Why I will never travel by Shaheen International Airline ever again

Published: June 3, 2016

On my trips to Africa, I usually travel by Emirates or other airlines that are affiliated with the gulf countries. PHOTO: www.planespotters.net

I’m a very patriotic Pakistani; I love my country. I was born and raised here. Its fruits have satiated my hunger. Its water has quenched my thirst. I love its people, its cities and its weather. There’s nothing I hate about my country.

But sadly, I say with a contrite heart, it’s not perfect. I experienced one of these imperfections in a very recent journey of mine to Kenya, which left an indelible scar on my heart and mind.

On my trips to Africa, I usually travel by Emirates or other airlines that are affiliated with the gulf countries. Since there are no direct flights to Africa from Pakistan, I take a connecting flight that stops over in Dubai. It’s quite surprising, yet lucky for us Pakistanis that Kenya is one of those few countries that offer us visas on arrival, so all we really need to do is buy a ticket to Kenya and that’s about it.

Due to a few predicaments, I couldn’t book my flight on my usual airline. For that reason, I had to take a flight on Shaheen Air International, thinking to myself,

“What could go wrong?”

And boy was I in for a surprise.

I reached the airport on time and headed straight towards the check-in counter. I handed my ticket over to the agent. She looked at my ticket and asked me for my visa. I told her that Pakistanis are issued visas upon arrival in Kenya. Then she asked for my Dubai visa. I told her that I would be in transit at Dubai and would not be disembarking.

She looked at me with an oblivious and dumbfounded expression and told me that a transit visa is a requisite for my trip and she would not issue me a boarding pass until I showed them a Dubai visa. I told her that I’ve travelled many times before without needing any sort of visa. But this was all in vain. She then consulted the seniors that were present. They came and bluntly stated that I couldn’t travel on Shaheen without the required visa. I was infuriated by this crass logic and ludicrous reasoning for denying me my boarding card; visas are only required for places where a traveller plans on disembarking.

After my failed attempts to convince the Shaheen airline’s staff, I tried my luck with the immigration officers. They confirmed that no visa was required from me. This fuelled my anger even more. I headed back to the counter and told the staff about this development; they were still totally apathetic and indifferent! They continued to reiterate the same stance over and over again, but this time the reason had evolved from the missing “transit visa” to “management issues” regarding my luggage.

What issues, you ask?

Basically, they meant that they would not issue me a boarding pass because Shaheen Air has no agreement with the other airline, so they wouldn’t be able to transfer my luggage for the connecting flight to Kenya from Dubai.

I was appalled at all this hogwash and criticised the now uncouth and insensible staff members about their ineptitude. After two hours of non-stop arguing (just a few minutes before the final boarding call), my repetitive pleading had finally paid off. They made an effort and called their staff in Dubai and spoke to them about my predicament. The whole issue was resolved within 15 minutes and I was relieved to finally be issued my boarding pass after two hours of unnecessary heated arguments and illogical nerve racking discussions. I was assured that my luggage would be handled by their staff at the Dubai airport.

I hurriedly made my way through immigration and ensconced myself in my seat before I allowed myself to relax and breathe.

Yet, the final surprise, or you can say the ‘cherry on the cake’, still awaited me at the Dubai airport. Once I arrived, there was no one from their staff present. I approached the airport staff and inquired about my luggage. That is when I found out that the real reason behind Shaheen Airline’s refusal to give me my boarding pass wasn’t due to a missing transit visa. Neither was it the logistics of managing my luggage. The real reason was that they didn’t want to pay a private company to manage my luggage and transfer it to the next airline.

Evidently, I had no choice now but to pay for it from my own pocket.

The sad thing is that the staff themselves informed me that I was not the first passenger to be denied a boarding pass like this; there have been many cases such as mine, but they still haven’t taken any measures to prevent other paying passengers from going through this ridiculous treatment.

My contention with the staff of Shaheen Air is the lack of empathy they showed towards my predicament, their lack of eagerness to help and accommodate their passenger, the lack of pro-activeness to deal with these issues, their lack of knowledge, their deceptive nature, crass and indifferent attitude towards a paying customer. All these things compounded together to make the perfect recipe for a failed airline and an unsatisfied customer vowing never to travel on the same airline again.

Thankfully, this has been the worst of my experiences. For other travellers, it seems as though their staff is not the only problem. It seems even the airbus and its maintenance serves as a hazard to its passengers. Just yesterday, a Shaheen Air plane escaped a crash landing when its engine erupted with loud, unwarranted sounds. There have been other encounters on this particular airline such as an ‘emergency landing’ as the airbus skidded off the runway. The pilot was held accountable in this case for being intoxicated and fatigued on the job. Another instance reported a pilot refusing to fly the aircraft because he spotted a hole in one of the wings upon entering the cockpit. And all these instances have taken place within the last eight months.

When we choose to travel on a particular airline, it’s a very calculated decision. We expect them to treat us with respect and be as helpful as possible. We expect the journey to be as smooth as possible. But most importantly, we expect them to ensure our safety. There is a strong level of trust that is invested in our decision to fly by a particular airline. Of course, there are shortcomings and risks associated to every airline, but when all you hear associated to this particular airline is that the staff are conniving, inept and self-serving and that their aircraft is faulty/lacks maintenance – tell me, what exactly am I paying for? Is it worth the risk?

As I was lucid in stating earlier: I love Pakistan and I want to see it prosper and progress. The only reason why I wish to speak of this episode is to shed light upon the potential dangers of flying by Shaheen Airline. I aim to save others from this quagmire by requesting the airline staff to step up and improve itself for the sake of our nation.

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Mustafa Akram Moghal

Mustafa Akram Moghal

The author is an electronics engineer, an avid reader, writer and a freelancer. He is trying to make this flying ball of dirt a better place for our posterity. He tweets @moghal612 twitter.com/moghal612

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