I RECENTLY took a flight out of the new Islamabad airport for Karachi by PIA. Flight PK-301 was to leave at 10am. Serene Air, Sial Air and Airblue were to depart at exactly the same time for the same destination. They were all on time.
The departure gates were close to each other. There were also a few other flights leaving around the same time. So there may have been about a thousand or more people gathered in a rather small area. A TV set was blaring and everybody talking made the simultaneous announcements for boarding instructions of the different flights nearly incomprehensible.
The gates were numbered and the boarding passes had gate numbers written on them so we were expected to match these before attempting to board. For the benefit of the passengers, it would have been better if there were clearly readable signs at each of the gates in Urdu as well as in English, indicating the airline, the flight number and the destination.
In the absence of such information, what resulted was as astonishing as it was comical. As we were in the boarding tunnel approaching the aircraft, the line was stalled for a few minutes. After a while, some people were seen being escorted off the plane along with their luggage. It turned out that they were passengers of a different flight — meant for Skardu — who had been mistakenly led on to the plane destined for Karachi.
Surely, the person checking the boarding passes should have been more careful, but a few extra measures by the airline and airport authorities are called for.
Is it necessary to schedule four different airlines from the same origin to the same destination at exactly the same time? Their departure times should be different.
I don’t know how many departure gates are available, but they should not have departures from adjacent gates at the same time.
The departure gates should display not only the gate numbers, but also the destination, the flight number, the airline, etc., in clearly readable fonts in English as well as in the national language.
Having made these suggestions, I may also point out something about the only coffee shop which was open in the departure lounge. A cup of coffee cost Rs550 which, at the current exchange rate, is about $3.5. It is about the same or even higher than what I have paid at many international airports.
Even if we agree that the cost of materials is the same around the world, people working at, say, John F. Kennedy Airport, have an hourly wage on an average about $15.
So, this coffee shop at Islamabad airport should pay its workers Rs2,500 per hour or Rs20,000 for an eight-hour working day. Does it? If not, this is a rip-off operation. The owners might invoke an argument that the CAA charges them huge rents. I can assure you, and them, that the rent paid by similar outfits at other international airports is not peanuts either.
Syed Arif Kazmi
Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2021