Unable To Afford Jet Fuel: Pakistan International Airlines Passengers Confront Staff Over Cancelled Flights

A viral video shows Pakistan International Airlines passengers angrily confronting staff after their flight was cancelled due to lack of fuel. Some want refunds, others want alternative travel arrangements.

The world’s worst airline is facing its biggest crisis ever. The government oil company stopped supplying fuel because the government-owned airline stopped paying its fuel bills. They’re cancelling hundreds of flights each month. About 7,000 employees did not get paid in November.

While the airline has 31 aircraft, including 12 Boeing 777s, 16 Airbus A320s, and 3 turboprops, they’ve been operating just half their fleet.

When Pakistan International Airlines operates to Western countries, its flight attendants have been disappearing causing the airline to cancel return trips. I wouldn’t want to go back, either.

Pakistan is desperate to privatize its loss-making national airline, and floated rumors that Qatar would take over the carrier along with the Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad airports. The problem is that the airline’s debts are five times greater than its assets, so any acquirer would need to leave the Pakistani government with significant liabilities.

Past privatization efforts have led to violent protests and clashes with police but things are now so bad that the government’s oil company won’t provide fuel to the government’s airline unless they pay up front which they mostly cannot do.

Pakistan International Airlines is best known for sacrificing a goat for safety and flying with more passengers than seats (and making customers stand for 1700 miles), the airline’s former CEO was actually detained as a result of his efforts to provide good seats and service by wet leasing aircraft from SriLankan.

Boeing 777 on Approach to New York JFK in 2014, Copyright zhukovsky / 123RF Stock Photo

The airline is so bad that even operating on time creates problems: customers build failure into their expectations and don’t actually show up for flights when they’re scheduled to depart. Shortly before the pandemic PIA had one of its planes repossessed, while passengers were still on board.

Nonetheless, the Pakistan market is a large one and one of the drivers behind the new United Airlines partnership with Emirates, and a significant market for the American Airlines partnership with Qatar Airways funneling traffic through Doha. A properly-run PIA could be profitable, but it’s been run as a political fiefdom and cookie jar for so long it’s unclear whether such a thing is possible.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I flew a domestic flight last month and the travel agent told me to fly Air Blue or Serena Air instead of PIA for exactly this reason.

  2. PIA, much like Air India, was at root a private airline, and based in Calcutta at first. But it too got nationalized and then the mess that followed became the country’s burden.

    But even long after it got nationalized, PIA and Pakistan more or less got Emirates the start EK needed to get where EK got. But EK won’t touch PK with a ten foot pole if it knows what is good for it nowadays.

    Perhaps the Saudis will toss more money Pakistan’s way to get the Pakistani market in bigger ways, but the Saudis aren’t thrilled that their investment in and implicit call option on the Pakistani nukes didn’t turn out like the Saudis wanted.

  3. Ngl DXB – ISB – PEK with their 777 economy classes in a 3-3-3 layout is a very comfortable experience. Those seats are super roomy and spacious, with flavorful food.

    And that’s about as good as it was, but I’d rather have space over a fancy IFE screen for the same price. I doubt they will keep those spacious seats considering how worn out they are.

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