Taking a domestic flight in Pakistan is not, as I discovered at the expense of a bruised wrist, for the fainthearted. Wedged between two highly strung bordering on hysteria women, I travelled to Karachi from Islamabad thinking, as things unraveled around me, that the only way to fly is to look on the lighter side as anything else will just accelerate that nervous breakdown you’ve been saving for a special occasion.
And it’s just that thought that took my mind to the overhead bins, which are still called ‘Hat Racks’ on PIA. All very sweet and old fashioned, taking you back to a time when people wore hats and took them off when on board and stored them in hat racks. Hats vanished, no one seems to wear them anymore and hat racks are used to store all manner of things … anything but hats. But just as you lug your excess luggage into the aircraft in the guise of carry-on luggage you see to your dismay that hats, and to a large extent headgear, are making a comeback. Tahirul Qadri alone could give the overhead bin its lost dignity and we could see the return of the hat rack, provided of course that he can be persuaded to take his hat off. Who knows other headgear wearers may feel motivated to follow suit.
Hats in the hat rack … what will happen to the 20-some kilos of luggage you have dragged on to the aircraft. It is hat racks for hats and there is no space under the seat in front of you. The Chinese had a rather clever solution to this problem. They simply had no temperature control in the cabin. So it was freezing. I remember being on a flight where passengers put on extra layers. So at 30,000 feet and minus 20 degrees centigrade, everyone, other than the clueless foreign tourists, was snug and warm. Wearing most of your luggage frees up the overhead bins allowing the hats to reclaim their lost territory.
Musing about the hat rack and we hit turbulence. The aircraft groans and rattles. Both my travelling companions hit new levels of anxiety. The lights go off. The reading light won’t come on and the meal tray makes a break for it. Nothing seems to function properly; everything that isn’t broken is starting to fall apart. A strange water sound comes from the seat behind me. The two women are now convinced that there’s a leak and there’s water in the plane.
In an incredible display of solidarity, and a little empathy, the rest of the passengers set about looking for the source of the water sound. They find a grasshopper and conclude that PIA really needs to clean under the seats. Calmer now, the two ladies reject all attempts to feed them and take to prayer for the rest of the flight. I nurse my bruised wrists and look around the cabin. Filled with politicians and the likes, it strikes me that all you have to do to get your work done is to stalk a minister. Get on the same flight. Sit next to them and get the job done. There is, after all, no escape. At worst they will pretend to sleep and you will persist pretending you didn’t notice the yawn. You know deals are being done when they talk in sotto voce and one can see everyone else straining to hear, leaning over while appearing to read the papers. The ones who strike out tend to be a little loud with lots of false bonhomie. Sure shot flights are the ones on Friday evening out of Islamabad and Monday mornings in to Islamabad.
In Pakistan, even the most mundane thing such as taking a red-eye flight to Islamabad is an adventure. The only way to enjoy this adventure is to look on the lighter side.
Ayesha Tammy Haq is a talk show host, a columnist and a lawyer