A trip report, flying Toronto to Lahore in PIA economy…

.. No, it wasn’t me.

Saria sends along this story of flying Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) from Toronto to Lahore. In coach. And I realize that this story is repeated across airline and flight, worldwide.

Patriotism demands that we fly by PIA, also because no one else does. The airline must be doing fantastic business since all its flights are always fully booked regardless of a date or destination. The reasons routinely given are: School holidays, Haj season, wedding season, summertime vacations, while winter is traditionally a convenient time for expatriates to visit families back home and, at times, even excuses like the excitement generated by a new batch of senators and people rushing back to Pakistan to watch the spectacular oath-taking ceremony. Reports about the airline losing money appear as a clever ploy to wangle money out of the IMF and the naive ‘Friends of Pakistan’. It’s only when you board a plane that you find it half empty.

I get to the airport way earlier than advised with the determination of getting a window seat this time. Once again they’re all gone, reserved by wizards who had not yet made it physically to the check-in counters. I present the ticket putting on an act of being unwell, having bad back, point to my hip joint that needs replacing, and even make up a story of knowing President Zardari personally.

It is a long wait and finally the flight is announced. Passengers with children are asked to come forward. Bunches of ten or more adults with every child make up the front of the line. It is the first time I find out that it takes ten adults to produce one child.

The haughty attitude displayed by the cabin crew is a clear sign of them being government officers with discretionary powers and not mere employees of some commercial organization. One doesn’t ask, but begs for a glass of water.

Come to think of it, sounds like United too…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary – sadly this is 100% true. While I have not flown PIA, the situation is the exactly the same when you fly Air India on their transcontinental flights. Somehow, Indian and Pakistani nationals (primarily the first generation) prefer to fly Air India or PIA despite the shortcomings. As a second generation Indian, I have taken Singapore to India and had no issues.

    As a 1K flyer on United, there is no situation that can compare to flying on Air India or PIA.

  2. I feel like this on LAX-HKG on Cathay Pacific when 3/4 of the flight are South Asians. I guess they must route from there on to their final destinations, but I think the description that the author gives is spot on.

  3. @Shirish I was sorta kidding about the United comparison…

    @Sam there’s a much fuller descri;ption of the story at the link, I just shared a few snippets.

  4. This is very typical of Air India flights. Maybe not this bad but certainly there is a prejudice to Indian customers, as if we are somehow inferior. It is unfortunate that some airlines have similar treatments when flying into or out of India. Typically on the second segment flying out of europe into US, I see a dramatic change in attitude even when we are one among many other passengers. But when the flight is full of Indians, the attendants are irritated, curt, arrogant and unprofessional. Maybe it is us but I cannot see them treating a foreigner in such a manner even if he or she is flying in/out of India.

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