TNS fittingly nicknamed PIA as “Problems in Air”, last year. I chanced to travel by PIA recently and indeed, it is neither short of passengers nor problems. I have not travelled far and wide but so far only PIA planes shake and wiggle like an old Suzuki on the bumpy GT road to Mandi Bahauddin. A few days ago, there was this funny news about some passengers travelling in the PIA toilets, with the consent of the on-flight staff. I will explain later why the toilet isn’t a bad idea.
When I was around nine, I travelled by air, alone for the first time. Just when the summer vacations were starting, I foresaw the drudgery which often followed holidays in those years, so I called my father in advance and he booked a ticket.
But a journey meant for few hours took about two days. The plane landed in Karachi because Quetta’s weather was cloudy. And I got to meet all my Karachi relatives for free, a newly married and a recently engaged uncle. The next day when we boarded the plane, we were all locked up but did not fly for another six hours. The passengers started fighting with each other and the staff, and when I went to the back to fetch some more Fanta, I saw that the air-hostesses were also quarrellng with each other. But this was just before the plane started to taxi. And at that point everyone had to sit down again to prevent accidents. Things normalised when they served food.
Imagine a truckload of Pakistani men, all huddled together like lambs, with no books to read, music to listen to or anything to do except look at each other at the slightest hint of a movement. This time I was travelling with my old mom, who had trouble getting up from her seat. The flight attendant was as helpless and bewildered as I was. And it was like a live circus where everyone was eagerly watching us. When the plane became stable, all the guys got up to loiter around as if it was Fortress Stadium and not a plane. Despite the repeated requests from staff, the passages couldn’t be cleared. This happened again when the plane landed but hadn’t yet come to a halt.
One problem unique to PIA is the children. Most foreign flights have a few children and they are apparently more tamed than ours. Once, when I was flying to Hong Kong for the first time, there was a lady with a toddler and some slightly grown up children. Much of the plane was empty that day. So the kids ventured into the toilets, opened all the taps, dipped their feet in water and ran in the aisles like crazy.
On another occasion, when the plane was landing, a weepy kid refused to wear the seat belt. Instead, he started rolling on the floor while two air-hostesses attempted to coax him into returning to his seat while the plane started descent. But the best one was this one little boy who was sitting right next to me. After a while, he said “aunty ki godi mein baithna hai”(want to sit in aunty’s lap). Probably because I was sitting by the window and after this nothing could propel him to get off “aunty’s” (a title that hit my heart like a tsunami) lap and eventually I had to change my seat.
So much has been said about PIA’s sagging profile. The other day, a friend commented that the state-owned Air India is also in pits. Perhaps, it is time to wind-up the picnic and privatise PIA, before a big accident strikes.
Now, staying in the toilet is not a bad idea if it is newly cleaned and still unused. The toilet is similar to what an ordinary economy-class seat is like in a PIA plane, without the seat belts of course. You won’t feel like a circus animal up for a display, the air hostesses don’t disturb you with the duty-free products and above all, no kids to break your heart with chants of “Aunty! Aunty!”
This article was first published in The News on Sunday.