This is the first in a series of three posts I’m writing about my recent trip to Kashmir. This post covers my feelings towards Pakistan International Airline and the why I’ll never use that airline again as long as I live! The second of the three posts will deal with what I witnessed with disgust and horror at Islamabad Airport on the return leg of my trip. Finally I’ll talk about the very positive experiences I had in Kashmir itself once we actually got there.
About six months ago my father suffered a heart attack, he made an excellent recovery but it gave him a lot to reflect on, as most of us do when were reminded of our own mortality. Anyway he decided he wanted to visit our home in Kashmir and for me and my brother and sister to travel there and learn a bit about our roots since none of us has ever visited there. In-point of fact I was actually born in Kashmir but I was 11 months old when my parents immigrated to Great Britain. Over last 29 years I’ve never really felt the urge or the desire to go back even though I’ve travelled all over the world.
My parents travelled out there about 5 weeks ago, the idea was they’d go out first and the get the house in order before me and my sisters got there. My parents flew out there on Emirates Airline via Dubai. However dad decided to book direct flights for me an my sisters to travel from Birmingham to Islamabad on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
About a week before I was set to leave one of my colleagues, Hardeep, sent me a link to a Reuters news alert that stated that the European Union was considering disallowing PIA flights to EU destinations in view of technical and safety concerns due the ageing condition of the fleet of aircraft they operate. As you might imagine I was a bit concerned and contacted PIA to find out whether I might need to make alternative arrangements. They told there were no problems and pointed me to their official press release addressing these “so called” allegations appearing in certain sections of the press:
In fact the individual I spoke to went to great lengths to explain how it was all lies being spread by their competitors and there wasn’t a shred of truth to these rumours whatsoever. Personally I couldn’t give a toss, I just wanted to know and to hear from someone at the airline that this issue wasn’t going to affect me and my sisters.
We were set to leave on the Saturday 3rd March,however when I left work on Friday I got a call from my brother telling me there was a problem with our flights. I rushed home to discover that the UK Airport Authorities had ordered a ban on PIA fights and as such our flight was cancelled. I was livid. We phoned up PIA Headquarters in Karachi to discover that all flights from Birmingham were cancelled and weren’t going to be rescheduled for several days. I spent quite some time arguing with them and expressed how disgusted I was that they had in effect lied to me a week earlier. In the end they agreed to make alternative arrangements for me and my sisters but we would have to travel from Manchester to Lahore at 7am Sat Morning, this meant we had to arrive the airport at 4am, so we stayed up packed and my brother and a couple of my uncles drove us down to Manchester and we made the flight.
The flight itself was crap, I didn’t particularly like the attitude of the cabin staff they were quite rude in fact and very dismissive of passengers, something I’ve never experienced flying with any other airline – so this just added to the whole negative feeling towards the airline.
Anyway we arrived at Lahore at midnight local time, my father met us at the airport with another of my uncles and then we drove to where we live in Kashmir which took 7 hours! The drive was almost as long as the flight. I couldn’t sleep so I stayed awake the whole time.
During the course of my stay I had to daily check with the airline whether I was going to be able to fly back to the UK on the 17th March as I had originally planned, they refused point blank to refund the cost of the flight so that I could make alternative arrangements with another airline – which I thought was deplorable. Worse was the fact that because of the problems PIA was having the other airlines were faced with increased demand so even if I did get a ticket booked with another airline it would be several days after I actually needed to travel.
Then one of their agents made the mistake of suggesting that if I paid him a little more ( on the side ) he’d see to it that I got confirmed on the flight I wanted to. It was at that point I realised that some of the agents actually saw this as an opportunity to swindle money out of passengers who were already under a great deal of stress. I lost my temper and told him to go fuck himself and stormed off.
I couldn’t get through to their headquarters in Karachi from where I was in Kashmir, phone services were very temperamental, so I got my brother to call them up from the UK and basically pretend to be me. Eventually he managed to get their HQ to confirm me on my flight back. But again by the time I got the confirmation the flight was the next morning. So again I was packing in a hurry and having to travel to Islamabad Airport.
I’m just totally appalled with the way airline decided to abandon its passengers, I find it disgraceful that they still haven’t published a press release after the one I’ve linked to above either apologising or even trying to explain what has happened.
If anyone out there is considering travelling to Pakistan, please take my advise DONT travel with PIA. Make sure you travel with an Airline that actually gives a damn about its passengers and its reputation.