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.
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.