Strange but truly, I experience bouts of insanity after every few years with strong urge of patriotism leading me towards opting for a journey on our national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) or more precisely, Pathetic International Airlines. The cause of this insanity can also be attributed to feeling of extreme depression surrounding our daily lives, as things are crumbling around us, thus opting for a chance to perish in air with great people to “die with”.

As I checked in for a flight to Dubai, three hours before departure as per rules, the announcement of a one-hour delay was displayed on the screen without explaining any reason. I was prepared for this expected eventuality, hence opened a book to read with strangers passing by glancing at me for the sight of someone reading these days is as rare as government doing something productive for the masses. The reading continued for another two hours as the ground staff informed the passengers that the plane, which has to take them to their destination has not arrived so far and once it arrives, there will be “cleaning” and “technical checks” that are mandatory for “quality controls”.

Once this initial trauma of waiting finished, the passengers were led to the plane from the terminal on a bus that was stuffed with passengers, who could hardly breathe. Most likely, this bundling-up owes its roots to the austerity steps being implemented by the carrier to save additional fuel costs. A small inconvenience, in the broader spectrum of things, should not be a reason for complaining; I thought.

As I was entering the plane I saw an old lady wearing glasses, resembling my mother in age and health, looking extremely disturbed. In order to help her, I asked for her boarding card so that I can help her find her seat. This was met by a disgusting look as she almost snatched my boarding card and told me to move on. Reality struck me hard; she was one of the crew members. I never realised PIA gives so much respect and offers job opportunities to the senior citizens.

With so much improvement in electronics, the cost and size of portable DVD players with automatic disc selection options is not something that cannot be afforded. However to my surprise, one of the crew members was assigned the job to change the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) films with regular intervals. The first cassette he inserted related to the flight safety instructions. This was recorded around 10 years back when this 20-year-old second hand plane was bought. Then there were subsequent similar exercises of inserting new cassettes in the name of flight entertainment, which included first a 1960s talk show, Mickey Mouse cartoons, followed by wedding (mehndi) songs sung by a vocalist whose voice pitch can shake the ones lying down peacefully in their graves.

During the flight there was an interesting incident when a lady clad in burqa refused to sit with a male passenger for religious reasons. The crew desperately moved from one row to the other requesting passengers to exchange their seats. Finally, she was given a seat next to a lady just behind my seat. The rest of the journey was enlightenment lecture on morality, virtues and sagacity by the lady, while bumping into my seat with regular intervals. Could not complain, fearing blasphemous consequences.

As a habit, I avoid talking to the next seated passengers, considering it invasion of someone’s privacy. However the sight of a foreigner, American lady, with teary eyes made me break my habit and asked her if everything is right. To which she replied that she has not yet visited the worst airport in the world named Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Philippines, but out of all the countries she has travelled, she has found Islamabad International Airport as the worst. The reason of her teary eyes dawned much later when she briefly narrated the security check at the airport by a female officer, which sounded more like a wedding night encounter.

There was a consistent smell throughout the journey in the plane, which was aggravated when mixed with the food served. Despite a lapse of many days, I am still to recover from the fallouts of the “fresh” and “healthy” food served.

Now that many reputed international airports have banned the entry of PIA planes on their landing strips fearing the falling of parts on the runway, which can be fatal for the other carriers, it’s about time for our government to put an end to this parasitic institution. The final nail in the coffin of PIA came with an investigative report sometime back that the pilots flying the planes carried fake degrees. How much insensitive can someone be to risk thousands of life at the mercy of fake pilots. If we can do away with most of our Railways; why then PIA should be an exception. Let’s put an end to the already dead airline, instead of waiting for any major disaster.

The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight Magazine. He has authored two books titled Understanding Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers. Email: drirfanzafar@gmail.com   Blog: drirfanzafar.com