By Ghalib Sultan
This is a true narration of facts. I went to the PIA website to make reservations for a flight from London to Lahore. The website indicated that only two seats were available in Business Class on the flight. I quickly asked my travel agent to make the reservations. He did so. Once the flight departed I looked around and found that half the seats in business class were empty. I casually mentioned this to the bursar on the flight. He informed me that a mafia controlled marketing and sales in PIA. The agents of this mafia booked all seats on the lowest fare well in advance and sold them at the last possible minute at the maximum fare at this time. If any seats remained unsold the loss was PIA’s and they were not bothered. The bursar asked me to look in the Economy Class too. I did and saw many seats vacant.
The drinks served on the flight were pathetic – just two types of juices and two kinds of soda. No one wants PIA to serve alcoholic drinks but surely they know about mock tails and tomato juice (Virgin Mary) etc. Raw salad was served in an uncovered bowl without any dressing. I asked and was told that there was no dressing available. I asked for Tabasco Sauce and the stewardess replied that they do not serve alcoholic drinks! I asked for nuts and was told that there were no nuts. The packaged butter was melted and had a rank smell. There was not enough food even for the few passengers in Business Class and the stewardess was constantly scraping the dish to serve food. In any case the food was pathetic – surely PIA can serve good wholesome Pakistani food and not blackened highly spiced concoctions that look unappetizing and are a disgrace. The dessert selection was restricted to one and that too awful. There was no fruit available. Bread was passed around when we had finished the meal or left it in disgust. Why should food be served from open dishes loaded on a trolley that is wheeled around from passenger to passenger? with yet another person serving condiments and pickles from open bowls? What about a prepared tray with everything on it and properly sealed. There were seven cabin crew serving the meal to twelve passengers and four more were wheeling the pathetic little two duty free goods trolleys.
Since Pakistanis prefer PIA it has a captive passenger list and need not even advertise. The mafias need to be broken. You need professionals inside and outside the aircraft – not sifarshis. The cabin crew needs intensive training to be efficient – they should not be apologizing and giving ingratiating smiles. Once the welcome drink has been served and the seat belts signs switched off a drinks trolley needs to be moved around to dispense a selection of drinks and nuts. PIA needs to revamp its food menus. Meals should be served prepackaged and on trays sealed for hygiene and freshness. PIA needs to be much more creative with salads and desserts – and salad dressing in a little sealed bottle could easily be part of the prepared meal tray. PIA needs to promote Pakistani cuisine not turn people away from it. If there are mafias controlling the catering then get rid of these. Maybe there are mafias controlling recruitment, spare parts procurement and crew training? And postings – another mafia?
With a little effort and attention to details PIA can be turned into a first rate airline not the scavenger that it has become. Airports also need attention – the lounges are a disgrace and the bathrooms are filthy. Enter Lahore airport and you are confronted with ASF checking to see if you have a ticket, take two steps inside and there are custom and security officials waiting to frisk you and check your baggage. Literally two steps further and there is the queue for the baggage screening machines with ASF carrying out a body search. All this BEFORE the check in counters that are another two steps away. Off to one side next to the check in counters is passport and immigration control and right behind it a single FIA checking counter. Behind this is yet another baggage screening machine with ASF doing another body search and just beyond is yet another counter where your cabin baggage tags are stamped. Imagine the state of affairs if there is more than one flight. A similar situation exists at the arrivals hall. Are we so stupid that we cannot have an airport with enough depth and space for all these arrangements? Do we need all these arrangements? Walk into any airport and you reach the check in counters without any check. Once you have checked in you are thoroughly screened before you get into the passengers only area. That is all and even these are spaced apart in depth so that there is no inconvenience to passengers. There is no passport check while departing – this is done at airline check in counters and on arrival at destination. Can we improve the experience without compromising on security?