Having arrived into Pakistan on the 15th March 2020, to complete my Marriage formalities, the plan was to visit Doha for my honeymoon. I got a great deal with Qatar Airways for the flights and a superb deal with Expedia for a delightful hotel.
A week or so before my arrival in Pakistan, Qatar banned 14 nationalities from entry which included Pakistan. My wife is Pakistani so bye bye honeymoon.
We decided on a small honeymoon in Lahore and Islamabad. Upon arrival in Lahore (2 days after part 2 of the wedding and 4 days after arriving in Pakistan) I got a notification that my return flight had been cancelled as the UK had banned entry due to the pandemic.
I rebooked twice on Qatar Airways to fly back from Lahore to Manchester (this would temporarily become a nonstop service in the summer on behalf of the British Government).
Both times the flights got cancelled. I was deeply worried about my home,my future. I had to stay 5 weeks in Pakistan in total. Thankfully I stayed at my Aunt's ; the hotel bill would otherwise have been huge.
Just as it looked like I may never go home, a chance look at the breakfast time online news on 20th April 2020 would bring me some relief.
PIA were operating special Repatriation flights for the around 8000 British Pakistanis stuck in the Punjab region. There was a set fare of GBP525.00 one way (lowered from GBP900.00 after huge outcry from stranded British Pakistanis ) and a 45kg baggage allowance. Please note that when Thomas Cook collapsed, the British Government repatriated holidaymakers within 2 weeks. This was not the case for Pakistan for at least 2 months and even then with a hefty price tag.
By the grace of God,I had funds available and I booked the flight for the next morning on 21st April 2020. After 5 weeks that dragged on and on hopelessly, the 24 hours from booking online to take off went by in an eyeblink.
Before I get to my flight experience, let's go back to a series of events which predicted me at this point !
On 20th March,I had gone to the Turkish Airlines office at Lahore Airport regards my return. As I had booked through an agent I was referred to the agent. Whilst leaving Lahore Airport I randomly took photos of the PIA Ticket counter, walk in office and of a 777 (PIA's first ever 777 AP-BGJ which first flew in January 2004). The 777 shown here had arrived from Dubai and was getting ready for what would be the last scheduled PK709 flight from Lahore to Manchester in a very long time. Not knowing that a month or so later I will fly PIA and on AP-BGJ !
The last PK709 for a very long time.
AP-BGJ - My future ride to Manchester in the past in the present !
Quick check the night before to see if the flight is actually leaving.
After waving farewell to my family and my inlaws around midnight,I began my journey to Lahore Airport.
With now dwindling funds and wondering if the flight might even take off, at this stage my mind had 1 thought and that was to get home. Nothing else.
We pulled up to Lahore Airport at 0255am.
The special PIA flight PK8709 was due to take off at 0700am. It was with some relief that I noted that the flight showed as operating on the Information Board.
The queue snaked behind and before me. It was close to 4am before passengers were allowed into the Airport. After the ticket check,comes a body scan and baggage scan.
Social Distancing was now fully in operation in the terminal and after clearing the relevant checks,there was a Passport Check. When I removed my facemask,the Officer commented on how much I looked like a Barrister friend of his !
In my travelling life I have been told I look like a Doctor,a Lawyer and now a Barrister ! Wow !
I arrived at the checkin desk and a lovely lady in the previous (but still being used) PIA female ground staff uniform welcomed me. She had her head covered with a floral scarf in the correct way it is meant to be worn.
I told her I am flying PIA after 10 years and I discussed how other airlines kept cancelling flights but that it was PIA there for me in my time of need (as always).
I asked if the flight was full and if I might get a seat with the next one free. I was told the flight is full but that there are seats free in Executive Economy (PIA's old Business+Plus class) at a charge of an extra GBP200.00.
I politely declined. Wearing of Facemasks was being enforced at checkin.
After checking in and getting a proper card Boarding Pass for my Window Seat (52L) ,I took my suitcase to the next belt to send it off and cleared Passport Control one last time.
Online Seat Map on the day of booking. I can't believe standard seats were still being charged for.
After clearing security again,I walked to to gate 22 to see if my aircraft was on stand. It was.
And it was AP-BGJ. The 777 I saw operating the last Lahore-Manchester flight on 20th March 2020. Talk about fate ! This was PIA's first ever 777 and first flew in January 2004.
Social Distancing was strictly enforced on seat signage and frequent announcements in English and Urdu.
Not many passengers were yet at the gate . I spoke to one of the Ground Hostesses and told her I am ex PIA staff from Manchester and that I am flying PIA after 10 years. I asked if I could preboard and was happy at being told that I could and to see the staff later on. Later the same lady took me to meet her female colleague (all wearing Pink Uniform and floral headscarves the right way) to introduce me. They all wished me a great flight. It was really nice to see one ground Hostess scrolling through the pages of an online Holy Quran whilst she waited for the go ahead for Boarding. I was offered an Aisle seat on row 21 with extra legroom but I declined. Would I live to regret this ? Keep reading !
I charged my mobile phone at the large Sting Can shaped charger. Sting is a local and Asian Energy drink.
Mango Boxes to Manchester !
There were food scouts walking about offering to go get food and drinks for passengers from the Retail outlets. I politely declined and got my own Orange Juice for now and Coke bottle for onboard later.
By now it was nice daylight outside and more passengers arrived in the departure lounge. This was the only flight departing from Lahore just now and possibly the whole day.
I love the design element of Lahore Airport.
The crew arrived in dribs and drabs. The first, an Airhostess with lipfiller which looked odd as you never see a PIA Airhostess like that. She was around 6 foot tall which was also not the norm in PIA ! She was not wearing the uniform hat and her scarf was incorrectly worn starting at the back of the neck and hanging down to below her belly button. She looked very strange. Next a Steward came by looking immaculate. I loved his Gold PIA Urdu logo badge on his jacket. PIA's male crew always have consistently high grooming. I am not sure what part of PIA's training allows some females to get away with such disregard to uniform standards,namely the head covering.
One thing I have not mentioned is a real misery guts of a woman who was on this flight. I first noted her staring at me as I arrived in the Departure lounge. And again whilst I was talking to the ground staff.
It was close to boarding and I ended up sitting opposite her. Her evil stare was by now quite personal. I asked a ground Hostess about the boarding time and she said that it would be shortly. There were 15 wheelchair passengers and I would board straight after them.
Back to Miss Misery Guts. She then stared at me in such an evil way and her eyebrows looked like two upside down V letters. She then muttered something under her facemask. I looked behind me as I always do if a stranger is being clever. I then asked her outright " Is there a problem?" She retorted "What?". I asked her the same thing again and told her to stop giving me evil looks. Her reply was immature " Don't stare then".
At 0605am the wheelchairs got the go ahead to board. As soon as the last one had gone through,I stood up to stand in line. I was seated in zone C and boarding would be strictly carried out according to seat zone. Miss Misery stood up and stood a step ahead of me. I silently smiled inside when she was told that she cannot board yet as she is sat in zone B ! Karma ! No idea what this strange woman's issue was with me. No idea why some people are allowed out the house to be frank.
A better look at BGJ.
Anyway my Boarding Pass was scanned,divided,Passport checked and I went through to the area before the airbridge. I had taken just 1 photo of the aircraft , when an ASF Security Officer said " Sir please refrain from making a video". I was about to answer that it is 2020 but stayed quiet and apologised. But seriously, it's 2020.
Social Distancing was strictly enforced. Hand Luggage was sprayed and Hand Sanitizer was available.
And so the boarding continued. Eventually I was stood at the end of the airbridge (the part attached to the terminal). I was trying to explain to a male ground staff member how easyJet are going to have (at that time) guaranteed middle seats free. He totally did not get the concept.
I took more aircraft photos and then was inside the airbridge. The safety strap was removed and we were told to board.
There was no one at the door. I alerted a man who appeared to be a Duty Manager and he guided me to my seat. The galley looked so damn aged.
When I worked for PIA in 2005 this same aircraft looked stunning. In her teenage years she really had took a bashing.
As I entered the cabin,there was none of PIA's renown Instrumental boarding music playing. The cabin smelt of fresh lavender and was superbly clean. The headrest covers however looked how they would look AFTER a flight not before one. The aircraft had been sat in Lahore for over 24 hours having arrived from Dubai the day before. What was the rush to not put headrest covers on properly ?
As I tried to get past an older lady who was swinging her head left and right like a pendulum as she viewed the row numbers, I politely asked her to excuse me. She went into a row of 3 seats and said "such a lazy person". I assume she meant herself.
So Miss Misery at the gate, Miss Oddball at boarding. If only I had a perfect three. No problem and here she comes. An Airhostess at the back of zone B was wearing full PPE and mask. As I said Salaam Alaikum to her, I touched my mask and my glasses got tangled with my facemask. This Airhostess looked so rotten at me and did not even reply. I ignored her and walked past.
Great impression. Not.
All the window shades were down…?????
Oddly,the headrest covers in my section ( zone C ) had been placed the proper way and with a bit more care. In the weeks after this flight.
PIA would do away with headrest covers altogether.
Peruvian Wall panel design.
No Humsafar magazine due to the pandemic.
As boarding got underway,a really nice Steward Adnan helped stow baggage and got passengers reaseated quickly where females did not want to sit next to a man v.v
A Steward stood near me asked how I had booked. I told him online and the price.I asked him today's meal plan. He advised Breakfast and a Prelanding snack.
*PK709 in it's usual form departs Lahore sometime after 12pm so there is usually Lunch served and a prelanding snack.
I advised a Steward that I would like memorabilia as it is my first PIA flight in 10 years. I also advised the tvs need rebooting and he said these will not work through the flight. I really feel for the PIA Cabin Crew. How management let them take the rap for a below standard service being offered to fare paying passengers who have a choice of airline is astonishing at best and disgraceful at worst.
The armrests and IFE controls were in very bad shape and badly battered/damaged.
747-300 IFE Remotes (in Green) had been repurposed for use on this and possibly other 777s !
Had they worked then it was Kudos to PIA's Engineering team.
Due to the pandemic,there were no blankets,pillows, Humsafar inflight magazines or kids activity packs.
For a 9 hour flight,surely a prepackaged pillow and blanket at the seat was possible ? But that said, PIA performs poorly in this aspect on a normal day and blankets/pillows are never enough or non existent.
PIA do not offer amenity kits in Economy Class so none were offered now either.
There would be no IFE or even a moving map. There were also no face masks,wipes,handgel as is the now the industry norm.
That said PIA soon wised up to sanitisation.
The view outside
Social Distancing really works for PIA and we were fully boarded at 0655am ! I genuinely hope that PIA adopt this method of boarding permanently. As per media coverage,once boarding was complete, cabin crew had to go around the cabin and film passengers and Whatsapp the short video to Head Office. Not sure what this is for but hey.
We pushed back at 0700am and a Welcome Announcement was made and featured the words "Pyare Bacho/Lovely Children" ! Definately a nice touch onboard PIA. The engine startup was so loud it drowned out the last part of the announcement.
The Safety video then started. In Urdu at first. Only the first 4 rows of Economy and those on the bulkhead had the video play on their screens as well as the odd few seats near me.
Shocking to see such a breach of safety. The irritating Oriental flute played in the background of the video.
When the English version of the safety video began,thankfully it was updated pleasant music and voiced by a lady who did not have the annoying fake American accent from before. PIA safety videos also have sign language being done. Again not everyone could see the video. The English video then stopped and 2 Stewards rushed to the exit rows to point out exits. This was a really poor impression towards safety. On that note, as we taxied out to the Runway,we passed a PIA A320. But here is a haunting photo. To the untrained eye it is just a PIA A320. Look closer and it is the doomed AP-BLD. Read more at the end of the report.
On the subject of safety, as we taxied out to the Runway,we passed a PIA A320.
But here is a haunting photo.
To the untrained eye it is just a PIA A320. Look closer and it is the doomed AP-BLD.
Read more at the end of the report.
At 0715am PST, AP-BGJ began speeding down the runway for her 8 hour 51 minute flight to Manchester.
After banking left after take off,the aircraft felt as you would feel at the top of a rollercoaster. It then started creaking and passengers were looking at each other in shock. There was then an announcement that we had hit turbulence.
The aircraft soon levelled up to join the airways towards Afghanistan.
PIA have not offered IFE for a good 5 years.
How they feel that this gives them an edge, against global giants who offer a superior experience from take off to landing is anybody's guess.
I will show you the route of the flight which saw us fly in 8 hours and 51 minutes crossing over Afghanistan,Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan,Georgia, Northern Turkey,Romania,Hungary,Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and The Netherlands before landing safely into Manchester.
Somestunning views over the snow capped Mountains of Afghanistan.
You might enjoy those mountain views more if you knew how little window area there was to actually get a decent photo. The window is badly worn out.
An hour or so after take off,Cabin Crew started walking through the cabin with a meal box with beautiful PIA logo and a small container with the hot breakfast. Initially I felt the crew were rushed but remembered my Saudia Bistro and my Aer Lingus longhaul experiences and all was forgiven as it meant that rest would be maximised. If only.
The crew awoke any sleeping passengers. Initially the box and container were handed out and then there was a separate drinks round. Crew would go round with water through the flight and offer it to those who were awake. The Galley had a range of sodas and juices for anyone wanting to help themselves inflight. PIA is a dry airline.
The lady in front of me asked for help on how to recline her daughter's seat forward.
The Pakistani Omelette and Spicy Chicken Mince was divine ! PIA gets 10/10 for catering !
After the main meal I tried hard to rest. As a 6 foot built guy,it seems to me that the 777-200 may have been devised by an Airbus team. My long legs were cramped and I could not turn or rest properly. I would occassionally look at my phone or listen to my music. Then I would try to rest my head on the wall. Agony. I hope never ever to repeat this again.
The Washrooms were kept magnificently clean throughout the flight with ample tissues,hand lotion and water cups although PIA really should not use logo cups for cups used for ablution and rear end washing. This is disrespectful to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the airline. The Washrooms had hanging Lavender sachets which had a captivating scent. The toilets are reasonably spacious. I came out and there was a queue forming !
No announcement was ever made for social distancing or covid protection tips. Knowing that 90% of passengers had been stranded for 5 weeks, this was ignored (there was no cockpit announcement the entire flight.
Only the female Cabin Crew wore PPE and 1 male did. This was plain white but now has to be worn by all crew and now has a small Golden PIA logo on the breast area. That said the uniform standards are very relaxed and the Airhostess uniform does not in any way evoke the era in which PIA had top designers responsible for it's Airhostess uniforms. PIA's Cabin Crew were once the byword for Eastern Hospitality. I am pleased to say this continues after a long period where PIA's crew had a reputation for being moody.
The Airhostess I mentioned at the gate area wearing her uniform incorrectly ? She was seen sleeping whilst leaning on the R4 exit door.
All the above are direct results of a management which does not care at all. You can feel that there is no mojo in the management to ensure superior service,even at a time like this.
Lights were dimmed and I struggled to rest really badly. The atmosphere was very subdued onboard. I think everyone was just focused on getting home.
Around 90 minutes before landing, somewhere over Germany,one of the Stewards came to my seat and asked me to come to the Galley. The Senior Purser (Inflight Manager) had sent a tray of treats for me and a Comment Card ! How nice :)
I may as well have stayed in my seat as the Prelanding Snack Service began.
I went to my seat and got my seatmate to pass me the snackbox. It was actually a relief to eat in the galley as I had ample space plus a range of drinks at my disposal !
I talked to a Passenger who was stood in the galley. He did not want to stay in his seat as a lady had been coughing near him.
Scrumptious ! A samosa, a spicy chicken sub, lemon cake,ketchup, milk powder for tea and a cutlery pack.
As we flew over The Netherlands (as Holland is now officially called) I for a moment thought we were over England ! But the neatly manicured and lined landscapes were unmistakably Dutch ! This was confirmed when I got this gorgeous view of North Holland ! I am allowed to say this as North/South Holland are two provinces of The Netherlands.
Eyeache for almost 9 hours.
Around 1130am GMT the cabin secure began and then crew took their seats.
As we banked right to join the approach to Runway 2, the aircraft creaked like crazy.
At 1205pm GMT we landed safely in Manchester. 5 weeks of worry were over in no time. A landing announcement was made in Urdu and English. Again no mention of us all having been stranded or that PIA was happy to get us home.
We arrived at gate 26 as only Terminal 1 was being used and it was mainly PIA and Qatar Airways who were flying into/ out of Manchester.
No one is going anywhere yet !
My Banana Yellow TRIPP case has made it !
After waiting over 15 minutes I realised what was happening having read this online. Basically all passengers need to remain seated until ALL baggage has been offloaded and set out in the baggage hall.
But at no point did the crew announce this. Miss "Not Wearing Uniforn As It Should" looked most bizarre flapping her arms up and down walking through the cabin telling passengers to "Sit Down". She then brought two Doctors to see an unwell passenger and suggested the passenger be reseated near an exit row for fresh air.
Finally Disembarkation began. A handful of passengers were allowed off and a crewmember would come and take them away. Eventually it was my turn. Blocking my route was Old Mama Pendulum blocking the aisle again. This time she let me past without a toxic comment. 3 Airhostesses in full uniform and face masks (no PPE) were stood by the R2 Door. I said Allah Hafiz and they replied.
Miss Incorrectly Worn Uniform was stood in the centre of the L2 Door. I said Allah Hafiz and got a mumbled reply as she just stared. Wow. Talk about pride in your job.
Social Distancing was in place all the way upto Baggage Reclaim. Handgel was available when leaving gate 26. After Automated Passport Control I socially distanced approached the Baggage Hall and all baggage was laid out on Stationary (non moving) belts across the hall. I got my suitcase and made my way to the Bus Station.
But not before photographing my ride from Lahore ! Level 13 car park looking like a ghost town.
BGJ which just brought me from Lahore in the foreground. She was joined a few minutes later by sistership BHV from Islamabad.
As I entered the Skylink,my suitcase was squeaking badly. An engineer working nearby kindly put oil on the wheel and I thanked him.
I got home on this beautiful sunny day and freshened up. The last 5 weeks had really disrurbed me and it was good to get back and start to look at the next steps in my life.
Info) I immediately wrote to Senior of the Manchester Airport social media team that an announcement should be made when an aircraft arrives at the gate. This is to inform passengers to remain seated as they cannot exit the aircraft until all hold baggage has been removed,a process that takes around an hour. I was told this would be fed back to PIA and Qatar Airways. A week or so after this flight,my cousin arrived on a special PIA flight into Manchester. No announcement. Nothing.
But at least my cousin knew what to expect.
My PIA Pakistan Independence Day 2020 display. How glorious this airline once was. I and many others pray to God that it will be again.
In memory of all those who lost their lives and all those who lost loved ones after the PK8303 disaster on 22nd May 2020.
On 22 May 2020, an Airbus A320 registered as AP-BLD and operated by PIA, crashed whilst on approach into Karachi.
The aircraft was operating a domestic service from Lahore as PK8303 with 90 passengers and 8 crew members onboard.
2 passengers survived but 2 civilians lost their life on the ground and around 30 were injured as well as serious damage to homes.
I am saddened that I photographed BLD on the day of my flight from Lahore to Manchester.
To add insult to so much injury, an already failing reputation and a pandemic that halted all flights, an investigation following the Karachi disaster in May 2020, in which all but 2 passengers and all crew lost their lives, revealed that 262 of 850 pilots had potentially fake licences or ones containing irregularities. This has led to a 6 month ban on all PIA operated flights into the UK and Europe.
Let's see how PIA emerges from this scandal in January 2021.
A real shame to see one of Asia and the World's finest fall disgracefully like this.
PIA badly need an overhaul of it's image. The current Safety Aspect has never been an issue in my 36 years of flying so I only hope PIA strengthen their Safety protocols.
Cabin Crew Grooming needs to be enforced by the Senior Purser on every flight. You cannot have crew doing what they want when it comes to the Corporate Image. PIA need to restore that magical Eastern Hospitality image from the era where PIA was at the top of it's game in every field. Including helping establish Emirates.
The iconic Green tail with bold white PIA letters needs to come back to restore PIA's glory as well as a new and fresh image for the tired and childish livery and weird crew uniform.
The Inflight Catering is really above standard so I am happy to see that.
Regards longhaul Economy Class amenities, pre packaged pillows,blankets and amenity kits should be standard as well as Kids Packs/ Games.
PIA has had no working Inflight Entertainment for 5 years. This is completely unacceptable in this day and age. PIA cannot afford to sit back and allow it's market share to erode.
If PIA does not look after it's valued and loyal passengers,others airlines will. And they do. Many times each day everyday. PIA's Cabin Crew are the face of the airline and the heart of the Airline's success. There is no room for complacency at all from grass roots level right upto the CEO, every area of PIA needs to be brought up to date and into line with global standards.
I prefer this flight departure and arrival time. Many loyal PIA passengers connect to/from from Glasgow by road,so it means they can get back home at a decent hour.
PIA need to Make LHE AND ISB into hubs for Europe to Asia flights and v.v.