Pretty Intolerable Airlines

It has been almost six months since that torturous, fourteen hour long flight from Allama Iqbal Airport – Lahore to Pearson International – Toronto. The first few days after the flight, I would openly wince with disgust every time I remembered our endless journey. As time passed, my memories fortunately took a back seat; draining the severity of the experience. Kind of like when a pregnant woman remembers her arduous labor, years down the lane and  doesn’t almost faint with horror as she once did. Ok, this might be too harsh a comparison, but I am sure my point has been conveyed. And then, I decided to blog about it and it all came flooding back.

Before my international flight experience on PIA, I had come across many people who badmouthed the airlines. Some just thought it was cool and a status symbol to travel in any airlines other than your own. I had heard horrific stories about people standing all the way to their destination and about scary air hostesses you wouldn’t want to mess with. I always brushed aside their remarks as exaggerated statements just to entertain their listeners. After that fateful day, sadly and reluctantly, I have joined the bandwagon of PIA critics.

Two major reasons made us choose PIA. 1. The generous amount of weight allowed and 2. Direct, uninterrupted flight with two young kids seemed like a blessing. We had our three year old son and four month old daughter with us. My husband and I specifically asked for seats with baby bassinets. Instead when I boarded, from teenagers to old men, every one was seated in the extra-leg spaced seats. Maybe they all had secret hopes of going down memory lane, to days of carefree bassinet swinging. I was in tears. A fourteen hour flight with my infant daughter in my arms was not an enticing prospect. My husband stopped the only male steward whose expression was not a hostile one and asked if another seat could be arranged. He gave us a helpless smile and said he would try. The female stewardesses were too intimidating to even consider asking for help.

On further inquiry, he blamed the overcrowded flight and the vast majority of young children (which I never really came around to seeing). Finally he came up with an interesting solution. Three seats in front of me, in the next aisle, an old man was sitting in the desired place. The steward requested him to lend the space in front of his seat for the bassinet. He reluctantly agreed. God Bless them both for their generosity and help. After hours of taking turns carrying our daughter, I set out to place her in the bassinet and returned to get some shut eye. Needless to say, the thought of her lying alone, with strangers nearby ruined all chances of sleep.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:
Great people to go ‘insane’ with apparently

Since it was an early morning flight, I was eagerly awaiting breakfast. Rubbery egg and cold croissant was something I learnt to be thankful for. Then came lunch time. Then went lunch time. No lunch was served. When you have nothing else going your way, you’d at least expect the food to alleviate some of the frustration. Apparently, the new PIA administration believes in self-service and passengers are required to help themselves to the extravagant lunch snack of dry sandwiches and juice. It was also assumed that everyone aboard already knew this. Most people saw others bringing food and people like me just followed the bread crumbs; down the carpeted path, behind the curtains. Voila! Stacked trays of food next to stewardesses gossiping away.
Understandably, it takes hard work to pile up food trays. The staff rightly deserved their gossip breaks. I have no qualms about self-service, but then, is gossip a part of the job description?

Any baby-free time that I got, I jumped at the chance to watch some senseless movie that would take my mind off of the ordeal. My televison/entertainment system refused to turn on. The female stewardess’s expressions were still too hostile for me. So I called the steward again. He said he would look into it. After a couple of hours,   he said he had lodged the complaint. That made me wonder about the complaint procedure, flying thousands of feet in the air. My husband’s television wasn’t working either. My son was the lucky one. Apparently personalized televisions for everyone mostly means, take turns to watch. In case you’re wondering, our televisions miraculously turned on the minute the wheels touched the Toronto airport. So that was the help the steward was referring to.

We ran out of blankets. No flight attendants were in sight. Responding to the service button was a rarity. I dragged my half zombie self to ask them. The stewardesses were still gossiping. I stood quietly for a few minutes, reluctant to disturb their chatter. They eyed me in a strange manner and continued to talk. I stood resolute. I was not going back without a blanket. Finally I interrupted them. One of them answered that they were all out and that I should steal it from someone. Goes without saying; I came back without the blanket.

Apparently, someone with a bad stomach was sitting nearby. The toxic odor had to go away. Again, no one from the staff was visible. I welcomed the chance to stretch my legs and made my way to the back to ask for some air freshener. The stewardesses were still talking. This time I interrupted them immediately and related my concern. The same stewardess who had given me a 101 on stealing, gave me a quick pointer on taking matters in my own hands; the crude way: She said and I quote; “You should advise the person with the problem to go to the bathroom.” If this were a cartoon, a secret compartment on the floor would suddenly appear and I’d be flying. I came back delusional; half laughing; half crying.

Surprisingly, the part that I dreaded the most was the least disturbing. Bathrooms were passably clean. The perks of an out-of-order economy class bathroom are many. I was re-routed to the business class bathroom.

My son was getting restless, so we asked the steward for some game or toy for the child. He returned with a victorious smile and handed over an  archaic, low quality puzzle of the founding father, Qaid-e-Azam and one of an image of the airplane. The steward’s eyeballs moved right and left as he added in a hushed tone, “I got this from the business class.” We were privileged folk!

My husband decided to have a chat with the steward about the terrible circumstances of the airlines. As it turned out, the airline staff had not been paid that month. That almost explains it all on account of PIA’s accumulated losses worth over Rs. 169 billion. Except of course the ethical aspects of any decent job. Are you not supposed to be true to your customers at all costs? We felt sorry for them; then we felt sorrier for ourselves.

So that was a recap of our pretty intolerable flight. I detest unnecessary criticism, especially where matters of my country are related. But a first-hand account of such sorts is hard to ignore. I laugh now at many of the incidents that happened that day. Yet inwardly, I feel frustrated. This airlines was a cause for pride many years ago. Heck there slogan was ‘Great people to fly with’! Now it has become nothing but a mockery, because some dishonest people higher up the ladder need a crash course on work ethics & honesty, basic management and customer service skills.


  1. Saima · August 30, 2013

    Its seems , someone wrote about my trip from Lahore to Toronto very nicely written.. I am waiting to read something about “First few Months in Canada” and also “ Am I really belong to here” kind of stuff from you nida. keep writing 🙂


    • NS · August 30, 2013

      Thank you Saima:). And yes I have such stuff in mind for the future. Keep reading:)


  2. Alia · August 30, 2013

    Just read this. And yes, what you write is unfortunately true for international flights. The story of PIA is a sad story….once Pakistan’s pride….

    I would not advice elderly people, families with small children or people with health issues to travel with PIA. But unfortunately, these are the people in need of direct flights, and hence the people PIA exploits….horrible and sad…


  3. Asma Niazi · August 30, 2013

    It is an informative and interesting piece of writing Nida. Well jointed and cohesive in terms of reading this article as the flow of reading remains uninterrupted. Yes, it is truly sad to see a decline of once a remarkable airline. I think same goes for this country as we took it granted too. Sad and frustrated but still hoping for a miracle to come and change this dismal scenario. Coming to your article, it is a good effort and a platform for us to share our views.


    • NS · August 30, 2013

      Thank you for your wonderful feedback. And I agree 100%. We will live on, forever hoping for a miracle.


  4. Akhtar Masood · August 30, 2013

    Hi Nida hope you are good. well, i have read your experience and … it was well written .. but just want to point out one thing … and i would really appreciate if you wont take it as an offence.
    i have been to flight to Australia on Thai airways … and it was around 13 hours 5 hours till Bangkok then 9 hours till Sydney.
    apart from food, there were lots of issues and same kind of issues as you faced in PIA Flight.
    the point i am trying to make is, their is too much bad things that is now attached with the name of our Motherland. when you think about it as “mother” land … the feel of taking care of a Mother emerges insides us. and this is exactly we as nation lack today.
    i really didn’t liked that you wrote a blog about your journey that has a clear message about the level of the facilities that PIA provides and it brings up the name of Pakistan in a way or another. and we started ourselves talking about it as testifying that yes the PIA flight Experience is really bad …

    Look nida we as nation now needs to understand this … no matter what, what we have, today, after loosing so much, this is what we have. We still can see the positive side of it or of your journey … you could have bring out positive side of it as well. 🙂 at least it provided you a safe flight to Toronto.

    we from now on, as we are parents we have to prepare a generation strong enough who needs to work for pakistan … for its welfare starting from us. what happened till now is behind us. but we can do now should be done … should be planned and incorporated in our day to day life … to make our own nation a better place to live inshaAllah.
    the most de-moralizing side was, the comments of people as i felt they testified that we are not really good … ignoring the fact … that it is us who made things become bad and worse by using our wrong votes for wrong people.. thats why they came up and destroyed everything including PIA.
    anyone realizes or not … the main and very basic reason of our destruction is because We left behind the message of Allah and his prophet (s.w). and the message of Allah is not only praying to Allah but all those people affairs that we deal inn, the honesty, the ethics the respect that involves in it .. is lost, is gone … it is because of us, we realize it or not … we admit it or not, we like it or not but the fact remains. and i am sure you may have read, that the leaders are the image of the people of the Nation, when the people are honest with themselves, and they realize that they are answerable to Allah for using their power(VOTE) then … they use it for RIGHT, but its other way around. but we as nation have forget that . and thats why these corrupt people have come up … and destroyed everything including the PIA which was once the best Airlines ever ….
    i hope what i said made sense and this is high time that we work from now till the time we see pakistan as a prosperous nation … who have its respect and reputation around the globe … and inshaAllah we will soon throw out the flithy leadership that we still have … 😦 we need to implment and inject the message of Allah into our liifes and generation ….


    • NS · August 31, 2013

      Thank you for your comments Akhtar. I understand your points, especially about how we need to be there for our mother land. I wrote in the beginning about how I hate useless criticism about our country’s state etc. I still stand by that. I wrote this as a sincere effort to explain what goes on in our national airlines. Someone needs to take notice. And these are not issues that cannot be fixed. They are all basic management and administration failures that can be amended, provided someone takes notice!

      Corruption has always been there, but these recent downfalls are insane! The sky rocketing ticket price does not help the situation either. Its time we accepted our faults as a nation and came out of perpetual denial; which is something we are all really good at. And you are absolutely right. A nation’s leader reflects the people at large. The change has to start at all levels. If I as a customer am willing to abide by all rules and regulations of flying on PIA, and if I am paying good money instead of opting for ]other airlines, then why can’t I hold the PIA staff and management responsible?

      I love my country to bits, but I will not spoil it silly by covering up all her faults and wrongdoings.


      • Akhtar Masood · August 31, 2013

        Thats Correct 🙂
        If you have reported these issues to PIA administrations, or anyone who can take care of that … then i would say that is the right way to do it. It doesn’t matters that anyone listens to us or not … the thing that matters is and that will create a difference when we show our concerns to “right” people … not bragging about it to one of our own people who in a way or another already knows about it.
        i will recon that if you report these problems to PIA Administration directly on there website you may find a link – knowing that they wont listen … but you never know when and how, the words that you streamline in your report would make someone think more effectively and probably next time you would see some good changes on your way back to pak on PIA flight … 🙂
        we should not loose hope … no matter what … trying once twice or 100 times should not make a difference …. and we should as nation keep trying i would say “until we die” will have a reward on the day of judgement and probably that way we may win Allahs “raza” HIS acceptance over our deeds and concern towards our motherland and we stand among successful people that day 🙂 inshaAllah
        You may have read seerats of Prophet Muhammad (sw) and few other prophets … you know what … they tried to convince people for good for more than 100 years … too long … they never give up … that goes for us too .. we should never ever give up and i know you are one of those who will never give up on Pakistan 🙂 inshaAllah.
        thats why we are here in this world – for the RAZA of Allah – Spread goodness – be responsible human/citizen/Muslim -no Matter WHAT 🙂 right ? 🙂
        take care Nida …
        and keep posting … Thanks


  5. White Pearl · August 30, 2013

    Well this was an amazing read ! I can’t do a detailed analysis as the other readers have but I must admit I loved reading it. Thanks for sharing 🙂 xx


    • NS · August 30, 2013

      I am glad you had fun reading White Pearl:). Thank you for dropping by!


  6. Khalid Rizvi · August 31, 2013

    In 1982, I was a member of a team visiting Paris on some official procurement assignment. The French hosts took us for Lunch. One of the hosts was based in Karachi as Commercial Attache. He made two observations that made us Pakistanis very proud: 1) Karachi is the best city in the world. 2) PIA is the best airline in the world. His rationale for liking Karachi was:” it is a city where you can go to the beach the year round, day on night, without any weather or security problems.” And his rationale for liking PIA was: “the most delicious food, and an excellent variety of alcoholic beverages, all free.” He was overstaying in Paris for a whole week, trying to catch a PIA flight back to Karachi. What caused this humungous downward slide is a sad story, for both Karachi and the PIA.


    • NS · August 31, 2013

      Lets hope history repeats itself..preferably in our own lifetimes 🙂


  7. Zara · August 31, 2013

    It is undoubtedly an edifying and coherent piece of writing Nida!
    U have penned down ur experience so remarkably that i was literally imagining ur family undergoing these woeful circumstances in PIA flight …Lolx ur experience is quite similar to Billu uncle’s who suffered air hostess’s antagonism just because he asked for a drink and disturbed her :p


    • NS · August 31, 2013

      haha yes, I had that incident in mind too. thanks for reading!!!


      • Zara · September 3, 2013

        It was worth it =)


  8. Maria Rehman. · September 4, 2013

    Hi Nida,
    Great post Nida. I must say, your story reminded me of my travel from Lahore to New York. Our reason of choice was also PIA’s more baggage pounds 🙂 and their direct flight to US. This is sad but
    “pevesta rah shajar se umeed e bahar rakh”.
    Maria !


    • NS · September 4, 2013

      umeed e bahar rakh! absolutely…us Pakistanis never lose hope..Thanks for reading!


  9. Iqbal Khan · March 27, 2014

    Great read. Unless we don’t bring these issues up and complain, such a state of PIA will be taken as acceptable. Keep blogging.


    • NS · March 27, 2014

      I suppose lack of faith in higher authorities has led to such a sad state of affairs. You are right, if majority of us post official complaints something good could come out it.


  10. Holistic Wayfarer · April 12, 2014

    Ugh. Upsetting just to read! (Which means you did your job as a writer.) And incompetence drives me nuts (gossip breaks). I deplore flying. Next time, take a banana with you, though I know now you’ll be sure to take more food. Flying is very dehydrating and the potassium punch from the banana will help. =)

    Very good descriptions.


    • NS · April 12, 2014

      thanks for reading… what’s worse than anger here is dismay at the prevalent conditions. These airlines were one of the best in the world during the 70’s!! So I guess there’s always hope that things might turn around… until then I’ll be sure to take some bananas with me next time:)


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