LONDON: Ticket prices for flights to Pakistan from the United Kingdom have tripled as Pakistan's national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has been banned from flying to three destinations in the United Kingdom, European Union and the United States.
A return flight from London, Manchester and Birmingham to Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi used to cost an average of £500-650 but after PIA was suspended from operating by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (UKCAA), ticket prices have seen a three-fold increase to the £1,500-2,700 mark.
According to Skyscanner, a major travel website, the cheapest return ticket from London to Lahore is offered by Turkish Airlines which costs a whopping £1,445 which is almost Rs300,000. British Airways, which recently started operations in Pakistan, is offering the same flight for over £2,000 which would cost the traveller over Rs400,000.
A flight by Qatar Airways and Emirates would set back a single traveller over £2,500 which is an unprecedented price for a return ticket from the UK to Pakistan. Another flight by Qatar Airways and British Airways costs £2,796.
This comes at a time of a severe crisis for PIA which was caused after the Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan claimed that around one-third of Pakistani pilots had dubious licences. The announcement caused panic all over the world, leading to a chain of events which has resulted in suspension of PIA flights and grounding of pilots working globally who were issued licences by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority.
There are over 1.5 million Pakistani-origin Britons in the UK who regularly travel to Pakistan and are severely disappointed by the increase in the ticket prices. According to the British government, at any time nearly 100,000 British Pakistanis are present in Pakistan. After the COVID-19 lockdown, nearly 60,000 Britons flew on chartered flights from Pakistan to three destinations in UK.
Abdullah Sheikh, a Pakistani student in UK who regularly travelled to Pakistan, said, “I wanted to go to Pakistan but couldn’t go because we travelled through PIA and now we can’t. I used to go 3-4 times a year but now these prices have resulted in significantly altering our travel plans.”
Abdullah added that stopovers in various other airports had made it difficult for the elderly and vulnerable travellers who found it hard to take multiple flights to go to Pakistan.
In a conversation with The News, Mahboob Hussain of the Mahboob Travel Agency, which solely dealt in PIA tickets, said: “I only did business with PIA, now my company has no more business. I worked with PIA to promote my national carrier but now I am being punished for my patriotism. Other airlines have greatly benefitted. Who is responsible for the demise of PIA? We will get no answers.”
Mahboob said that while PIA had issued some refunds on cancelled flights, he was still waiting for further information on the remaining refunds.
Speaking to The News, a spokesperson for the UK’s CAA said: “Following the decision on 30 June 2020, by the EASA to suspend permission for PIA to operate services to the European Union, PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect.
“The UK Civil Aviation Authority is required under law to withdraw PIA’s permit to operate to the UK pending EASA’s restoration of their approval that it meets international air safety standards.”
More recently, the US also banned PIA from flying to and from the US. PIA’s spokesman Abdullah Hafeez accepted that this was a major setback for the national carrier. He said: “We are continuously engaged with them and sincerely hope that with the confidence-building measures, the decision would be reviewed.”
This development also resulted in the suspension of employment of various Pakistani pilots employed in several airlines across the world.
The aviation minister’s statement about the dubious licences of Pakistani pilots came in the backdrop of an investigation into a recent crash of PIA’s flight PK-8303 from Lahore to Karachi which resulted in the death of 97 people.
The investigation seemed to absolve the Aviation Ministry from any responsibility and instead blamed the pilot for not properly following the instructions of the air traffic controller.
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