KARACHI: Up on the first floor at Jinnah Terminal of Karachi airport, just behind the tuck shop on the far right are the grey benches for the passengers to rest before being allowed inside the transit lounge. When all the benches are taken, the people take to the floor until their flight is announced, of course. But this has not happened in a while for PIA passengers.
As the electronic board announces Saudi Airlines, Emirates, Thai Airlines flights, there are some 20 women in white chadors sitting on the floor in one corner there with PIA e-tickets in hand. “We are all from Dera Ghazi Khan, going to Saudi Arab for Umrah. But we have been stuck at this airport for three days now,” Zubaida Bibi tells Dawn.
Another in her group, Iqbal Bibi, adds: “It gets quite cold at night. We have no warm clothes or blankets, just our chadors. At this rate, we would catch our death.”
“And still we are here because our travel agent whom we paid Rs100,000 each has given us hope that the strike may end any time and the flights will resume. Also our relatives in Karachi can’t house all 20 of us in their small apartment. What are we to do, but wait?” Zubaida Bibi picks up from where the other woman left.
Sajan Khan Chandio of Nawabshah with his suitcases and carry-ons heaped on his trolley says his flight (PK731) was to depart at 5.30pm on Feb 4 for Jeddah. His PIA return ticket was issued by AL Habash Travel Tours in Jeddah, which he showed at the AirBlue counter but they could only offer to sell him a ticket, not give him a seat in exchange for his ticket.
“PIA tickets are being seen as bogus pieces of document. I need to be back in Jeddah as I spent four months here when my contract with my company had expired. If I don’t go back to resume my duty now, my work permit on which my visa is based will expire. But I don’t have money to buy another airline ticket for Jeddah. What I had earned, my savings, I spent during these past four months during my stay with my family,” says Mr Chandio.
“I am also facing a similar issue,” says Mohammad Idrees, who works as a driver in the UAE. “But thank God I didn’t have a PIA ticket from earlier. I just booked a seat with Saudi Airlines as I needed to leave today, after having spent six months with my family here, or lose my Iqama card.”
Syed Aqeel Bukhari from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir says that he has been on the road for over 28 hours to catch a flight to Dubai from Karachi. “My uncle, who lives in Dubai, sent me the PIA ticket. Now after hours of travelling I can go no further on this PIA ticket,” he says.
Meanwhile, two Emirates passengers, Majid Jalil Qureshi and Ashiq Hussain, carrying paper shopping bags, say that they are heading to Riyadh without their luggage. “For 14 years now, we have only travelled with PIA. But now even if you present us PIA tickets for free, we will not take them from you,” says Majid Jalil.
“We were visiting extended family in Islamabad from where we returned a couple of days back on a PIA flight. Now they are not giving us our luggage. They say there is no one to handle the luggage, lying in storage God knows where, and to wait till after the strike is called off. So we haven’t even been able to change clothes in the past two days. Since we cannot extend our stay in Karachi any longer, we are leaving our luggage tags with friends here,” says the other passenger, Ashiq Hussain.
“What’s really bothering us now is the loads of mithai we bought for our friends back in Riyadh from Rawalpindi. It must all be rotting inside our suitcases.”
A senior journalist who should have been on a flight to Dhaka on Thursday also couldn’t make it there. “I had an invitation from the Daily Star, Dhaka, for a short visit for a programme there. They had sent me a PIA ticket, which is useless for now as whenever this strike ends, the programme will be over by then anyway. The organisers said they could have sent me an Emirates ticket had I informed them earlier but can anyone predict anything in this air of uncertainty?” he says.
Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2016