Maldives Tour 2017: Arrival

Tour 2016 - Arrival

Welcome home! Tour 8 started with a few minors startles. Turkish Airlines changed our extra leg room seat we reserved…but they found us another one. We didn’t see the resort rep when we arrived…but we got in touch eventually (we came out late due to a delay with Lori’s bag). We had a couple hours to wait at Male Airport until the next transfer, but that didn’t stop us from starting our holiday. We checked into the Plaza Premium spa for a shower, chair head-neck-back massage (50 Euros for 30 minutes), some refreshment and a general chill out. Topped off with a DQ strawberry milkshake (as well as a Lemon-Lime Artic Blast for the boat ride).

The spa and junk food amenities weren’t the only thing happening at the newly renamed Velana Airport.  The Maldives is doing a complete overhaul of the facility with a new runway and new terminal.  So the site was buzzing with construction and new development.  Above, I am standing next to a scale model on display at the main terminal entrance.

This trip will take us to yet another new atoll (Meemu, our 14th) as well as a return to Baa to check out some of the new properties there, and we will stop in at a few in the Male area as well. 8 new resorts in total (Summer Island, Finolhu, Amilla Fushi, Dhigufaru, Rihiveli, Medhufushi, Cinnamon Hakura Huraa, Olhuveli) bringing our total stayed at to 81 (and total visited to 85).

I will also be doing my traditional micro-blog report on the TripAdvisor Forum with a snapshot profile of the following key points of each resort and stay…

  • Ambience (first impressions and overall feel)
  • Snorkel Spotting (what I saw snorkelling)
  • Favourite Food (served)
  • Weather (always a popular topic)
  • First World Problem (the most petty criticism I can find)
  • Most Reminded Me Of (comparing it to another resort)
  • Learned Something New (fun fact of the day)
  • Welcome Drink
  • Pina colada test (one of our acid tests as this simple treat varies so much from place to place)

Bring on paradise!

Maldives Tour 2015 Take Off

Turkish Airlines - landing screen

Our 14th trip to the Maldives and my 6th Tour and before I’ve even arrived I have experienced a few “firsts”…

  • 1st Transfer Flight to Maldives –When I first started visiting the Maldives, the tour operator flights on Monarch Airways stopped in Bahrain for refuelling, but you stayed on the same plane. In recent years, I’ve always flown direct usually on the trusty BA2043 (though one year I tried the Sri Lankan Airways direct flight).
  • 1st Time in Turkey – Transfer in Istanbul had me set foot on Turkey for the first time in my life (though I can’t really tick it off my country list since I didn’t officially “enter”).
  • 1st Time on Turkish Airways – I travel quite a bit for both business and pleasure using a range of carriers (I favour BA for the miles and perks of my Silver status, but I readily choose a more convenient or better priced option), I had never used Turkish Airways. Generally quite impressed (see below).
  • 1st Full Atoll Itinerary – I typically focus my Tours on a particular atoll for the mere sake of logistics. It’s easier to speedboat to the next resort across the water than jockeying seaplane transfers through Male. Despite my efforts, I have in the past always missed off a resort or two. But this year’s trip to Haa Alifu and Noonu hits all the active resorts there.

With BA’s recent service reduction to Male for half the year, I was forced to succumb to the dreaded stop-over flight. The transfer was Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. One would think that with Istanbul/Constantinople’s heritage as the gateway between Occident and Orient an airway hub would be a prime opportunity for Turkey to reassert its position at the center of the Eastern Hemisphere.

And it appears that they are certainly thinking along these lines. The airport is quite an extensive place, but what really sets it apart is its crossroads role. We arrived late in the evening around 11:00 pm. In every airport I have ever been to (and I have been to a fair few), this sort of hour is when the airport is pretty much closing up. The stores and restaurants are shuttered, the terminals empties, the lights dimmed, the janitorial staff buffing floors as the final arrivals filter in. At Istanbul airport, midnight might as well as be noon. The place was packed with passengers all in transit to their ultimate destination (so packed that Lori and I struggled to find a free seat to sit down). Destinations all over Europe and Asia listed on the Departures board showed a regular stream of flights taking off throughout the wee hours of the morning. .

Turkish Airways mostly impressed me, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. First the good news…

  • Price – Not a huge differentiator as our tickets were maybe £100 cheaper than the alternatives, but they were the cheapest.
  • Selection – Turkish Airways had by far the most flight options for us. This helped considerably to craft just the right itinerary which accommodated our schedules on departure and arrivals to a tee.
  • Timing – Most east-to-west long haul flights are pleasant day-time affairs as chasing the sun keeps the whole journey confined to a single day. But most west-to-east long hauls entail an overnight. That is where stop-overs (especially with changes) can cause problems. When we first used to fly charters to the Maldives, they would depart London very late and stop in Bahrain at about 5:00 in the morning. You were just getting to peak bleariness when you had to drag your bleary-eyed self off the plane while they refuelled to wander around a duty free and modest café. The Male itinerary left late afternoon (giving us a full morning to ourselves to sort final personal details out at home) and arrived in Istanbul in less than a 3 hours (a hop short enough to not really get uncomfortable). And then you could disembark and stretch your legs a bit before boarding for the red-eye portion of the trip.
  • Hub – As noted above, all the stores and restaurants were open with some decent choices including international standards like Burger King and Sbarro.
  • Courtesy Pack – Choppard badged courtesy kit with little slippers and the obligatory toothbrush kit and eye mask (see picture below)
  • Take-Off/Landing Video – This fun feature brings a bit of spectacle to take-offs and landings to or from any airport, but in the Maldives the vista is all the more spectacular cruising into one of the most beautiful airport approaches in the world.
  • Internet – In flight Internet for a very reasonable 1 hour for $10 USD and 24 hours for $15.
  • Big Bathrooms – Not really sure what benefit this is unless you just find the typical airline water closet a bit claustrophobic, but TA has the biggest bathrooms I have seen.
  • Dinner – Quite a tasty meal. I’m a bit tired of the chicken curry / stewed beef / cheese pasta selection on most long hauls. So the poached salmon and mashed potatoes was a fine little treat with credible accompaniments (including chocolate mousse which I think all airlines should default to for their go-to dessert. It’s hard to screw it up and who doesn’t like chocolate whip?).
  • Entertainment – Substantial high resolution screens (about iPad sized) with a good range of shows, games and other things on demand.
  • Tea – The hottest tea I have had on an airplane (and it tasted lovely). It makes me wonder even more by British Airways, the flagship carrier for the land of the cuppa, has to serve such tepid dishwater.

But Turkish Airlines also had a few disappointments…

  • Orderliness – The boarding queue was just short of a Ryanair scrum for a Malaga flight on mid-term break. The blatant disregard for order and rules came to peak as dozens of passengers stood up from their plane seats while it was still taxing in from the runway. Not a few feet from the terminal, but virtually as soon as the plane touched the ground. Unfortunately, Turkish Airways didn’t do much to manage the chaos and just let the throng rule.
  • Hub – Yes, I know I listed this one as a “positive” also (I’ll give it its due credit for a few assets). Despite its scale, Istanbul airport is just two cartons of live chickens short of a third world airport. The toilets are the worst of any major airport I have been to. It’s cramped, overcrowded, and ill-equipped. Happy to get on the plane to Male.
  • Breakfast – The “Turkish Pastry” was, well, interesting even to my eclectic palate, but the “scrambled eggs” were, hmmm, ridiculous. I had to look on the menu card to see what this yellowy runny foam was. Some exotic middle eastern delicacy? No, probably powdered eggs hardly cooked. Probably the worst item of food I have ever been served on a plane (and that includes my travels on Air Afrique in the 80s!).

Descending on the magical, otherworldly paradise of the Maldives is always a treat (enhanced this trip by the Turkish Airways nose camera). Ibrahim Nassim Airport itself continues to develop and expand. The latest welcome addition is a Wellness spa right at the entrance so you can have one final indulgent treatment before boarding your plane (we had a delay in our domestic transfer and took the opportunity to have some foot massages)

?yi Yolculuklar!


[POSTSCRIPT] If you are in the Maldives relaxation/spa frame of mind, Istanbul airport does offer a few options for that prelude or postlude treatment.  Unfortunately, none of them are listed on the airport’s directory of “Services”

  • TAV Airport Hotel has a spa offering massage treatments (opens 8:00 am)
  • Tuina Spa is located by Gate 215 offering chair back/neck/shoulder massage, foot massage and “aqua massage” all for $2 per minute (make sure you get the older women who are more expert)
  • Massage Chairs (4) are located by Gate 300 (coin-op).


Turkish Airlines - complementary bag

Maldives Tour 2014 – Day 1: Male Arrival

Maldives Complete Tour 5 Male arrival

Tour #5 begins. I’ve set off on my 5th tour, our 13th trip to the Maldives overall. After this tour, we will have visited 55 resorts in total. The focus of this journey across paradise is the Gaafu Alifu (first time) as well as Baa atoll (we have toured here before but there are a number of new resorts as well as a couple we missed last time).

Gaafu Alifu, it turns out, is the world’s largest atoll. It has really come to life in recent years with a number of premium resort developments. It is known to have dive sites that rival the famous Ari atoll.  It is also primarily accesses via a domestic flight (instead of a seaplane or speedboat).  Some people are put off by seaplanes – they are very noisy and they are smaller which can make people ancy about flying more uneasy.  Unfortunately, seeing the Maldives from above, with this mottled tapestry of blues and greens is one of the great thrills of any visit.  If a more conventional flying machine makes this part of one’s journey a bit more enjoyable, then a domestic flight with a more ‘conventional’ aircraft might be just the thing.  It is a full 48 seater turbo-prop.  It flies a bit higher altitude than a seaplane, but you still a treated to a spectacular view of the Maldives seascape.

When I arrived, I spent my first day in Male catching up with a number of Maldivians who have been very helpful supporters of my work. I pitched up at the best “remote office” in the world at Traders Hotel with penthouse suite view, delicious food and drink, and a spa to freshen up before my meetings. I’ve yet to try the rooftop pool, though definitely on the Maldives bucket list.

I met with my longest standing industry supporter, Aminath Hudha who is working for a resort broker. She reports that business is strong across all areas (making her life very busy). I also met with people at the Ministry of Tourism who are enthusiastic about the site (so much so that they stayed quite late for our meeting on a Ramadan day when government offices shut at 2:00 pm).

Ramadan greetings, Maldives.


Maldives Tour 2011 – Day 1: BA Flight2043

Arrival Male Maldives

What goes on tour doesn’t stay on tour this time. I’m off for my longest tour of the Maldives ever – 15 resorts in as many days – and I will be posting daily on them. Like last November, I will then follow up the tour with a series of daily ‘Best Ofs’ with a sample of distinctives and uniques that I uncover.

I’ve opted for the BA non-stop primarily for the ease of finding the best price. I have a number of trips coming up over the next few months and I really appreciate BA’s web site approach which clearly indicates the price of your flight segment and what it would be if you shifted it slightly. EasyJet pioneered this online booking approach in the UK and I am surprised more airlines don’t use it.

The whole BA experience is a reliably positive one. They seem to be on an up cycle for cheerfulness. They were renowned in the earliest years for their service, but then they went through a patch in the nineties where they were surly and off-putting. They seemed to have turned that around as the service staff were about the most friendly and upbeat of any of my recent travels. They had some troubles with the entertainment system at the outset of the trip, but the attendant sorting it out was ever so charming as she explained over the tanoy what was going on and how she was addressing it.

I will also say that the food is quite edible. Again, I have been travelling a fair amount lately and I am stunned at how wrong airlines get plane food. I realise that it is a monster challenge serving a dinner party for 300 and steering clear of everyone’s food preferences to get something everyone will like. What astonishes me the most is how bad the desserts are. I think they are trying to do is create the appearance of fancy dish on a relatively modest budget. Just give us a piece of chocolate cake. Who doesn’t like chocolate cake? I will hand it to BA for having a dessert that I could enjoy – profiteroles with chocolate mousse. Though I did wonder why no simply give everyone a pot of mousse. Who really doesn’t love chocolate mousse??

Another bonus to the #2043 is the early arrival. Most trips to the Maldives you don’t get to the resort to late in the afternoon and Day 1 is about gone. We arrive at Male at 9:05 am with the whole day before us.

More on that tomorrow…

Maldives Tour 2010 – Day 1: Sri Lankan Airlines UL502

Sri Lankan Airlines arrival

We’re back! We always make a point of going to a new island each visit. It keeps a sense of exotic adventure and discovery alive even though we have now been to 8 resort islands. We’ve just arrived for what promises to be adventure on steroids. 8 islands in 7 days. Now that the kids have grown up, we have more mobility. Most importantly, it provides a huge opportunity to scour new treasures and gems for MaldivesComplete.

The adventure started with our flights today on Sri Lankan Airlines (flight UL 502). As noted in our trip last year, we have always bought ‘package’ with the flight included. But last year’s ‘DIY’ trip planning worked really well. So well that you would wonder why we flew Sri Lankan Airlines instead of BA. BA did a great job last year and I have my frequent flyer miles with them, so why the switch?

  • Convenience – My wife Lori had fixed dates that she could accompany me that could not move. Sri Lankan had more choices of direct flights and two of those flights fit our needed perfectly. In fact, schedule constraints is the primary reason to book yourself rather than opting for a tour package since the packages typically have very fixed dates.
  • Cost – Sri Lankan Airlines was about £100 cheaper than BA and about £200 cheaper than Emirates (the other direct carrier who also happened to have fewer flight options).
  • Curiosity – I have been flying the UK national carrier for the past two decades since we arrived in the UK and I was curious about the service and approach that the local national carrier performed and approached the route.

The flight was fine. Pretty conventional amenities. The in-seat entertainment system was modest, but at least there was one. The service was especially cheerful and the colourful uniforms of the flight attendants helped set the tone for a trip to paradise.

Halloween Treat – On a 10 hour long haul flight, the first concern is seat comfort. I immediately noticed that touch extra leg room (32” versus BA’s 31”) as well as the surprisingly helpful extra seat width. Then I also quickly noticed the ‘SICMA seats and lumbar-support’ tucking into the small of my back. Along with a neck pillow, this support made it the easiest flight to sleep in the sitting position that I have ever experienced.


Halloween Trick – I had bought the ticket on the Internet and like many places was supposed to present the card that I bought the ticket with to the check-in desk. The only thing is that last week we lost one of our Mastcard cards and had to have it replaced (and new number issued). As a result, when I showed up with the replacement card to the check-in, Sir Lankan Airlines made me reissue the ticket on the card at an extra cost of £30. Lesson – If you have to have a new card, still keep the old card if you need to present it in order to check-in to an online purchased flight.

Tip – Get left side of plane window seat (not over wing) going to Maldives and right side departing. This way you are positioned best for one of the most spectacular aerial views as you first hit the archipelago (see below).

airline wiindow shot of Maldives

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Maldives Kurumba Visit – Day 1: Flying BA’s new non-stop service

BA 2043 to Male

Hmmm. For the longest time I swore off booking separate resort bookings and commercial flight bookings. Such an approach gave one much more flexibility, but I could never get a deal that matched the complete package prices and the fine service of the tour operators. They got (a) special pricing from the resorts, and (b) flew cut rate charters like Monarch. Furthermore, my loyalty was secured a few years ago by great customer service from Kuoni. The Iraq War had started messing up air space in the Middle East and wreaking havoc with the flights. It could have been a situation of high stress and inconvenience (waiting interminably at Male airport). Instead, the local Kuoni rep was on top of everything and called us to reassure us and tell us to just relax by the pool until the update plans were sorted. It turned a potentially stressed situation into an extra free day of holiday and earned us loyalty for life.

This time, however, we were finding it difficult to locate a deal that left and returned on days which suited the somewhat less flexible family members this go around. The clincher was BAs new direct service to Male which I am flying on as I write this sentence. Today’s flight is the third one flown as it was just launched this week. BA has a number of attractive deals which made the flight portion reasonably attractive – about £500 per person.

That just meant finding a resort. I thought that this would be the easy part and was stunned at how difficult it was. First the web sites. Amazing how clumsy, awkward and difficult many of the resort’s websites were to book dates. I quickly abandoned this approach and thanks to Skype could make inexpensive phone calls to speak directly to a human being. This is where the language barrier came in. The Maldivian (and other nationality staff who often work at resorts) speak fine English for basic questions on familiar areas (“where is the restaurant?”, “how do I book and excursion?”). For more complicated subjects like discussing booking options, the conversations actually became quite laboured. In the end, I turned to Destinology which was recommended by a TripAdvisor forum member. They provided excellent service in finding a great rate for a resort and sorting out all the paperwork and logistics (eg. transfers to the island).

We are going to the 5-star resort Kurumba which also came to about £500 per person for room and board. So the whole deal comes to about £1000 per person (closer to £1200 when all the taxes, charges, etc. are loaded in) which is about a low a price as I could find for any resort. And those other resorts had a lot more constraints when I was researching the package route.

Now that I am on the BA flight, I’m not sure I will ever do package again. If the prices can stay comparable and the web makes the booking logistics relatively easy, then the commercial flight is soooo much better. More comfy seats, more service (advance online check in – no queues), frequent flyer points, in flight on-demand entertainment, amenities, free snacks and drinks. The whole experience is more relaxed and comfortable.