An airline's turbulent flight into the sunset

Published 01 Nov, 2017 10:44pm
Cristian Storto/
Cristian Storto/

Everything looks fine as a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight is readying to takeoff from Karachi to Islamabad. The ground staff is making last minute checks and the cabin crew is welcoming passengers, directing them to their seats. As soon as some passengers take their seats, they start feeling unusually stuffy. They pull, twist and roll the overhead air conditioning vents but nothing works. Many others are struggling to stow their luggage in the compartments above their seats. The commotion blocks the way for other passengers. Requests for room to pass are made, only to be ignored. Nothing seems to be in order.

By the time the chief pilot asks the ground staff to leave the plane, flight PK 308 is already 10 minutes behind its scheduled departure time of 4 pm on October 8, 2017. It takes several more minutes before the plane finally takes off.

Not without a few more hiccups though.

Lights in the cabin suddenly go off as the engines start rolling. “Only PIA shuts down power supply of the aircraft before takeoff and landing,” says a passenger still trying unsuccessfully to open the air vent. Another passenger, who wants to read something, tries to switch on the reading light after the cabin goes dark. The light does not work. He places his finger on the call bell. To his dismay, that also does not work. He then uses his vocal chords to call a flight attendant. She comes to his help but cannot switch on the light. After poking at the switch panel several times, she leaves the passengers to his own devices.

The cabin in another Karachi-Islamabad flight, PK 372, on October 20, 2017 is so cramped that passengers cannot recline their seats even by a couple of inches without hurting the legs of those sitting behind them. Trying to eat during the flight is an exercise in gymnastics as the food tray opens and rests on the passenger’s ribs. “The plane has been leased from an airline that served no in-flight meals,” a flight attendant responds rather sheepishly to complaints by many passengers struggling to keep food and drinks spilling on to their clothes.

This, in a nutshell, explains the state of affairs at PIA. The airline seems incapable of running its planes on time and in an orderly manner. It also does not appear to be making informed decisions on what kind of planes it needs.

The two flights also make it obvious that PIA is cutting costs where it should not — since those cuts are reducing the quality of its service. Pay regular prices but expect only budget airline facilities — that is Pakistan’s national flag carrier for you.

This is an excerpt from the Herald's November 2017 cover story. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.