Dear Mr Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan, Picture this: sun, sand, relaxation — a perfect vacation. But precisely one third of the aforementioned fun and satisfaction that accompanies most holidays is rudely snatched from us in the aftermath of landing in Allama Iqbal International Airport, Lahore. I write to you this letter to share my recent experience as a traveller returning home.
Let me be the first to extend the olive branch and admit that some of our frustrations upon landing begin early on, as soon as we approach the gate prior to boarding our flight back. This, of course, is not your fault. From the lingering stares that seem to scrutinise every aspect of one’s appearance, so customary back home but shocking in the civilised world of vacationland; to the vague whiff of eu de perspiration and ‘ittar’ that floods our nostrils, all the tiny little details that make us so very desi slap us in the face like a rude awakening, Lahore Lahore ae!
Then comes the flight itself. Again, this is not in your control, I acquiesce. Babies are wailing, several passengers want to have more than one meal, air hostesses are flustered and frustrated, and almost all travellers want to play a game of musical chairs with their assigned seats.
As soon as the plane lands at Lahore airport, despite repeated requests to stay seated till the ‘fasten seat belts’ sign is switched off, there is an immediate hue and cry as everyone in the plane stands up, hastily retrieving their carry-ons, as though they are in imminent danger of being forced to fly back to wherever the plane came from.
I get it; anyone would be desperate to exit that plane given the nature of the return flight. But nobody anticipates the trials and tribulations that are to follow.
It is unbelievable that an airport as decrepit and cramped as ours could even have the capacity to accommodate more than one flight at a time, yet somehow on the fateful night of my last journey back, at least three (rumoured to be six) flights landed all at once, in the dead of the night. Alright, dead of night is a stretch because anyone outside the Arrivals terminal would think a big ol’ party was taking place, with all the dhol guys and flower garlands about. But it was 3am, and there were several disgruntled passengers who had found themselves in the immigration ‘area’, most of whom did not understand the exact mechanics of the one single escalator on site or principles of line formation and taking turns. I say immigration area because there was, unsurprisingly, no line in sight.
Since half the flights were coming back from Saudi Arabia, many of the passengers still recovering from the glorious Umrah experience, seemed to be terribly confused: where was the celebratory parade ushering them out of the airport? Why were other travellers getting so upset about this ‘line’ business? What is the family line anyway, don’t we all have families?
Mr CAA, this is where you come in. This is where you take cues from all the other airports in the whole wide world, and use stanchions and ropes to create distinct areas for line formation. But instead, when agitated passengers such as myself implore men in uniforms emblazoned with ‘CAA’ and ‘Sindhu’ on them to help, your response is to inform the said passengers that maintaining their place in line is their own responsibility and no one else’s.
Yes, those were exact words. When a physical fight breaks out between passengers and officials are called again to help, your response is to say that we all brought this upon ourselves because of our lack of patience and that keeping our mouths shut is more beneficial than troubling an official trying to do his job (which apparently is standing in the middle of the chaos and remaining unconcerned).
When one somehow crosses the threshold between life and death, otherwise known as immigration, one must persevere through a thick wall of porters — a symbol of rebirth in many ways. Now one must wait 25 minutes for the luggage to actually be placed on the carousel, which itself is creaking and groaning due to its advanced age and lack of enthusiasm (a recurrent theme here). Then, and only then, are we allowed to return home, every last nerve fried and hope in humanity abandoned.
Solutions are a-plenty, and we are fortunate that many of these problems can be easily fixed (stanchions and ropes, let’s make that the new motto for Lahore airport!). I am not asking for much — even this seems like a lot — but coming home should feel like the party outside the airport, and not like punishment for all of your sins on your vacation.