It should be an understood rule of airline management that leaving customers stranded for four hours in favour of a safari ride for VIP passengers would not be a wise business move, and would naturally invoke outrage. Unfortunately, it seems that PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) missed that class on professional conduct, as the airline management got into trouble yesterday by angered passengers at the Skardu Airport.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Director General and his Personal Staff Officer (PSO) Aftab Gillani received an unusual greeting by some PIA passengers who treated them with embarrassing sentences of ‘shame on you’ at the Skardu airport. The anger was due to PIA sacrificing customers’ rights to favour CAA officials with an ‘air safari’, subjecting the passengers of a Skardu-Islamabad flight to a four hour delay at Skardu airport. Allegedly the passengers were subject to humiliating treatment at the airport as their flight was delayed in order to take VIP customers from Islamabad on a heavenly air safari comprising the K2, Nanga Parbat and other mountain peaks.

Putting aside the bizarre aspect of inconveniencing passengers for four hours in order to treat VIP customers to a scenic safari, this constitutes as an enormous misuse of government property and misallocation of funds. Inefficiency is further highlighted by the fact that there was no proper accountability taken by the CAA or PIA, as both Director CAA and CEO PIA pointed fingers at each other.

For an organisation like PIA, the national flag carrier of Pakistan, such a mistake is fatal for reputation and business internationally. PIA might lobby ardently against its privatisation, but blunders like these showcasing its unprofessionalism and inefficiency greatly weaken the airline management’s case. The scenic safari program started by PIA is a good idea to revamp its business but not at the cost of inconveniencing local passengers.

Misconduct aside, this behaviour by one of Pakistan’s largest representatives is a sad reflection of how alive and breathing VIP behaviour in our country is. Karachi activist Jibran Nasir first drew media attention to it when he was mishandled because of it and now this incident by PIA reinforces just how mainstream the VIP phenomenon is in our largest institutions. PIA and CAA should not only apologise and take action against those responsible, but also actively start fighting back against normalised VIP discrimination prevalent in their everyday functioning.