Flying in Pakistan
Most people these days are seasoned travellers. We know the routine when we go to the airport, it’s pretty straight forward – get there, check in, clear security and/or immigration, wait at the gate and board when called, then go. Easy.
Things are a little bit different whether flying into, out of, or around Pakistan when it comes to the process and the behaviours of passengers. After learning to take a ‘chill pill’ when coming here back in the days of living in Dubai, I can now go through the process of flight with a slightly more mellowed approach, and observe the amusement.
Let me break down the process:
Getting to the airport is usually half the fun of the total journey in Pakistan. Depending on the city you are departing from, this can range from total chaos and traffic mayhem, to a lesser slightly more civilised and calm journey. You can pretty much guarantee the trip will involve plenty of noise from cars, trucks and bus horns, as well as seeing roadways filled with donkeys, motorbikes, cows, goats and tuk-tuks mixed with the local beggars at every stopping point, all vying for either your attention, money or the right of way…
Once you arrive at the airport (based on Karachi and Lahore anyway), there is a security checkpoint at the perimeter boundary, where the car is ‘sniffed’ for explosives, the boot is checked for bombs (cos that’s where you hide them) and then you are allowed to pass, all while several machine guns are aimed from various directions at your car and what feels and looks like you directly, as you get inspected. Once you are cleared to drive on, you go via the ‘chicane’ like barrier walls through to the airport drop off area (which surprisingly is directly out the front of the airport, something many western airports have ceased doing). Upon exiting the car, you are pounced upon by offers from Porters to take your bags in for you (for a fee obviously) and, as a white boy, all the waiting crowds’ eyes watch your every move (probably wondering WTF you are doing there).
Inside the airport
Here is where the fun really starts.
Nobody gets inside the terminal, unless you have a ticket and ID/ Passport. This is for both Domestic and International, and there is a checkpoint at the entry where one person check very slowly, and forces a chaotic and disorganised solitary line up of people rushing to get in, get papers checked to then get inside. (The theory is no one gets in without a ticket, however not all the security has been effective as recent events have seen attackers at both Karachi Airport and Lahore Airport, where security was breached by assailants).
Once you are granted ‘entry’ you then need to line up to place your luggage through the scanner yourself..and usually while waiting for other passengers to load their copious amounts of suitcases, boxes and who knows what else through. Next you go through an X-ray scanner, and regardless of it buzzing or not you are given the total ‘howdy-doody’ rub and pat down all over, and it’s often a bit too close for comfort in certain areas, bit this is all performed by a very satisfied looking young man! Females are sent off to a shielded room, for what I have been told is also just as ‘friendly’ a pat down and grope – by a woman)…..Cool we are in the terminal…..well not quite..
Now its line the up for check in, which is normal airport practice. Here you just have to endure regular push ins, and paid push ins, and women push ins and all that stuff, but that’s ok.
Another x-Ray, another rub/ pat down and another ticket and passport check, and you can enter departure area….yeah, nearly…
After a final chance to buy from the massive and awe-inspiring variety of local food/ souvenir stalls (i.e very limited and bizarre options), one final check of everything occurs – as in boarding pass, and another bag scan (just in case something was missed on the other couple) and another touch up, and you are now in..
Sometimes (if you are really lucky), you can cop one more ID/ Ticket check AFTER you go through the departure gate and start to board the plane…this one I cannot work out, apart from what seems to be job creation for the soldier guy at the gate.
One could be sarcastic with the number of checks, but another way of looking at it is at least they are being thorough and attempting to do the right thing…whether the x-rays work or they are just watching tv on the screen or not I don’t know, but an effort is being made!
Boarding is not for the faint hearted.
The departure gates at both Lahore and Karachi are ‘basic’ in regards to the facilities and comfort. Flights are notoriously not boarded at the scheduled time and as the clock ticks closer to scheduled departure time, there starts to become a slow, then steadily increasing build up of ‘milling’ customers starting to flock around the counter eager to board.. Quickly this crowd grows and grows, and regardless of the announcement saying “Zone 1, 2 or 3 to board and everyone please stay seated”, it’s on…the rush, the push ins, the families push ins, the women push ins, the elderly push ins, they are all in there for ‘pole position’ and no one is safe from the onslaught. This is not for the feeble, and if you hesitate you will be over ran. Tip: Just let them go. I used to get angry and vocal several years ago, but that didn’t work out too well for me at times.
I think there is a belief that if you aren’t on the plane first, it may go without you.
Once you survive the battle to the front of the line, you get your boarding pass taken from you (not scanned, as that would be using the available technology, but torn off for later manual data entry), and finally you make your way to the bus of the sky and take your seat…kind of….
There seems to be an unexpalinable disability in this part of the world, with people being unable to find their seat on the plane. Some countries I used to visit were notorious, i.e. Saudi, Kuwait, Oman, and Pakistan is certainly on that list as well.
People get on the plane and then, like some sort of curse comes over them and they cannot match their boarding pass with the seat number. This results in people sitting either anywhere and having to be moved when the correct occupant arrives, or they walk to the end of the plane, then get directed to their seat at the front and walk the wrong way back up the aisle, and you can imagine how well that works.
On the flight to Lahore from Karachi, there was utter bedlam on boarding. I must admit a group of passengers, who I swear where O.B.L’s brothers were the main culprits. They went down, back, on the left side, the right side, the centre rows and then finally sat, only to be moved again, and then sat right in front of me! But there were many like this. Not sure if it’s a language thing and the task of reading the English numbers on the Boarding Pass and the seat is the issue, or its something else, but it is very amusing to watch, and annoying as it slows down departure. Simply watching the crew gives a bit of cheap amusing entertainment, as they battle to sort out the shambles!
Once seated, I think about half the customers actually pay any attention to turning off their phones, and as you take off phones are ringing, people are texting and emails are being sent…aaaargh.
Upon arrival, it’s good to know that many customers will have their drivers ready waiting outside, as they have called them while we were about 20km’s out from landing just to tell them. The rest of the crowd are mostly up from their seats about 30 seconds after hitting the tarmac ready for action. No need to wait until we reach the gate or stop, as it is much quicker to unpack the luggage before we get there, and you may be able to push your way to the front and take out a few people. I have been guilty of giving my thoughts to a few people attempting to barge past me before, and got a response of ‘what?’ or a how dare you type look…too bad.
One thing I do give Pakistan credit fo is the arrival process, and the fact that in theory no one can be in the terminal unless travelling. It does force a massive crowd to greet people outside, so gives a bit of a ‘rock star on arrival’ feel, but they actually stop all departing passengers and check your luggage tag vs luggage to ensure you have only your luggage…I like this idea.
So that’s the ‘Dummies guide to air travel in Pakistan’. Now any family or friends planning to visit us, have some idea what to expect if not when arriving, maybe on departure…as it doesn’t matter, you will be rubbed up one way or the other…and I know some of you may simply come just for that experience!
Cheers….Aussie in Lahore