LAHORE - If you get a chance to visit PIA website, first thing you will encounter is a message from PIA, “Dear valued PIA ‘travellers’, in order to ‘provide you a better service’, we are switching to a new modern system after 17 years. We are expecting a smooth transition. However, if there are any problems ‘effecting’ your travel, please contact our hotline. Any inconvenience is ‘regreted’.”

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If one looks at the above message carefully, there are three spelling mistakes (traveler, effecting & regreted). The message also missed the word ‘to’ after ‘provide’ or ‘with’ before a better service. It took PIA 17 years to change a reservation system and now when it is changed, passengers, travel agents and even PIA staffers are in a fix.

A travel agent, mentioning the problems, said website is not displaying booking information, information about schedule of flights is not available on old system and the new system is displaying false availability, i.e. if the staff tries to confirm an available seat, the system gives it a waitlist and not confirmed seats. The webiste is crashing at regular intervals.

The website operation is very slow; the agents cannot book on the new system; PNRs are being developed on Travelport/Gellaleo (another reservation system); CRC is unable to overbook flights; PHS is issuing manual boarding cards due to unavailability of the new system; stations abroad are having problems even in affixing signatures in the new system; The webpage on HITIT are functioning very slow and long queues are seen at passenger counters.

Sabre reservation system (licensed and managed by a US-based company) was working as a backbone for PIA Marketing & Operations departments. All activities related to passengers’ booking, seat reservation, allocation, boarding cards issuance, baggage tagging, booking with other airlines etc. was being undertaken through Sabre system for the last 17 years.

However, the new management of PIA under CEO Musharraf Rasool Cyan (who is recently sent home unceremoniously by the Supreme Court of Pakistan) decided to abandon the Sabre system and replace it with a new system called HITIT owned and managed by a company based in Turkey).

If a comparison is to be made between Sabre and HITIT, a prominent difference will be found as the Sabre system is in use by over 100 five star airlines around the world whereas HITIT is used by only a couple of airlines, now including PIA. The Sabre system is connected to fibre-optic and is linked through satellite for backup purposes in case of emergency or the system shuts down abruptly.

As far as HITITt is concerned, it is a web-based module which entirely depends on its servers having no satellite connectivity or backup. Being linked with over 100 airlines around the world, Sabre system enables PIA to book its passengers on other airlines on the sectors where PIA does not operate.

HITIT could not provide this facility as it is not linked with any noteworthy airline, even its fellow country’s national flag carrier, Turkish airline, is not using HITIT.

Preparations for migration from Sabre to HITIT had been underway for last one year and the first hour of the day (Wednesday) was ascertained as the cut-off time. As soon as the clock stroke 1:00 Wednesday morning, the migration took place from Sabre to HITIT. This strike was the beginning of a crisis for PIA, its business partners and passengers.

The staff is not properly trained to use the new system and where the staff was trained, the system was not supporting to carry out the operations resulting in manual boarding which created a mess at early hours of this morning on various PIA flights.

The HITIT system is very slow, being web-based, and has crashed several times during the day when all PIA staff logged on the system, demonstrating its inability to carry the load of multiple users.

In addition to this, the system was hanging every now and then, not showing seat availability and not issuing tickets etc. commonly for PIA staff and its travel agents around the world.

The most horrific state of affairs is that the system is not compatible with the financial reporting system of the PIA. All transactions carried out Wednesday were not reported automatically, which could trigger an accounting fiasco in the days to come. Only one agent in Karachi issued tickets worth Rs 15 million with no financial reporting. It is learnt that the accounting of these transactions will be carried out manually on a later date.

The PIA has yet to announce the reasons or benefits of migration from Sabre to HITIT. Apart from Musharraf Rasool and Chief Commercial Officer Bilal Munir Sheikh (with experience in telecommunication), Chief System Officer Kashif Rana does not even hold a degree of information technology.

The above-mentioned officers were appointed on the wish of former adviser to PM on Aviation Sardar Mehtab Abbasi in ex-premier Nawaz Sharif’s tenure. It is expected the new government will soon appoint a full-time CEO of PIA, whose first task will be to investigate the migration from Sabre to HITIT, which took place bypassing corporate procurement policies and the PPRA rules.

When contacted, spokesman for PIA Mashhud Tajwar admitted there were spelling and other mistakes which were being corrected. He thanked this scribe for pointing out the mistakes and said that mistakes at this level are not a good thing.

Overall problems being faced by travellers, PIA staff and travel agents are temporary, and would be addressed in a day or so, he added.