Dr Sania Chaudhry The national flag carrier of any country is the pride of the nation, but in Pakistan reality contradicts all norms of a normal society. International tourism was never developed in spite of a functional Ministry of Tourism, although it eats away a considerable chunk of taxpayers money every year. Only the elite travel abroad on holidays, preferably on airlines, which either provide a better service or offer a better package. The basic wage of Rs7,000 does not provide for the basic amenities (food, shelter, health and education) for an individual for the majority population of the country. In a country, where rising inflation is making it difficult to purchase bus tickets for the common mans daily transportation, how do we keep the aircrafts of our national airline airborne? PIA can thank Iqbal to start with for his Two Nation Theory. The status of Pakistan as an Islamic Republic at least ensures the airlines monopoly over Haj and Umrah passengers. If it was not for these pilgrims, the airline would have been grounded ages ago. The deplorable treatment given to the hajis every year is no hidden secret. The declining status of airborne and ground customer service does not deter the patriotic expatriates from flying PIA when visiting their home country. The convenience of direct routes such as London-Lahore, London-Islamabad and Manchester-Lahore, and Manchester-Islamabad is another enticing factor. Although the airline has maintained a monopoly of these routes all these years, it barely escaped losing control when the controversial Turkish alliance was abandoned following employee protests at a national scale. This leaves us with two further categories of passengers: businessmen and government functionaries. Traders rather prefer PIA because of a comparatively generous luggage allowance and the language advantage. Airfare and upgrade arrangements of government functionaries and official foreign tours are easy to arrange and manoeuvre between state departments than with foreign airlines. The domestic sector is under PIAs control with few routes being shared by private airlines. Sky high prices primarily due to inefficiency and mismanagement have prevented the sector from developing, as an intercity commuter service. Bus service has emerged as a transportation of choice for passengers unwilling to pay high airfares and who do not wish to use the almost dead Pakistan Railways. Our next door neighbour India has several domestic airlines competing on all major routes at competitive prices and an at least acceptable customer service. Flights from Amritsar to Delhi start around Pakistani Rs4,000 for a one hour and twenty-five minutes flight with 'buy one, get one free ticket offers, while Lahore to Islamabad flight starts around Rs4,700 for a 50-minute flight. Unfortunately, the dedication and commitment of passengers to fly PIA, which is the main reason for the airlines survival, has not been reciprocated by the airline and ground staff. The debate that the blue-eyed are appointed at key positions in major public sector service institutions continues on all important media forums, as the top officials of public sector organisations are handpicked for personal reasons by our political leaders. This has not only led to a failure to give direction and vision to our organisations for a better future, but has also opened new avenues of corruption unprecedented in the history of Pakistan. However, this does not absolve each individual employee of the airline of their specific responsibility, as the quality and value of services and facilities available to the nation is nosediving on a daily basis. The physical condition of aircrafts is as appalling as the cleanliness inside the cabin, although a high 38 percent of allowance is claimed for maintenance, as cited in an evening talk show. Passenger security is a joke, as a flight with cracked windscreen was allowed to take off on the Dubai-Karachi sector on October 12, according to a news published in a local newspaper. Ground staff and passengers climbing over the moving luggage belt to collect their luggage is a matter of routine after each international flight landing. Not a single staff on duty has any concerns for their safety. The only concern evident is to offer an efficient service to the protocol passengers. The passengers also have a responsibility to abide by the rules to be observed in airport lounges and on aircrafts. One section of the departures lounge is automatically converted into a smoking zone right next to No Smoking signs by passengers waiting to board their flights. The indifferent attitude of airport authorities is regrettable, as they fail to notice and take action against something they see everyday. Of the various airlines I have travelled on, PIA is the only airline to show a visual aid not to throw a variety of items into aircraft toilets, stand on seats or put luggage items on meal trays and yet blocked toilets and trays are common. Passengers start removing luggage as the plane taxis after landing, in spite of numerous announcements by the cabin crew to wait till the aircraft comes to a complete halt, but to no heed. Perhaps, with such habits it is a matter of mutual convenience for these passengers to fly PIA, as other international airlines do not tolerate such behaviour. We can play the blame game as long as we want: 64 years since the inception of Pakistan, but still no winner. One possible remedy to all our national ailments is to start abiding by the rules ourselves before we question others. n The writer is an ex-assistant commissioner Income Tax, IT/change management consultant and a public sector management analyst. Email: drsaniachaudhry@gmail.com