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PIA: A Good Deal For The Price
Feb 24, 2003 11:35 AM 15332 Views
(Updated Jun 12, 2003 11:35 AM)

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Having relatives in both India and Pakistan, I have had the opportunity to travel with several airlines, but I generally tend to avoid travel with South Asian carriers like Air India and PIA. Unfortunately, when one is traveling from the US to Karachi, there are very few choices available...KLM, Air France, Lufthansa and British Airways have all suspended their flights from Europe to Pakistan over the past 10 years. Today, the only carriers offering flights to Karachi from the US are Swiss (the new carrier replacing Swissair) and of course PIA. On a recent trip this past December, I had the opportunity to fly PIA, and even though the experience wasn't that bad, I will definetely try to fly with Swiss next time. Specific issues regarding the flights are presented below:


PIA no longer offers any flights from Chicago. Instead, all passengers from the US are routed through New York's JFK International Airport. Our travel agent booked us American Airlines from Chicago to New York, and then from New York to Karachi via Manchester and Lahore on PIA. Even though the JFK-MAN-LHE-KHI flight did not require us to change planes at any point, it was still quite an inconvenience. With most other airlines, one would fly nonstop from Chicago to Europe, switch planes once, then fly nonstop to Karachi. Needless to say, PIA's routing was a PAIN.

NOTE: Since the time of writing, PIA has reinstated its Chicago-Pakistan flights, much to the relief of countless Chicago based Pakistanis...


On its major intercontinental routes, PIA uses ANCIENT B747's that are most likely hand-me-downs from European airlines. On all my PIA flights, I found that the plane was quite old, and in some cases somewhat filthy. My seat seemed ratty and had visible crumbs on it. This is probably just a personal thing, but I always seem more cramped on board a B747 than I do on any other kind of plane, and this was no exception. The seats definetly seemed to be cramped, and I really didnt think I had enough leg room.


One would think that having personal TV screens in economy would mean excellent entertainment, but PIA seems to be an exception to the rule. Aside from one B grade American movie, there was nothing remotely entertaining on board. Everything else was either a documentary, or an Urdu drama/comedy, or one of those bloody Lollywood films which were just painful to watch. I found myself switching between melodramatic Urdu dramas and painfully stupid Urdu comedies. The audio entertainment was better, there were some Urdu Pop Music that wasnt too bad, along with some American ''muzak'' and a Qur'an recitation chanel for the more religiously inclined.


I must say that the meals on board PIA were one of the few things that I'm not going to complain about. Being Muslim, I really appreciated the fact that all meals served were Halal, something that many international airlines have yet to offer. Many of them, Lufthansa, Swiss, and Air India, to name a few, offer Muslim meals that contain no pork or alcohol, but still do not have ritually prepared meat, and are therefore, not Halal. The food on PIA was definately above average for airline food.


Flight Attendants on PIA were OK, they were not spectacular, nor were the rude or unprofessional. They got the job done, and they did what they were supposed to in a reasonably timely fashion. I found PIA to be reasonably prompt as flight from JFK to Karachi arrived about 5 minutes early, while my return flight arrived in New York about 20 minutes late, no big deal. Even though I'm not particularly religious, I did appreciate the fact the PIA does offer accomodations on board for those who wish to pray Namaaz on board, a nice touch for their mostly Muslim customer base.


Karachi's Quaid-E-Azam International Airport is a very clean and modern facility that was built very recently. I loved the east meets west architecture of the main terminal. At the same time, I was disgusted by the shameless corruption and bribery at the immigration and customs checkpoints. Although this is in no way PIA's fault, the customs officials at Karachi airport opened up my suitcase and treated themselves to the European chocolate I had bought at the duty free shops. When I started to say something, my mother said in a harsh whisper ''Jaane do beta, nahin to yeh loog bohut naaraz ho jainge'' (''Let it go, or these people will get angry'' in Urdu). I must say that stuff like this has never happened to me on arrival at New Delhi, though I have heard rumors about it occasionally happenening in Bombay...


Four words, ''PIA IS REALLY CHEAP''


PIA is probably worth taking, the service is OK, but since the tickets are so cheap you get more than what you pay for. In early December, Chicago-Karachi-Chicago on PIA costs about $1025 + tax, compared to about $1150 + tax on Swiss, and about $975 + tax on some cheap excuse for an airline like Kuwait Airways (see my review on it for more details). I personally wouldnt mind paying the extra price to fly on Swiss, but PIA is still a really good deal.

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