The super constellation landed majestically and taxied to its allotted place close to the terminal – the Pakistan International Airlines flight from Dacca (East Pakistan) had arrived with my father on board. I stood along with my mother and siblings in the hedge-lined walkway next to the tarmac. There were no fences nor gun toting security men, no scanners nor barriers stopping passengers from meeting their loved ones. This was Walton Airport Lahore in the early 1950s and our national carrier was truly living up to its tag line.

Six decades later, I sat in the Business Class seat of a Boeing 777 from Islamabad to Karachi, waiting for the journey to begin. As the plane took off, I looked around to find stained and grimy seats, faded and unreadable labelling on seat controls and a defective video console. The food was served by a stewardess with the severe looks of a ‘sergeant major’ and the menu itself was nothing to write home about. I fell into a reverie to find myself once again inside a ‘super connie’ (as the triple finned airplane was lovingly referred to) flying to join my father for a few days in the beautiful land, now known as Bangladesh.

The interior of the ‘ship’ was neat and fragrantly fresh. The cabin crew in their green and white uniforms wore friendly smiles and appeared to have ample time for each individual passenger. The Captain appeared from the flight deck and went around shaking hands and chatting, leaving a lasting impression of warmth and comfort. The inflight meal was delicious, but the ‘icing on the cake’ was the handful of candy given to us as we rolled to a stop at our destination.

A significant impression from this trip was that passengers behaved in a dignified manner and interacted with utmost courtesy with the cabin crew. I would never have recalled this particular memory, had not an unsavory incident occurred during a flight from Dubai to Karachi somewhere in the 1990s. As the airplane began cruising after take-off, the foreign cabin crew began serving food. Sitting somewhere upfront, I heard a stewardess’s voice from the rear end repeatedly saying, “Don’t do this please”. A few seconds later, we all heard the sharp sound of a slap followed by a short muted argument. It turned out that the passenger manifest on this particular flight consisted of a very large number of our very own blue collared workers going home to spend Eid with their families in Karachi and beyond. As the food trolley reached one group, they pounced upon the packaged servings in a manner similar to the behavior we see at wedding banquets. The flight attendant did her best to stop the ‘stampede’, but having failed, resorted to slapping the hand of one ‘intruder’. What followed was an argument forcing the purser to come to the distraught girl’s rescue.

Whenever we talk about courtesy, I am reminded of two amazing experiences. The first was, while flying a celebrated European Airline on the short hop from St. Petersburg to Amsterdam. As I boarded the airplane, I was pleasantly surprised at being welcomed aboard by name. I disembarked at Schiphol Airport deeply impressed by the service. In the second instance, while travelling from Zurich to Dubai, we entered bad weather and turbulence to match it. The ordeal lasted for about five minutes, but as we came out into bright sunlight, we were served with generous dollops of ice cream. I gave full marks to the purser, who must have been keeping a keen eye on every passenger, because she walked up to me with a second helping saying that I deserved extra sugar considering that I was more scared than any other passenger.

Once while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, I fell into conversation with a fellow passenger. One thing led to another until the gentleman began recounting how, just days ago, the airline had suffered a disaster when the captain handed over controls to his teenage son. I spent the remaining part of the flight reciting every prayer that I knew.

As a Pakistani, I was once proud of our airline, but political overstaffing, corruption and inefficiency has taken a toll of what used to be a proud and great institution living up to its slogan of ‘Great People to Fly With’.