Ready for a flight of fancy? To book yourself, call 212.760.8484 in New York. You will never get to talk to a PIA ticketing agent. Instead you will be promised “assistance” by a recorded voice urging you to continue to hold. Five seconds later, you’ll be told someone will “assist you in just a moment.” Two seconds later, the same voice will declare “we are experiencing a heavy call volume. Your call is being transferred to the Karachi call centre!”
PIA should shut down the phony message machine at its New York office. The Karachi PIA call centre is the opposite. Young men and women immediately respond to your call and patiently attend to you until you are done. They make my heroes list, as does the ground staff at the JFK International Airport in New York. The supercharged team directed by a station manager fed on high octane swiftly handles the arrival and departure of PIA flights to Pakistan and back to the US each week. You don’t need to be a nerd with an MBA from Harvard Business School to figure the secret of PIA’s success?
Did I say success? Yes, indeed! One is accustomed to only hearing about the failure that our national airline is. If the product or service that you market is good, what’s the sweat? A good product or a service will sell; nothing else will. Should the person you serve is satisfied, you beget a repeat customer, snowballing into thousands wanting to use your service.
And this is the story of success that I write of – an all-Pakistani JFK staff; a shining star in the fading fortunes of PIA. It makes for a good case study for anyone searching to salvage our sick multi-million dollar national airline. Why is this gold when everything that the present government touches turns to lead? Hundreds of excited Pakistanis depart on their annual pilgrimage to their homeland, thanks to this team.
I had promised to take you on a flight of fancy when I began this column. Here we go: Is PIA taking a nosedive? The bloggers spreading this story are convinced. We are told that PIA is losing seven crores a day! And why is that? Let’s ask our clueless Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar who is overall in charge of the airline. “More than 150 officials in PIA are getting a monthly salary of Rs.500,000 or more,” he told the Senate recently. He gave out the names of the 153 beneficiaries! He then said that 12 guys had been inducted in violation of government rules. He also has said “Over the last five years (January 2006 to December 2010) there were 667 cases” whose papers PIA forgot to check before allowing them to board for flights abroad. The result? PIA was fined Rs71.165 million! So why has Mukhtar not moved to stop such irregularities, one may ask? The answer: he too is on a flight of fancy!
Here’s another one: according to Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) PIA did not go through proper procedure while awarding a 5-year contract to a Dubai-based company for supply of spare parts for the airline. Syed Adil Gilani as the head of TIP has urged Yousufzai to cancel the contract. I think Syed Sahib needs to join the rest of us on our flight of fancy, since getting to the truth in everything PIA is accused of is ideational.
According to experts and PIA sources, says one newspaper, “PIA with current deficit and number of employees could not earn profit in the next 50 years,” and yet this government and the now sacked MD continued stuffing the airline with another 6,000 recruits. Now the new MD has gone a begging to Mr Zardari, who appointed him. But the president told him and us: “What we need in equal measure is optimal utilisation of financial, material and human resources as well as finding out of box solutions for renewal.” Where did the president find this nugget of textbook pedagogy?
Financial bankruptcy aside, some PIA officials are also morally bankrupt. Unable to rein in their chauvinistic machismo, they embark on a flight of fancy when wearing the uniform, cap and stripes. They think they have the licence with their colleagues and juniors. Well, PIA has also been slapped with a sexual harassment suit according to press reports. Pilot Captain Riffat Haee complained in the court that she and other female pilots were harassed by their male colleagues; discriminated against and treated shabbily. These allegations alone in America, if found true, can sink a ship. With pilots as managing directors, PIA’s flight of fancy is endless.