KARACHI: Confusion persists about arrangements made by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to accommodate passengers affected by a country-wide strike as private carriers Airblue and Shaheen Airlines declined to accept passengers holding PIA tickets.
With over 350 flights cancelled since the strike against the government's proposed plan to privatise the national airline commenced, the PIA management announced on Thursday an agreement with Airblue and Shaheen Airlines to facilitate thousands of domestic and international passengers affected by the strike.
“An agreement has been reached with Airblue to accept passengers with confirmed PIA tickets for flights to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Dubai, Muscat, Jeddah and Riyadh,” an official statement issued by PIA had said.
Another press release stated, “PIA has also finalised arrangements with Shaheen Air to accept such passengers for domestic flights. Passengers may contact PIA’s service counters at airports to convert their tickets to these private airlines. The passengers having PIA’s confirmed tickets at any international destination can also contact PIA’s staff in their respective countries for conversion of their tickets. They will also be adjusted in various international airlines.”
However, anxious passengers at major airports suffered as the private carriers refused to facilitate them.
Know more: No end in sight to PIA passengers’ plight
When contacted, an Airblue customer service representative told Dawn.com that Airblue is currently not accepting passengers booked on PIA flights with confirmed tickets.
"The management has not given any instructions to facilitate passengers holding PIA tickets as yet," said Maryam, a customer service representative, without giving further details.
Likewise, a Shaheen Airlines customer service representative said the carrier is not accommodating PIA passengers.
When questioned about the agreement between PIA and Shaheen Airlines — as announced by the former — Asad, the customer service representative claimed the reports were "only rumors".
Shaheen Airlines' senior management has denied an agreement with PIA, he said.
When contacted, a PIA spokesman said an agreement between PIA and Airblue and Shaheen Airlines had taken place however, the private carriers were refusing to accept PIA passengers without endorsement on their ticket by PIA management.
Efforts to set up PIA counters at airports to endorse tickets failed, "because employees were threatened by union workers", said spokesperson Danyal Gilani.
PIA assures its customers that full amount for their tickets will be refunded "without asking any questions or deducting any charges", he said.
The spokesperson added that the airline was making efforts to streamline the process of accommodating passengers in private airlines' flights.
Around 200 passengers were left abandoned at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport on Friday, after private carriers refused to let them board flights in exchange for their PIA confirmed tickets.
Those who were offered a seat on the plane, were asked to buy a new ticket.
Among the stranded passengers are many whose visas are nearing their expiry date and visas of many have already expired.
PIA's flight operations remained suspended for the fourth consecutive day on Friday, with the national flag carrier incurring an estimated loss of over Rs2 billion since the announcement of the strike.
'Our demands will not change'
Chairman Privatisation Commission Mohammad Zubair expressed government's willingness to hold negotiations with protesting PIA employees, Joint Action Committee (JAC) of PIA employees spokesman Nasrullah Khan said on Friday.
Nasrullah questioned, however, why the minister's statement was so in contradiction to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's, who vowed on Friday not to bow down due to any "unreasonable and unlawful strike".
"There are elements who do not want to see PIA prosper ... who practise the politics of opportunism," the premier said, while addressing a session at Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly on Kashmir Day.
Nasrullah said JAC would be open to talks with government but "our demands will remain the same in every case".
PIA employees' four-point agenda:
- Government should immediately take back the bill passed on January 21 converting the national flag carrier into a public limited company.
- PIA's employees be provided a chance to reform the airline. If the employees fail to do so, the government will have the freedom to do whatever it finds suitable.
- Privatisation, in any form, whether it is in form of a strategic partner or selling of 36 per cent or 1pc of the organisation's shares, is not acceptable to the employees.
- Government should immediately review the aviation policy and form a committee for this purpose comprising members from PIA employees' JAC along with PIA experts Khursheed Anwar, Kamran Hasan and Salahuddin.
With additional reporting by Haseeb Bhatti in Rawalpindi