Air travel: Royal treatment only if you are not Pakistani

Published: October 25, 2013
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Upon entering the Arrivals lounge, the long queues and slow pace often results in queue-jumping and scuffles. PHOTO: AFP

I have realised of late that flying is no longer as enjoyable as it used to be, especially transit travel or stop-over flights. This realisation hit me recently when I travelled from London to Islamabad and had a stop-over in Dubai. The journey began well with the flight from London to Dubai well-equipped with the latest gadgets and gizmos; the air hostesses were polite and smiling; and there was a general aura of comfort and relaxation.

However, this comfort did not last long and there was a world of difference in the connecting flight from Dubai to Islamabad. The plane itself was like something that had just taxied out of the 80s, while the air hostesses’ were cold, unwelcoming and downright rude. I was appalled to see them snubbing passengers and even yelling at those who had difficulty understanding English.

The question is why do Pakistanis get treated like third-class citizens while foreign passengers are given the royal treatment?

Sadly, a lot may have to do with how we behave ourselves.

In my travelling experience, I have seen that many Pakistani passengers lack basic plane etiquette. You can see this lack of awareness from the moment the call to board is announced – there is such an unbelievable frenzy that it seems as if the passengers are afraid that the plane will leave without then. Only once boarding is complete and the overhead bays are filled to the brim with hand luggage of all shapes and sizes – ranging from regular bags to rolled-up comforters and food containers – that passengers relax into their seats.

However, the concept of plane safety is simply lost on our country’s men and women. I have personally witnessed passengers get up to use the toilet or take something out of the overhead compartment while the plane is still taking off! Basic travel sense dictates that the most dangerous time during a flight is at the point of take-off and landing. Yet, countless times I have seen air hostesses’ screaming at the top of their lungs to make passengers sit down, but their plea usually falls on deaf ears.

After this battle of the crew and passengers, the next drama ensues over the toilet.

I have been traumatised more than once by walking in on someone whilst they are sitting on the toilet simply because they didn’t know how to lock the door properly!

However, all hell breaks loose the minute the wheels hit the tarmac. While the plane is still taxiing, one can hear a sea of seatbelts being unlocked, followed by a human stampede as passengers scramble to unload their overhead luggage and run for dear life. Watching from a distance, sitting comfortably in my seat for the queue to thin, I sadly see an almost animal sense of urgency – an urgency so intense that people almost climb over each other to get out of a very small exit. As expected, the air hostesses are too exhausted to muster a goodbye or even fake a smile by this time.

Unfortunately, the trauma is not over once you disembark. Upon entering the Arrivals lounge, the long queues and slow pace often results in queue-jumping and scuffles. Passengers travelling from far and wide to visit loved ones, attend events or even conduct business are already exhausted from the uncomfortable travel and these delays don’t help at all. Needless to say, such an experience puts a damper on the much-awaited arrival in Pakistan.

After all, first impressions always leave an everlasting imprint, especially for those making the trip for the first time; therefore, it is vital for airport authorities to deal with passengers expediently and courteously.

Passengers are now pinning their hopes on the new Islamabad airport and praying that it will help alleviate these problems. In the meantime, we can only hope that our behaviour on planes will change to pave the way for more comfortable flights, happy passengers and smiling air hostesses’.

Hopefully, some God sent angel will decide to make aircraft etiquette classes mandatory in Pakistan too.

Do you think Pakistanis lack basic travel etiquette?

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Faiza Iqbal

Faiza Iqbal

A law graduate from King's College, London Nottingham Law School. Having worked at Mandviwalla & Zafar as an Associate, she now writes freelance articles and is trying to qualify as a barrister in Canada.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Lonely Ranger

    “The question is why do Pakistanis get treated like third-class citizens while foreign passengers are given the royal treatment?”

    OMG, I thought I was the only one who noticed Arab racism against Pakistani with regards to air travel.Recommend

  • Zombie

    Yes, Pakistani are usually not the most ideal travellers, taking little account of others in the public space.Recommend

  • Zoya

    Stop whining!!!Recommend

  • Abas Rizve

    The moral of the your story is that always travel in Business classRecommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    Majority of Pakistanis who work in middle east are illiterate and untrained. Many are flying first time, therefore we should tolerate their behaviour. Frequent travelers should help them in their learning process.Recommend

  • Hassan

    I tend to agree as well. I’ve travelled from UAE to several places including UK and US and there’s so much calm and peace during the whole pre-boarding, boarding and plane embarking session. The higher class members, ladies and children followed by the rest of the plane by seat numbers. However on flights to Pakistan (I travel to Karachi) it’s the complete opposite. No sooner has the boarding for the plane been announced that an excuse of a line is already formed. And the sad thing is it’s not just on domestic carriers such as PIA, airblue but even with airlines like Emirates. We’re making a fool of ourselves in front of other people and times like these, it’s so embarrassing to be a Pakistani. Don’t get me wrong, I love my green passport and luckily it’s never gotten me into any sort of undue subjection abroad but the Pakistani people on the other hand. Ah well, it’s a long term solution which begins and ends with education.Recommend

  • Sodomite

    You are absolutely correct. Regrettably there is no hope and God is unlikely to dispense an Angel. If I may add that once you arrive, right at the ramp one sees flunkies with Name Signs for passengers to be expeditiously processed without completion of FIA Immigration procedure. Everyone sees this, especially foreigners chuckling under their breadth.Recommend

  • chor

    you missed a point of freeee alchohol.Recommend

  • Jimmy Ray

    lol Pakis have a looooooooooong way to go to becoming a civilized nationRecommend

  • BlackJack

    I am glad that this particular blog has connected the rudeness of airline staff to passenger behavior and not to a Pakistani-specific problem like terrorism etc. I have been in flights from all sorts of destinations to several airports in India, and the flights where Indians receive the worst treatment leave from Middle Eastern airports, and a limited number of flights are from SE Asia to select airports in India. The ME passenger crowd contains a large proportion of blue-collar workers, and airline staff have been told to be firm with them, and this demeanor extends to other passengers – since most people are dressed similarly and look no different. On the other hand, some late-night flights from Bangkok/ KL are full of Indian tourists looking to enjoy the last moments of their organized tour as they go back home, and alcohol consumption is pursued as a goal in itself – this trend also has an impact on the politeness and responsiveness of the airline staff, even though they are never as rude as the ones from the ME.Recommend

  • IndiaFirst

    Lack of airplane etiquette is not just restricted to Pakitanis, but we Indians too.since I am frequent traveller within india and abroad, I am aghast at behaviour of not just non-English speaking, but also educated , suited booted class. These so-called progressive class have no respect to announcements on switching off electronic devices, wearing seat belts, putting seat back upright etc. there appears to some sort of arrogance I this breed, which makes them to defy simple safety instructions. Guess, this comes from our apathy towards rules, safety in our daily lives.at drop of hat, we would bend or work around rules for our personal benefit or simple stupidity. Recommend

  • Patrick Bateman

    Don’t worry Faiza, pretty soon you will get accustomed to this like everybody else does…or perhaps you will be able to educated them like some do. If you’ve had the opportunity to travel between regional hubs on many international airlines you will see similar things.

    No doubt air travel is a huge undertaking (and in many cases an adventure) for people who have to travel one day or more from their villages (where they might not have commodes with electronic flushing mechanism) on donkey carts and buses to come to a metropolitan city. The air staff do their part and you can too. I am sure in one generations time you will see a difference, just like people have got accustomed to other things.Recommend

  • Asif

    Kindly use a better title the next time. This title shows as if the Airline is mistreating the Pakistani passengers when it is we ourselves are to blame for everything!!Recommend

  • uansari1

    I agree with each of your points, but you forgot to mention the myriad passengers still talking on their mobile phone during takeoff and then calling their friends/family while taxiing to the gate (I’ve even gone so far as to demand that the passenger turn off their phone, lest I do it for them). Frankly, I feel sympathetic to the flight attendants and have at times apologized for the ignorance displayed by my fellow passengers, generally resulting in appreciate smiles. We Pakistanis have only ourselves to blame for the way we are treated by various airlines.Recommend

  • Confusing

    Confused article. The content seems to justify poor treatment of Pakistanis due their own poor behavior whereas the headline questions poor treatment of Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    Your experience is not unique, I myself have had my fair share of Travel Horror Stories flying to and from Pakistan. Annoyances begin even before you get on the plane thanks to the airline who thought it was a good idea to play around with your online pre-reserved seat without your permission in order to accommodate a nagging family that wished to sit together. Happened to me on multiple occasions flying out of Jinnah Airport, Karachi.Recommend

  • Naveed Hassan

    This is such a pathetic little article.

    Either the writer is new to traveling.. Or new to the concept of it, I don’t know. But what she fails to mention is the airlines throughout the article which is just immature and a rookie mistake. It’s like riding a bad car and saying that you had a bad experience because you are a Pakistani. You had it because it was a crappy car. It’s not that hard to reason

    PIA is legendary for having slightly rude staff but okay plane quality. Etihad and Emirates have excellent staff and slightly better plane conditions. I don’t know how she has managed to tie apples and oranges together to try and make a case for shoe polish.Recommend

  • Pappu

    I had to travel from Dubai to New York on Qatar airways via Doha. Doha to New York flight was full of transiting Indians (mostly american passports). No offense, but that was my worst experience. Indians are far behind in hygiene and cleanliness when compared to Pakistani travelers.Recommend

  • just_sham

    Agreed with the author but my point is how can you expect such etiquette from people who have never traveled by air in their entire life before? Most of the people travelling from Pakistan to other countries are travelling for the first time, or may be a couple of times before. They have traveled all their lives in third class bus services then suddenly they get a visa of somewhere and jump into the plane.

    How many people use domestic flights in Pakistan? We should look at the percentage. I’m not an expert with numbers of these kind but i can assure you it would be less than 5%.

    Agreed that people don’t know how to lock the door, only reason is, they have never used the airplane washroom before.

    Poverty and etiquette cannot live in one place. If people of Pakistan would have enough resources to often travel by air they would know all the etiquette.

    – Ahtsham Iqbal Alvi
    (Graduated in Computer Sciences from GC University, Lahore, PK. Currently doing MS Project Management and also working as Design Executive in a multinational company.)Recommend

  • tadetlugnt

    If such things happen, usually media take some measures to teach people.Recommend

  • Dajjal

    Airlines shuttling Pakistani around should not use air hostesses or have any polite people tending to them, All flights coming to/ going from Pakistan should have Riot Police equipped with stun guns/ tasers, Pepper Spray, tear gas and batons.. just to keep the animals in line… they have absolutely no manners or common sense, decency or any form of intellect… Pakistanis should be categorized as the worst form of Homo sapiens.Recommend

  • Muhammad

    You can’t generalize the travel. Recently, while flying back from Karachi to Copenhagen, the flight from Karachi was very good, with new plane gadgets and the good things Emirates is known for. However, the onward Dubai Copenhagen flight was 180 degree opposite with old plane and poor in-flight entertainment etc.

    Similarly, earlier flight from Copenhagen to Dubai was a perfect one but from Dubai to Riyadh was not so good.

    I think we are more sensitive about our image and perception.Recommend

  • Saad

    Just because the author here was lucky enough to be educated about airline etiquette doesn’t mean the rest of our countrymen share the same education and were equally lucky. Don’t be a snob.

    This is a redundant article, describing behavior without exploring the root cause behind it. And if the author really does have the need to write a few words on an issue, she should at least highlight a few solutions to the problem.Recommend

  • water bottle

    I disagree with you partially.

    You see such behavior mostly in the flights that travel between North Indian cities and the middle-eastern cities.

    Usually, most other flights are calm.

    Even Dubai to South Indian flights are calmer, though I have seen a couple of bad incidences.

    But flights between Dubai/Jeddah/Sharjah/Abu Dhabi/Manama/Muscat and Mumbai/Delhi/Hyderabad/Kolkota/Ahmedabad etc are the worst.

    You can guess why.Recommend

  • Asad A.

    You missed the part where cellphones won’t be switched off until the last cell tower is feeding signals to the all important Pakistani on his way to conquer the world. Also, on all international flights, uneasy air hostesses avoid Pakistani infested isles, because they’ve had way too much alcohol but boy wonder insists on having another.Recommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    So you are really civilized calling an entire nation by a racial slur Paki? Don’t try this in front of people otherwise this will lead to some rather nasty results.Recommend

  • Zoeb Ali

    This, whatever it is called, only a piece of racist mentality.Recommend

  • KhanGul

    I have travelled around 20-25 times over the past 10 years between europe and pakistan. From my experience, our flying ettiquette has improved very much if compared over time. As a result, airlines like emirates have more better aircraft to Pakistan destinations than some European destinations. I dread travelling on Saudi Airlines. Previously they had good services to Europe but now even their European services are bad.Recommend

  • raj

    Oh this is all so true esp when i traveled once with PIA.. Oh my god, Pakistani people are becoming restless and less patient than everRecommend

  • Sabrinaa

    My experience from London to Islamabad via Dubai was not to bad. Yes
    you are enveloped with the chaotic Pakistani etiquette; however my flight from Dubai to Islamabad was handled well by the cabin staff. They were very patient with the travelers, particularly the ones who insisted on changing seats so they could sit with
    other males or females. I had to endure a cramped 3 hours flight due to the lady
    next to me and her over bulging bags under her and mine leg room.

    The worst part of this journey was Islamabadairport. Never have I had to experience mass chaos and pushing and shoving in the immigration line, not even at pre school. The airport is ill equipped and an embarrassment for the ‘Capital’ of Pakistan. This needs to be changed.Recommend

  • Yasmin

    I agree we should be more sympathetic towards new travellers,however bad etiquettes have nothing to do with lack of education when you have every flight starting with information on how to tie your seatbelt and not to use mobiles during take off and landing in several languages. If Pakistani people wanted better or fairer treatment they should demand it and expect it,till then, we will only get what we deserve.
    The airlines should also stop showing bais by saving their new liners for western countries,instead they should focus on providing a clean,comfortable,safe and friendly enviornment to travellers from a developing nation aswell.Recommend

  • Khan

    I travel the same sectors as yourself and pay the market rate so why should we receive a sub standard service?Recommend

  • raj

    the manners comes from your own backyard. the question that someone would get etiquettes of how to sit in a plane by actually going by a plane is absurd. Education brings those manners and you got to believe that pak people are restless these daysRecommend

  • raj

    you are missing the point here just because you are pakistani and aren’t liking what is truth. I tell you. the point of the article is all the planes or flights that do come to pakistan either from UK, USA, or anywhere else are old and regrettable just because of the manner in which pak people come up with and the air plane companies do not want their new air crafts to be broken into pieces (esp seats, covers etc etc) and therefore, all the old air crafts are destined towards pakistan. now you believe it or not, it is true. you might be lucky to have a good experience few times, but mostly it is nonsense. the only point that is total generalization in the article is the use of word “air line”. rather PIA should have been used.Recommend

  • Globe Trotter

    Pappu, I am Frequent flyer on Qatar airways to USA and agree bit of what you. Those Indians and their wailing offsprings, and the stinky diapers. God nightmare. and all those business executives hunting like hawks to change their seats to a better one or with an empty adjacent ones even before the flight door closes. Getting drunk with the free booze in the first 2 hours of the long flights and they tripping all over. Yikes aweful.Recommend

  • Bangalorean

    I don’t agree with you at all.

    I always pay extra and book via Europe rather than having a stop-over in the Gulf.

    I have never faced a problem in even one of my flights, even when I traveled Air India. This article is news to me, however it validates my reasoning why in my 20+ years of air-travel I chose not once to travel via the ME.Recommend

  • Insaan

    Washing your limbs 5 times a day can’t wash impurities in your heart. You can’t make a generalize statement about a plane load of Indians. How come you don’t travel by PIA, where you can be with “pure” people?Recommend

  • Dante

    Please, leave the Pakistanis alone. The majority are not as educated as you are, so they’ve never been taught any “air-travel” etiquette. Learn to forgive and forget, and stop hating on all of us. You’re free to mingle with the western people who do happen to have a lot of etiquette.Recommend

  • Syme

    Alcohol is on the menu and don’t fret if someone want to have a beer or wine in the plane.Recommend

  • Amir

    Travelling on UAE airlines, the moment the plane takes off, I have seen people light up cigarettes, I have seen our political/government officials act as if they owned the airlines (before takeoff), and once they land at Dubai, just like us; off course let’s not forget free alcohol, drank as if it is heaven’s nectar; ogling the western air hostesses as if they just walked out of a blue movie; non-sense of personal hygiene, picking nose spitting a norm; communication gap – so who can blame them?Recommend

  • MadamPlease

    A friend of mine is a cabin crew for Etihad. She’s from a European country and is a fair person, and I know her to not be racially prejudiced at all. So when she said she had a horrible time on a flight, I can believe her. Which flights had the worst passengers? Dhaka, Mumbai, and Lahore. She dreads them and says the passengers are horribly rude and lack basic etiquette (use of toilet, screaming, and forget every saying ‘please’). On my last flight to Karachi to Dubai, people were refusing to sit on their assigned seats! The poor cabin crew gave up trying to talk sense to the passengers!Recommend

  • Omair

    Haha I agree!Recommend

  • Muhammad Saim

    I disagree with the generalization here, and kind of a disappointment that it is coming from a Kings College Grad. I am a frequent traveler on Khi-Mid east route and have travelled to Europe as well. It is quite true that on Khi-Mid east sector most passengers (and most of them are laborers and technicians) behave in an inappropriate way but singling them out is not right apart from Indian and Bangladeshi travelers even the Europeans and Americans behave inappropriate, may be to a lesser degree than us. You see as much chaos in Heathrow baggage claim belts and immigration counters as you face at Karachi. As of planes, its simple, long haul flights are always done by bigger and latest (fuel economy) planes, on shorter routes (< 4 hrs) small planes and more frequent trips are more profitable that's why they operate this way, remember business and profitability has no religion, no race no gender. All Airlines operate for profits and they set their flights operation in most optimum way. Also remember, Emirates, Oman Air ways, Qatar Air Ways, and other Mideast operators make huge profits on Pakistan/India/Bangladesh routes due to heavy loads so these sectors are on their priority any ways. And unlike us Pakistani, Europeans always prefer travel in their national carriers without considering other factors so Emirates may not be a choice for Britain's on Dubai – London route, and mostly you will see Asian passengers on Emirate's flights to Europe and America. So there is no point in assuming that flights are biased too. It's just inferiority complex that is penned in this blog.Recommend

  • Jimmy Ray

    i love this logic – “we are disgusting, but as long as we’re less disgusting than Indians, it’s OK.”Recommend

  • Jimmy Ray

    its not a slur, its a fact.Recommend

  • Jimmy Ray

    we pakis hate following rules..from airline travel to traffic signals..Recommend

  • Jimmy Ray

    stop deleting my comments ET.Recommend

  • Jimmy Ray

    amen to that broRecommend

  • cloud9

    Hate it when the cabin crew tells you to switch off your phones and iPads even after you have turned ON the flight or Airplane mode.Recommend

  • Nawazish Ali

    and how do you expect frequent travellers to help? It does not say on their foreheads if they are first time flyers. And even if a frequent traveller was able to help in some way there is no saying that the person would learn for the future.Recommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    Didn’t you know that as someone who doesn’t live in our beloved country, you aren’t allowed to criticize the true loyal resident native Pakistanis? Instead an article should have been written by one of those model Pakistani travelers complaining about why they are not allowed to detach their seat belts, scramble for their overhead luggage and disembark from the moving plane as soon as its tires hit the runway.Recommend

  • Insaan

    I think in UK calling one Paki is considered an Insult. Many people living in India or Pakistan may not be aware of thisRecommend

  • Sane

    Be in Pakistan and tell people Paki here. Next moment you will see how ‘polite’ we ‘Pakis’ are. Commenting on blog is very easy. Ask your forefathers, civilization your learned from us.Recommend