Trains, planes and frustration

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Having travelled much of the length of the country in the last ten days using the national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) I can deliver a first-hand report on the quality of its services – and they are first-class rubbish. I would have delivered a report on travel by rail but as I was unable to get a ticket that is not an option but worthy of comment nonetheless. And if the railways minister happens to read this he might like to ponder a while before delivering yet another dose of buffoonery.

So…PIA. It was the return leg to Bahawalpur where it all went to worms. Having turned up well in time on Christmas morning and in anticipation of joining my family for a long-planned lunch, I was less than delighted to arrive at check-in to puzzled looks. The puzzlement came after I presented my ticket, booked a month in advance, and was told that my 11.20 flight was now at 5 p.m. Any notification of this change? Nope. Apology? Nope. And off I went to reservations for re-ticketing.

Back again in time for 5 p.m. flight and by 4.45 and no activity at Gate 4 it was clear that a 5 departure was off the cards. The flight eventually boarded after 6 and then sat there. And sat there. Poor visibility at Bahawalpur. ‘This is your captain speaking. We need a 1,300 yards (or was it metres?) visibility to land. We will take off and if it deteriorates we will turn back to Karachi.’ Collective groan from passengers and we sat there a bit more. We made it to Bahawalpur safely – where it was gin-clear – and my Christmas day was effectively cancelled.

Now I cannot blame PIA for the weather, not their fault or the minimum requirements for a safe landing, but I can blame them for not keeping me informed as to what was happening from beginning to end.

Fast forward to the 29th December and Bahawalpur to Islamabad. Flight came in, passengers in anticipation…and then nothing. Cutting to the chase there was a small technical fault, an engineer had to be called from Multan with the necessary part, the plane fixed and cleared to fly all of which took a…Very… Long…Time. And was there any information as to what was going on? Of course not. Eventually I went and found a PIA person (the actual airport manager had long-ago departed for his home) who was far from delighted at being collared by a passenger wanting information but who gave me the necessary update. I returned to the lounge, called a heads up, and briefed my fellow passengers. PIA was less than delighted at my intervention. Passengers thanked me.

The flight left after midnight and I arrived at my destination at 3 a.m. At no point was there any attempt to tell the paying passengers what was happening or any sign of an apology. A return flight to Bahawalpur was a poor option. It was via Lahore and took 5 hours. Fine says I lets go by train.

‘Ticket to Bahawalpur on the Green Line please on the 3rd January’. ‘Not possible. All booked.’ ‘Every seat is booked two days in advance?’ ‘It is our quota sir. We have filled our quota’. ‘There are now six trains a day running from ‘Pindi to Bahawalpur…how about any of them?’ ‘No sir not possible.’ Of note is the fact that I could not book on-line that day and the Green Line is seemingly not bookable online anyway. Wonderful. I was offered the choice of going to another place where I ‘might’ be able to get a ticket. ‘So could you phone and find out before I travel 10 miles on the off chance?’ ‘No sir not possible.’

So I napalmed the booking office and moved on to private enterprise. There is a well-known national bus company that offers a reliable service, is reasonably priced, moderately comfortable and which I have often used in the past. A thirty-second phone call and yes Mr Cork, seat number 8, leave at 10.30. An SMS confirming my booking arrived seconds later. The bus was not my first choice as I have limited mobility, walk with a stick and 10 hours on a bus is not exactly a fun ride – but the Korean company I had better not name but which I am sure most of my readers will have heard of, has offered a model of service and customer support that neither PIA nor Pakistan Rail can match for many many years. I have been regularly ill-served by PIA on domestic services and fared little better on the railways. Naya Pakistan? Not yet.