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Teaching PIA a lesson

Turks show how to tame and control unruly Pakistani passengers

Teaching PIA a lesson

Turkey is a land of beauty, Turkish cuisine is simply the most sumptuous, and Turkish people are among the most hospitable in the two continents Turkey straddles. Now, Turkish Airlines is teaching PIA how to deal with its passengers.

Those who must travel PIA belong to a certain class. This class is defined by its motives more than its means. These are the overseas Pakistanis who want to enter Pakistan when they enter a PIA plane, a home on way to home; or they are resident Pakistanis connected well enough to sponge off the national carrier as if it was their ancestral business. They expect that laws can be made exception to, rules can be bent, procedures can be bypassed, and even safety regulations can be ignored to get a petty favour from the airline.

PIA makes allowances, gives out favours galore, and still runs in loss. So much loss that every time its plane takes off, it costs the average taxpayer — who by the way can’t afford air travel — a few hard-earned rupees and that only covers domestic travel. For international travel, PIA sells its passengers to other airlines to make a small but neat profit without providing any service. This arrangement is known as code-sharing in airline lingo and one such code-sharing partner is Turkish Airlines.

I am an economy class passenger in this award winning airline from Toronto to Islamabad via Istanbul. Whereas I opted to travel by this carrier others on the Islamabad leg are mostly passengers who bought a PIA ticket. I am flying with the PIA crowd without being a PIA customer, and am treated like one by the cabin crew who are by far the most obnoxious air hosts in the skies.

My first introduction to my fellow travellers comes from behind me: “Uncle don’t recline your seat because I have luggage in my lap”. This self-proclaimed ‘nephew’ is just about 5 years younger than I. My first experience of Turkish hospitality on this flight comes shortly after. To be fair the Turkish Airlines flight from Toronto had been fabulous. The hosts were courteous, drinks plentiful and the service was excellent.

Here on the Islamabad leg, things have turned 180 degrees. The stewards have their eyes on their forehead and they answer every query in negative, with an attitude that discourages further query. They are busy throwing trays of food in front of passengers who are behaving well mainly because they can only throw tantrums in Urdu and here the hosts don’t understand their language.

“You have another food?” asks the nephew from behind me. “No, this is it,” the hostess barks in a take-it-or-leave-it tone. Having exhausted his English vocabulary, the poor nephew says thank you and starts eating whatever was thrown at him. I reach into the seat pocket in front of me and bring out the menu the hosts distributed before dinner. There, in clear English, it says passengers have the choice of chicken and spinach for the main course. I am not going to eat, so I decide to explore the limit of the stewards’ aggression and rudeness.

The hostess extends a tray towards me. “What is it?” I ask. “It’s chicken,” she says. “I don’t eat chicken, I’ll have spinach please.” “This dinner has salad,” she shows me a tiny plastic container, “you can eat this if you are a vegetarian. “No thanks I don’t want it.” She takes her tray to the next seat.

But her male colleague on the other end of the trolley is all worked up by my refusal to eat chicken. “What is your problem,” he asks me with clenched lips. Here, your menu says there’s a choice, and you are not giving the passengers one, that is the problem.” He snatches the menu from my hand, pounds a fierce finger at the small print at the bottom of the page and commands: “Read this”.

It reads something like we are sorry if we can’t provide your choice of food. I say, “I can’t read this small print, tell me what it says.” He just glares at me. He can’t bring himself to using the word “sorry”. He is too offended by my attempt to challenge his ‘control’ which is I imagine an essential quality required of Turkish Airlines cabin crew flying on Pakistani routes. I am never offered anything to eat or drink for the rest of the nearly six hour flight.

In a similar situation a PIA hostess had once offered me the lunch her mother had packed for her.

But that’s not the end of the story. Having been snubbed by the hostess and watching me take on the Nazi stewards on his behalf, the nephew is now trying to explain to his mates what has just happened: “We Pakistanis are too quick to react”, his two listeners filled the pause with their approvals, ji, bilkul. It’s only safar yaar, pass the time, and go home happy, naeen? Why get into an argument over food, only to sleep hungry?

Just bringing bad name to Pakistan, tch tch.

Masud Alam

masud
The author is an Islamabad-based bilingual writer. His book of Urdu travel stories, Chalo, was published in 2009. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

12 comments

  • Hey Uncle !!!!!!!!! good story.

  • Turning airlines is one of the cheapest airlines so one can not expect much from them. I don’t know what awards they might have won. I hate to blame ourselves for every thing that happens to us but we should maybe train our people on travel etiquette at the time of issuance of passports

  • Thanks Uncle, your writing gives me a sense that what we did against TK PK deal was correct, what you faced on one leg of your journey would have been the fate for each Pakistani going out of Pakistan on this TK PK deal.

    • yes saleem because PIA’s own flight attendants excel at customer service. imran is right, we also need to teach our people how to behave!

  • Just had an unpleasant experience at Khi airport where I tried to check in two little cardboard boxes of A4 sized paper. These are the standard box of 500 sheets each. The combined weight of the two boxes was 16.5kg, but PIA check in staff refused to take them separately as there seems to be some new POLICY of just ONE item for check in luggage. I had to pay wrapping charges of 200 Rupees and then go stand in lin again to have them accept it. I dont mind going by the policy, but when did they revise the rules and why wasnt I told at time of ticket purchase? The website made no mention of it either. Not a happy passenger.

  • This is quite shocking !

  • I thought i was one of the very few who has had the misfortune of travelling on PIA for purely patriotic reasons, and living to regret it. During the last five years I have travelled on PIA six times between Karachi and Toronto. My last fateful experience was on PK 783 originating from Karachi. Me and my wife were full revenue paying passengers in business class. I had to mention this as the total number of revenue passengers can be counted on your fingertips while the buisness class is always full to capacity. We reported at the airport check in at 5:30 in the morning for the 7:30 scheduled take off. Were promptly informed by the lady that the flight was delayed for two hours and that we would be going to Toronto via Islamabad. she kept on insisting that she was correct and this was not a direct flight. On my persistance to the contrary, she referred me to th e flight supervisor who readily agreed with my contention. The boarding scene was worse than a stampede as no priority boarding for business class was offered. A few passengers required wheel chair assistance and there was no PIA or airport staff available to offer the service. The person in charge of boarding was having an annoyingly loud argument over his walkie talkie with some other office. He was demanding attendants for wheel chair assistance. After boarding was complete, we just sat in the aircraft without anything happening. After about an hour, the captain announcerd over the intercom that as a few international flights destined for Lahore had been diverted, to Karachi due to heavy fog, there was a bottleneck at immigration. A few of our passengers were stuck in that melee and we could not depart till they boarded as well. Finally we took off. An hour into the flight, I ventured into the galley and inquired about breakfast. Half an hour later, breakfast was served. nothing happened after that… no snacks, coffee or soft drinks, for a straight seven hours. My wife being diabetic, I was forced into the galley once again and inquired about lunch. The over couteous and symphatheic head purser told me that lunch would be served soon and offered a snack for my wife. The only snack available was a half a piece of fench toast and some “Keema”, all leftovers from the earlier breakfast. Seeing a puzzled look on my face, the purser held my hand and took me aside. He showed me lengthy occurance report he had written to his superiors. He said that there was just not enough food for a 15 hour flight. He had deliberately delayed the breakfast and lunch service to spread it over the 15 hour period. He showed me the menu which had the snack portion completely scored out. He said that he had requested some fresh milk for the numerous children in economy. Instead, he was given a few bags of dried milk and told to make do with that. According to him, the fodd situation was so dire that thae pilots had to bring their own food. (I wonder if tha is true) The quality and quantity of the food for lunch was of such poor quality that me and my wife had to practically go hungry. The purser was informed of this and apologised profusely. Four hours into the flight, my seat started to malfunction and would not recline. Three different people tried to fix it without success. All of them conveniently disappeared without offering a solution. Two hours later I went into the galley once again and got a little upset at their indifference. I was told to go look for an empty seat and park myself there. On my refusal, one of the attendants told me to sit on seat 2F, which was empty. She still did not have the coutesy to accompany me to the seat. I had to get all this off off my chest. The moral of the story is “anything but PIA”

    • PIA has been on a steady decline like everything else in Pakistan. I am SO glad that you wrote this, even to “get it off your chest”.

      It is extremely important. That people are repeatedly told about this degradation of service. Pakistani travel agents have repeatedly told me that Pakistanis are refusing to travel via PIA. Some people see a conspiracy in this attitude. However, the reality is actually completely opposite.

      We Pakistanis are predominantly not civilized people. And our cultural and social interactions leave a lot to be desired. Our state of society is a true reflection of our state of civility. We were not like that only 20 years ago. We did not use to hate or dislike each other. We were a lot more courteous, a lot more hospitable and a lot more caring. But as our population has grown, we have progressively fallen down the rungs of a ladder of humanity, civility and decency, while at the same time becoming “better” Muslims in our minds.

      There are many reasons for the problems. And I am not a social scientist to theorize objectively on the issue. I just think that more and more people should very diligently, very honestly, and very sincerely report all the problems they face. This includes the attitude of the Turkish Airlines staff on the Istanbul-Islamabad leg.

      The attitude of a few customers should NEVER be the benchmark for service for any organization. If one person misbehaves we cannot treat the other one thousand the same way.

      However, more importantly, I am willing to bet the attitude of the Turkish Airline staff is not because of the demeanor of some Pakistanis, instead it is the attitude towards the term “Paksitani” itself. Nowadays, there is a stigma associated with being a Pakistani. The debate whether that stigma is fair or unfair is not relevant to my point. But the fact remains we as Pakistanis travelers are on the receiving-end of a poor attitude, snobbery and disgust for over a decade merely because we are “Pakistani”. But that is not the wrost part; the worst part is that we do it to each other more than the outsiders do it to us.

      But we must complain about it, because it is not fair, right or just. And where possible we must stand against it.

  • PIA is the absolute worst airline to travel in, not to mention, terribly expensive.
    And Lahore International is absolutely the worst when it comes to international flights and lounges.
    This bit is all about bashing LHE, not PIA.
    I had to fly to JFK and my flight was at 4:30am. Airport was fogged in but they checked us in anyway, and if anyone has ever been to Lahore Int’l, they know how well equipped it comes to taking care of passengers.
    Seats had rivets, there was no power outlet or internet facility, and my flight was delayed by 14 hours which I had to spend in this spacious, poorly furnished hall, and the only saving grace was, I was using another carrier.

  • Istanbul Islamabad route is stuffed by hardened crew who deal with average Pakistani passenger whom you described in the first paragraph. Naturally, crew react all the same to any passenger to prevent capricious behaviors. Unfortunate but the truth..but imdo hope someone from THY will read this and make things improve..

  • Uncle,

    If you are a vegan, you should have pre-ordered that meal. Pre-ordering meal is a norm on all airlines including Turkish Airlines. I have never have had any problem in getting my pre-selected meal on Turkish Airlines.

    On the otherhand, PIA has never served me my pre-ordered meal……………not even in hay days. And the GCC carriers have been worst for me, over and over again. You agree to a cabin crew request to exchange seat for some elderly or a sick person…..they promise your special will be moved to your new seat…but it never happened on EK, QR nor EY. Thanks to Almighty, now I do have choice to fly non-GCC airlines.

  • I am disappointed to hear of the attitude of the Turkish flight attendants. Turkish Airlines has become one of the most successful airlines in the past decade and has won numerous awards for its inflight service. Its reputation for good customer service has become very strong, but it is possible to have a bad flight with a good airline.

    That said, there is no excuse for bad behaviour on the part of flight attendants, even if they are dealing with difficult or demanding passengers. Professionalism means treating your customer like a king even when conditions are difficult.

    The notion that international airlines should give their customers and passengers less than optimal service simply because of their nationality or ethnicity is unacceptable.

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