Teaching PIA a lesson

January 26, 2014

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.

Teaching PIA a lesson