LAHORE Keeping with its tradition, the management of PIA made it sure the pilgrims returning after performing Umrah in the holy month of Ramazan get the biggest possible trouble. Moreover, they did every thing to do nothing as long as possible to bail out the pilgrims, who were left stranded at the Jeddah airport, though they had paid high fares to the national carrier for this (dis)-service. Taking a lesson from the PIA, even the Saudi airlines grossly mistreated Pakistani pilgrims this year. Over 132 Pakistanis were offloaded after they had checked in at Jeddah Airport and left helpless for more than 6 days, and without any food, water or hotel accommodation for more than 4 days. For the PIA, it has not happened for the first time. Every year on the occasion of Haj and Umrah in Shaban and Ramazan, pilgrims have to pay a heavy price (not in monetary terms alone) for flying with the PIA, said a senior officer of the airline on Saturday. A routine cover up enquiry is being ordered this time again, as was done last year, with no hopes of any accountability, he added. With 90% of these pilgrims coming from upcountry in Punjab, KP and Azad Kashmir, the agony of delays becomes more unbearable when these poor souls are made to return to Karachi with delays ranging from 8 to 36 hours, where having missed their planned connecting flights, they have to slog it out at the mercy of PIA and other local airlines to provide them the next connection, which means another 12 to 16 hours of waiting. PK 7444 from Madina arrived after a delay of over 20 hours, so did PK 7422, while Pk7204 and Pk7322 are to arrive with delays because they have departed from Karachi with a delay of over 8 to 16 hours. However, when contacted PIA spokesman Mr Tajwar said PIAs one flight was delayed and all other passengers stranded at Jeddah airport were supposed to be transported to Pakistan by Saudi Airlines. He said that operation was disturbed due to the slot allocation at Jeddah airport. Sources claimed that PIA has been operating Umra and Haj flights for more than 45 years and the peak Umra season starts a month before Ramzan and finishes after end of Ramzan every year. Although this is being termed by PIA as an unscheduled operation, the fact is that this is a regular annual event. Slot allocation and reservation of parking space and check-in counters at the Haj Terminal in Jeddah are made on first come first serve basis. Delays in any flight need to be coordinated with Saudi Haj Director Operations. These unfortunate pilgrims pay to PIA and Saudia Airlines, both of whom have formed a cartel, charging them the highest fare per revenue kilometer on their international network but providing the worst service. This is a nexus between the corrupt staff of airlines, tour operators, travel agents and the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs, all of them getting a pie of the cake, which is getting bigger every year, and hence the repeated silence every year with the routine investigations ordered and no improvements taking place. PIA having disbanded its Flight Dispatch section, which every other airline of repute maintains to coordinate their flight operations for delays, due operational, weather and technical reasons, ends up posting their staff on recommendations, which further complicates the matter. Delays in few flights and poor coordination start a chain reaction. The problem starts with the planning of these schedules by PIA Marketing which has a separate division headed by a GM for Haj & Umra operation. This is a revenue generating operation, which has been tormented by the greed of tour operators and staff of Haj Directorate posted at Jeddah and Madina, who are supposed to make arrangements for boarding and lodging of pilgrims, The profit margins made by tour operators are so high that most of them have purchased shares of expensive hotels in Mecca and Madina. Even Saudi Airlines have neglected Pak pilgrims this year. Over 132 confirmed ticket holders scheduled to arrive on 28 August, were offloaded after they had checked in at Jeddah Airport and left at the mercy of Almighty Allah for more than 6 days without any food, water or hotel accommodation for more than 4 days, till such time that the media took up the matter.