Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


PIA peacekeepers


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

IF one wants to speculate on what might have been said on PIA’s flight 709 that caused RAF fighter jets to be scrambled on Friday, one has only to think in Punjabi and recall how altercations on the street progress.

It would be unsuitable to repeat, on these august pages, the phrases in which the average son of Punjab’s soil (whether Pakistani or Indian) so succinctly relieves himself of ire; but the use of the word ‘explosion’ in Punjabi can be easily imagined — though in a vastly different context from that in which it was apparently understood by the flight crew.

Regardless, one must reflect on one’s words before uttering them and Pakistan as well as PIA can consider themselves fortunate in the extreme that the reason the plane was diverted did not turn out to be more serious.

The national flag carrier is too often in the news for the worst of reasons. One of the more cringe-worthy instances was PIA crew being accused of petty theft and shoplifting in Manchester.

The picture one got was that as soon as a PIA flight lands in the city, small shopkeepers such as corner and grocery stores (enterprises that can’t afford expensive security measures) and hotels (where the crew are accommodated) start pulling down their shutters to defend themselves against a wave of petty crime that they know will follow: towels, bathrobes, gowns and tea kettles stolen from hotel rooms, packets of crisps, biscuits and similar items from friendly Mr Singh’s little concern.

The matter came to light in April last year because the Greater Manchester Police sent the PIA management a letter. This was so worded that the embarrassment of the author at the preposterous situation he was facing was palpable: here he was, writing to the management of the national flag-carrier of another country, to ask them, please, tell ’em to stop nicking the teabags.

“Often the relatively low value of stolen property, the fact that your crew have openly disclosed that they’re returning to Pakistan the following day and the fact that the store has recovered its property has meant that police arrests have not been sought,” said the letter by Superintendent Stuart Ellison.

“However, given that there may be three PIA crews in the city at one time, the regularity of reports of theft (shoplifting) by PIA crew has increased to a point where positive action has to be taken.”

I don’t know whether anyone was hauled up before the principal, but the matter died out of the news so I suppose one must assume that Manchester’s biscuits and bathrobes stopped disappearing at the earlier pace.

On the other side of the coin, PIA’s ground staff demonstrates a marked skill at resolving situations of potential conflict, indefinitely deferring them to the point of neutralisation. This skill is employed when a flight is delayed, which is a pretty routine occurrence.

There’s a pattern that is followed. You call before leaving for the airport and are told that the flight is on time. By the time you get to the check-in counter, it’s delayed by half an hour. In the waiting lounge, that soon stretches into a longer period.

First, passengers are resigned to the wait, displaying irritation and boredom. Soon enough, though, a stir of unrest ripples through the room. A few men gather at the counter — but the PIA staff is no longer there. (The airport staff can’t, of course, explain the delay.)

Having its staff disappear is the first of the PIA peacekeepers’ tactics to ward off the coming conflict. The men harangue the airport official, and the other passengers’ attention is for a while absorbed in this spectacle. Eventually, the man finally becomes irritated enough to go and fetch a PIA staffer. This buys the airline at least half an hour, usually more.

The PIA staffer fetched will be a newbie (because more experienced employees know better than to present themselves before irate passengers that have been waiting about for a couple of hours), and generally a young woman (because people are less likely to be rude to her).

She looks flustered and doesn’t know why the flight is delayed; she makes a few calls that aren’t answered and goes to find a senior, promising to return soon.

The peacekeepers have just bought their airline another hour. Another young man or woman will appear and disappear; passengers’ growing anger is managed by being indefinitely delayed through providing glimmers of hope but no solid answers.

By now two or three hours have passed and people have got to their feet in irritation; the crowd around the counter has grown and is louder, and the newbie has been backed into a corner.

That’s when the big guns of the PIA peacekeepers are sent out — grounded matriarchs with tightly-coiffed hair stiff with hairspray, no-nonsense expressions and years of dealing with such situations under their belts.

Their job is to remain unmoved by entreaty and demand alike; their hearts are stone against everything from crying children to businessman late for appointments to tourists missing their connections.

Another hour passes and passengers are wondering why, against all odds, no violence has broken out. When the mood starts finally to tip again, the peacekeepers make their final move: the aircraft has arrived, announce the hatchet-faced ladies, fixing their stare on those who wanted their bags back; the plane is being loaded. That buys another hour at least.

When, six hours later, the flight finally leaves, the PIA peacekeepers allow themselves a prim smile of triumph: while violence was always imminent, it never quite crystallised.

Perhaps PIA should consider putting some of its peacekeepers on-board aircraft as well.

The writer is a member of staff.

Comments (36) Closed

ABU TAHA May 27, 2013 09:01pm

I just visited Pakistan a few weeks ago. All my family members told me not to travel on PIA. I changed my reservation and traveled on Etihad airline instead. We had a great experience, I will recommend to everyone to travel on Etihad or Qatar airline etc. As for the experience we had traveling back from Lahore airport to USA, I can write a true story titled "Journey from Hell to Heaven in one day"

iPakistani May 27, 2013 04:32am
Amazing piece!
M. Karani May 27, 2013 04:59am
Why in the world anyone would travel by PIA. It is only good for Free-loader but not the paying customers.
malole May 27, 2013 06:02am
That is why it is called 'Pakistan Inshallah Airlines'.
atif May 27, 2013 08:23am
hhhhheee...true...raw talent in our countrymen to deal with these kind of situations.
Shakeel May 27, 2013 09:28am
A couple years back I was travelling from Abu Dhabi to Lahore on PIA. While the flight was airbourne, a passenger, his wife and child relinquished their economy class seats and helped themselves to the vacant business class seats up in the front. Upon being challenged by the PIA staff, the couple said that it has always been their experience travelling on other Middle Eastern airlines in the past that they get upgraded to business class automatically. A nasty scene developed and the male passenger threatened the PIA staff that he will slap his face if he did not behave and let them carry on sitting in the business class. Eventually after a rather ugly squabble lasting about half an hour, the passengers were made to return to their original seats. It was all scary and the whole fun of travelling was lost not to mention the embarrassment of hearing some of the worst street language one can imagine. I lodged a complaint to the pilot but to my utter disappointment the culprit passenger and his rather uncouth wife were let off and walked away scot-free upon arrival at Lahore. I protested with the pilot that this behaviour was tantamount to terrorism and should have been dealt with accordingly by the airport police. The pilot casually shrugged me off by saying that out of kindness he had spared the family from the harsh interrogation and a possible jail sentence by the airport police.
Asadullah May 27, 2013 09:35am
I made the mistake once of travelling by PIA. Never again. Probably in the "Ten worst airlines of the world" category.
Maqsood Kayani May 27, 2013 11:38am
Why is "the average son of Punjab" being singled out. Does the the "average son" of Muhajir, Sindh, KPK or B'istan behave any different under the circumstances ? Stop denigrating Punjab.
G.A. May 27, 2013 12:00pm
I have had good and bad experiences with PIA. To be fair to the PIA crew, on my flight the crew was very pleasant and it was the stubbornness of a passenger with his 3 daughters, each one carrying a baby who wouldn't move to another seat as there were four oxygen masks for six passengers in that four-seat row. The pleasant flight-attendant lost his temper as the plane could not take off on time because of the passengers.
Mohamed May 27, 2013 01:04pm
Frankly speaking whenever I travel to Pakistan, I never had any nasty experience, the flight leaves on time and arrives very punctually at the destination, whether be in Nairobi or Toronto, mishaps do happen so stop critising your national airline.
Cynic May 27, 2013 01:31pm
I couldn't resist a chuckle at PIA and its guests' expense. Impeccable use of euphemisms.
Agha Ata (USA) May 27, 2013 01:32pm
Ms. Hajira, who told you to expose our dear PIA? Don't you realize that that gives a bad impression to the whole world? Such small things should be kept secret. Oh My God, when would nation learn to keep secrets and good impressions at the same time. :(
Peace Only May 27, 2013 02:16pm
It is a well observed fact and thus can not be ignored about the "average person from Punjab". Look at your movies, where nothing is said in a normal tone. No need to get upset..
Asad May 27, 2013 02:53pm
I would call this sense of entitlement, but equating some offensive street language to terrorism is a bit stretch.
zulfiqar hyder May 27, 2013 03:01pm
PIA is in all trublence due to the interference of government in its affairs. Please let it run privately and see how it flourish. On all North American and UK flights their seats are hard to find but company is in loss? all due to overstaffing. I travelled KHI to ISBD after long time when came to Pakistan but regret to state that there was unwanted staff on old 747 in total of 30+ with hard to find passengers. In this era why not you auction your empty seats online rather than flying empty huge aircraft on loss from KHI to ISBD? Please follow the online seat reservation system like expedia and make money with your seats instead of enermous price hike due to unoccupied seats.
Khalid May 27, 2013 03:19pm
For the first time in the last 25 years, I took the chance of travelling by PIA (not because I love our national carier) because there were no other options (that tells another story!!!). I was really looking forward to travelling in the so called business class. Check-in was uneventful. Not a word exchanged!!. The seat was absolutely horrible. Didn't even recline properly. Soon it was time for the meal. The starters were nothing to write home about and I had only a couple of bites. The main course was absolutely rubbish. In desserts we were offered kheer, which was tasteless and one spoonful was enough. The best incident was on the way back when we were told that the coffee had finished!!!. I am not sure why are we still throwing good money at bad. We should close this airline down and save the tax payers money. I think the airline is one of the worst airline in the world, if not the worst. I dont think anyone will miss anything if we just make it a domestic airline and stop all international routes. We don't have to have an airline if we can't run it professionally. I for one, will not btoher again.
Siyalkotia May 27, 2013 03:30pm
And the Author had to drag India into this "Purely Pakistani" problem.
Siyalkotia May 27, 2013 03:31pm
Education, my friend.
Siyalkotia May 27, 2013 03:46pm
I think if PIA is renamed as "Islamic Republic Of Pakistan's Inshallah Airline (IRPIA)" all problems will go away. This abbreviation will also aptly describe the NORMAL state of PIA i,e "In Repair Pakistan International Airline".
Siyalkotia May 27, 2013 03:51pm
That explains. Thousands of Murders in Karachi but no one gets punished. Must be an act of Kindness, right ?.
yaldram May 27, 2013 04:04pm
kindly put this article somewhere on the webpage of PIA...
najeeb May 27, 2013 04:10pm
I am a son of Punjab and I agree with the writer.
Asad May 27, 2013 04:48pm
HAHAHA! Excellent Piece! Yes, our morals are dead.
A. Khan May 27, 2013 05:04pm
Although I agree that some PIA staff indulge in this petty thievery, it is unfair to lump all of them together. As for the attitude of PIA staff, it does annoy me sometimes but then I put myself in their shoes and think about dealing with the average jahil PIA passenger, I feel that PIA staff are after all human beings. Even animals will listen after a couple of prods but not the PIA passenger. Having vented my feelings, I must say that the last time I flew with PIA was a pleasant experience despite the dread I was feeling at the rude passengers who don't know how to use lavatories (I wonder if they live this way at home?). PIA still leaves much to be desired in terms of in-flight entertainment but then that's what the passengers are for.
A. Khan May 27, 2013 05:06pm
Because no other province has the same 'colorful' vocabulary in everyday lingo as Punjab. I have seen street language being used in homes between parents, parents & children and children.
Khan May 27, 2013 05:25pm
PIA and it's passengers are no different than all the rest on the ground. We all do the same thing everywhere. So why bother.
Eqbal Khan May 27, 2013 06:37pm
This writer is prejudice against Punjabis. As to PIA...Where does PIA recruit its crew from? Switzerland? No, right from the crowd that is mentioned in this post and this writer is part of that crowd.
Tariq May 27, 2013 07:40pm
I left a lap top on a pia flight and the staff went out of their way to recover it and return it to me. They were exteremely helpful, polite and honest.
cgull May 27, 2013 08:38pm
No offense, but the best language to 'let off steam' is undoubtedly Punjabi!
khalid saeed May 27, 2013 09:32pm
I used to travel a lot with PIA both in Europe and far east. Now I am really scared of travelling with PIA with their 747. Once coming from Dhaka very recently I spotted big cockroach, but it was obviously a matter of everyday scene for PIA staff. I will never forget the call that I received from PIA informing me delayed departure of my flight from Lahore to Islamabad, but when I reached the airport according to new schedule I was surprised to find out that flight left according to old scheduled and on time. Later on I learnt that someone in PIA wanted somebody to get on board as the filight was full and only way they could do it was ensuring that passenger like me does not arrive at scheduled time. In my 40 years of air travelling I never experienced this from any other airline. I might have forgotten this incidence but I had to wait 24 hours before I could the next flight as the last flight and early morning flight were cancelled due to fog, May 28, 2013 01:19am
Hilarious! :) -- I fell off my seat laughing while reading the article -- also the comment from Shakeel is so funny -- lack of education and basic social respect is the root cause of poor behavior by pakistani passengers and even poorer behavior of pia staff
Overseas Pakistani May 28, 2013 03:41am
I have no sympathy for the plight of Pakistanis as you people continue to vote for PML-N, PPP, ANP and to a lesser degree MQM. these people have been tried and tested for the last 25 years. Overseas Pakistanis donated, begged and persuaded you to vote for a party which wanted to implement systems and reforms which have made Europe and North America advanced, just and prosperous..... As the Prophet (PBUH) said in a Hadeeth "People get the leaders they deserve"
Afif May 28, 2013 04:24am
I feel what you went through at that time. It is the speciality of a typical Pakistani people to sweep issues under the rug. This encourages the perpetrator instead. We all are too obsessed with the concept of 'izzat' and 'ba-izatee'. This was probably what was going through that captains mind. We as people need to take laws more seriously.
sunnyqureshiblog May 28, 2013 08:41am
REPLY to editorial
SQ (@SQ1983) May 28, 2013 04:22pm
"Later you learn t from somebody about somebody getting on board who might have heard it from somebody". dear please stop assuming and speculating. If the flight was delayed then it portrays that the pilot was safety conscious! PIA never takes off unless it feels it is absolutely safe. Its better to be safe rather then ending up in margalla hills as happened with the poor airblue and bhoja passengers r.i.p.
Ruhul May 28, 2013 07:39pm
"out of kindness!" --dont make me laugh. As a matter of fact, PIA staff will kiss the hand they cannot bite