Pakistan International Airlines admitted that during a recent flight to Medinah, Saudi Arabia a total of seven passengers were ‘accommodated’ in the aisle of the aircraft due to lack of seats.
The Boeing 777 aircraft en route to Medinah with a capacity of over 400 was full to the last seat so ground staff in Karachi decided in coordination with the cabin crew to have people standing.
It almost sounds too crazy to be true and especially considering that this isn’t a short flight. Karachi to Medina according the schedule is 1,719 miles with a flight time of 4:20h. Irrespective of this it should be a complete no-go to resort to such methods out of safety aspects alone.
I read about it at BBC Online this morning (see here).
Pakistan International Airlines is investigating how seven extra passengers were allowed to stand in the aisles on a flight to Saudi Arabia, a spokesman told the BBC.
The passengers were allowed on the 20 January flight to Medina despite every seat being filled, the airline said.
Details of the flight have only emerged now because of extensive investigations by Dawn newspaper.
Staff had issued additional handwritten boarding passes, the paper reported.
Such an over-crowded flight would have caused problems in an emergency evacuation, aviation experts said, and passengers would not have had access to oxygen if it was suddenly required.
Overbooking of flights is a common situation and every airline deals with it in the only possible, though inconvenient way: Asking for volunteers to stay behind or in the worst case Involuntary Denied Boarding of some passengers who will then be compensated and rescheduled to the next available flight. The way this particular situation was handled was a bit unorthodox to say the least.
It goes on:
The flight in question went from Karachi to Medina carrying a total of 416 passengers, on a Boeing 777 with a total seating capacity of 409, including staff seats. …
The newspaper DAWN quoting airline sources accuses PIA ground traffic staff of issuing handwritten – rather than computer-generated – boarding passes to the extra passengers.
It quotes flight captain Anwer Adil as insisting that he was not told about the extra passengers until after take-off.
“I … noticed [that] some people were those who were categorically refused jump [staff] seats by me at the check-in counter before the flight”, he was quoted by Dawn as saying. “I had already taken off and the senior purser did not inform me about extra passengers before closing the aircraft door.
“Therefore after take-off [any] immediate landing back at Karachi was not possible as it required a lot of fuel dumping which was not in the interest of the airline.”
PIA spokesman Danyal Gilani told the BBC that “the matter is under investigation and appropriate action will be taken once responsibility is fixed”.
When asked how long the inquiry will take, he said it was “not possible to put a time frame on it”.
Whoever believes that there will be ‘appropriate action’ taken can just as well believe in the Easter Bunny. The problem is not only that someone did something wrong but that it requires multiple people, all entrusted to ensure the safety of the passengers, crew and airplane to go ahead with this.
This collusion of people of the ground and in the cabin shows a culture of total disregard for rules and regulations within Pakistan International. I remember friends of mine with family in Pakistan saying they’d never ever fly with PIA unless they have a death wish. Now I know what they meant by that.
In how far the captains account of the situation is accurate is the question. He bears the final responsibility and even though he doesn’t personally inspects the cabin he knows the maximum amount of passengers his plane can carry. The final paperwork he signs for should have showed a plus of passengers – more than there are seats on the aircraft.
I don’t understand why the staff would engage in such conduct, putting their employment at risk instead of following proper procedure. PIA isn’t alone in questionable methods while operating their flights. Sometimes carriers with limited resources, lack of safety culture and lackluster staff tries to make do however they can – often (mostly) on the expense of safety.