I can safely say that PIA are an appalling airline with a dreadful reputation. But just how bad are they?
Pakistan International Airlines are based at their hub in Karachi and fly to 30 international destinations, as well as to many domestic location within Pakistan. It only operates around 30 aircraft which is very small for an international airline with the history of PIA, seeing as it was founded in 1946.
I always seem to hear horror stories from people who have flown with PIA. From delays of up to 48 hours, to rude and inconsiderate cabin crew, to incompetent ground staff and the loss of luggage, and from drug smuggling to fatal crashes, it seems that this awful reputation of PIA is wholly deserved. In fact, on one such occasion in Istanbul, ground staff from PIA completely vanished without trace leaving passengers awaiting a flight back to Islamabad stranded at the airport with no idea of what was going on!
I can recount the video tale (above) of a passenger who was stuck on a PIA B777 aircraft on the ground at London Heathrow Airport. This is my home airport, as I live a mere 20 minutes from Terminal 3. The story goes that there were technical problems on the aircraft which caused the delay of a flight to Lahore on Christmas Eve. OK, so technical faults do happen, that’s not the end of the world. However, what we all want as passengers is to be treated with information and respect during the ongoing problems. What happened in that occasion was that the passengers were kept on the plane on the tarmac with the engines off with little information of what was happening. They were even served their first meal on the ground! Then, the power failed and the entire cabin was dark. After many hours, people starting having breathing difficulties because there was no fresh air in the cabin, and the cabin crew refused to let them off the plane. Eventually, they opened the aircraft door to let some air in, but for this whole time the passengers were not treated fairly or with consideration of health and safety.
It is reported that many of PIA’s aircraft are poorly maintained and even when they are damaged in small collisions, there is an element of neglect in that executives do not want to waste money by taking the planes out of service to repair. The aircraft then continue in service and the passengers on board have no idea of its shabby state. In December, 2016, Pakistan International Airlines Flight 661 suffered an engine failure 13,000ft and crashed uncontrollably in hillside north of Islamabad. All passengers on board perished in the crash and their bodies were burned to smithereens.
On a flight to Saudi Arabia in January, 2017, there was a serious case of overfilling on a PIA flight. Unbelievably, ground staff at Karachi International Airport wrote out hand-written boarding passes to a number of passengers who otherwise would not have fitted onto the flight. All the seats were taken, so these extra passengers were standing in the aisle of the aircraft for the duration of the flight (as seen in the screen grab above). This is clearly one of the most serious safety breaches you can find in aviation. For example, in an emergency, the standing passengers would have blocked the escape route for the others. Additionally, in the event of passengers needing oxygen during the flight, there would have been no oxygen masks for the extra passengers. The pilot of this flight was not aware of the situation, although the blasé PIA executives were rather reluctant to administer blame or responsibility.
Another pilot of PIA has been accused of endangering the lives of his passengers and risking security after he allowed an unauthorised foreign national into the cockpit for two hours on PIA flight PK853 from Tokyo to Beijing. At one point during the two hours, the woman was in the cockpit alone with just the pilot. According to law, unauthorised persons are not allowed into the cockpit at any time during flights as it is a safety hazard, with the responsibility lying with the pilot to ensure that no unauthorised person enters the restricted part of the aircraft. However, responding to the report, a PIA spokesperson said inviting a single passenger into the cockpit was not a security concern. It just seems like PIA have no common sense when it comes to some elements of aviation safety.
In April, 2017, there was a case of a Sleeping Pilot who was supposed to be training two novices on a flight to London. However, half way through the flight, the pilot went into the business class cabin and took a nap under a blanket, in full view of other passengers. While this was happening, the aircraft was effectively being flown (controlled) by 2 pilots who did not have the necessary training nor clearance to do so. Upon the leak of this news, PIA were very reluctant to bring charges against this pilot, but they eventually caved in due to a public uproar.
There could also be a heroin smuggling issue with PIA aircraft. At London Heathrow in May, 2017, Police impounded a flight from Islamabad after a suspicious tip off. After thorough searching, a lot of heroin was found hidden beneath panelling all over the fuselage. Not long afterwards, merely a week later, authorities in Pakistan seized 20kg of Heroin from a flight at Islamabad that was bound for London. It seems like an easy way for drug producers in Afghanistan to export their stuff to Europe onboard aircraft from a ‘friendly’ nation…
Compared to other airlines in the region, such as Air India and Biman Bangladesh, PIA have very nice cabin crew in general, although as mentioned earlier, there have always been reports of bad service creeping in from somewhere. In my experience, PIA cabin crew kind of know their employers are useless, but they troop on regardless and at least try to provide some good service to passengers, despite clear limitations hanging over them. Catering in economy class is also very good on PIA compared to their rivals (haven’t flown in the business or first classes), although clearly still lagging way behind the leaders in the aviation industry, such as Emirates and Qatar Airways, and markedly worse than what I consider the regional leaders of airline catering, Sri Lankan Airlines.
As times change, and word of mouth is becoming increasingly important to travellers, PIA have began to realise perhaps too late that customer service is King. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for the airline. In my experiences listening to regular flyers of the airline, it seems there are many things they do right, and many things they do wrong, but in the age of YouTube and Twitter, PIA need to understand that image is everything, and unhappy passengers are not going to keep quiet (especially if you lock them on the plane!) having suffered mistreatment.
I would say Pakistan International Airlines are one of the worst major airlines around in terms of customer satisfaction, and in fact I recently ranked them the #4 worst airline in the world. What do you think?