ISLAMABAD: A special commission constituted on the orders of the Supreme Court to study grievances of passengers has showed delay or cancellation of 260 domestic and international flights from Dec 1, 2017, to Feb 28, 2018, at the Jinnah International Airport Karachi (JIAK) and the Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) Rawalpindi.

The operators of the flights included Pakistan International Airlines, Air Blue, Shaheen, China Southern, Emirates, Ethihad Airways, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways, Saudi Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Serene Air.

A total 73 complaints regarding lost or damage of baggage were received during the period at the airports of which only 59 were resolved.

The commission was constituted on Feb 17, 2018, after the apex court initiated a suo motu in 2011 on the request of now retired Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja who had himself noticed the helplessness of Pakistani expatriates at BBIA.

The commission comprised Secretary Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan Dr Mohammad Raheem Awan, the acting director general Civil Aviation Authority and the director general human rights cell of the Supreme Court.

Soon after its meeting on March 3, the commission visited JIAK and observed that only three out of the five scanners for luggage were operational at the international departure resulting long queues at the entrance of the lounge.

Commission constituted on SC orders says only 59 of the 73 complaints regarding lost or damage of baggage were resolved at the airports

After scanners, there were counters of the Pakistan Customs and Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) but the officials were busy interviewing the passengers and physically checking their luggage despite the fact that they had access to scanners at their relevant desks for monitoring the process.

Both ANF and the customs officials were also seen checking travelling documents of the passengers when they were not supposed to do so.

Likewise, at the international departure lounge, it was found that the one-window facility consisted of 12 counters for different departments but only three counters were working even though the passengers check-in for three international flights was in progress.

However, at the airlines counters, it was observed that the process to issue boarding cards to passengers was smooth and efficiently supervised by the staff of the relevant airlines.

At the immigration counter, there were 14 fully equipped counters for screening the passengers but only seven were operational. Consequently, the long and disordered queues were causing frustration amongst the passengers. On query, the in-charge attributed the mismanagement to the shortage of staff as well as non-observance of discipline by the passengers.

Most of the passengers interviewed at the departure and arrival lounges complained about indifferent attitude of ASF, ANF and FIA staff.

At the counter dedicated for senior citizens, women without male companions and foreigners, the staff was not cautious towards persuading passengers to observe the queue discipline.

The rate lists of cafeteria, restaurants and tuck shops triples the retail price and when asked about the reason the commission was told that CAA had approved the prices in 2015.

Likewise, the commission visited BBIA on March 9 and observed long lines of vehicles at the entrance of the airport. Surprisingly, the traffic wardens instead of facilitating the passengers were busy checking licences and issuing tickets.

At the international departure, three scanners were working out of four whereas the officials of customs and ANF were busy interviewing and physically checking luggage and passports.

Like JIAK, only one of the three one-window facilities was manned while other staff was found absent at 9:30am when check-in for three international flights was in progress.

At the Air Blue counter, briefing for three international flights was in progress. In front of five designated counters there were long queues but only three were operational.

A passenger of the Dubai-bound Air Blue flight complained that a month ago he had come to Pakistan and lost his baggage. Despite complaints and repeated visits, he could not get his baggage or any compensation. Now after spending a month he was going back without any hope for resolution of his complaint.

Some international and domestic travellers also recorded their annoyance on frequent delays of flights, denied boarding, loss of baggage, staff and crew behaviour and problems faced by passengers with disabilities.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2018