Vanishing On Touchdown: Unraveling Why PIA Flight Attendants Keep Disappearing As Soon As They Land

During a stopover in Toronto, Faiza Mukhtar, a flight attendant for Pakistan International Airlines became the latest member of the airline’s crew to vanish in Canada. She was part of the crew for Islamabad – Toronto flight PK 781 on January 18. She was scheduled to work on the return flight PK 784 from Toronto to Karachi two days later but didn’t show up.

This keeps happening. PIA flight attendants leave their home country of Pakistan, and do not go back. The airline keeps having to cancel flights due to lack of crew. At least eight flight attendants have disappeared during layovers in Canada in the past two years.

The airline has taken steps to reduce the likelihood that this happens:

  • They’re only assigning cabin crew over age 50 to Canada flights. Presumably older woman on their own are less likely to try to start a new life in another country.

  • They’ve increased monitoring of crew during layovers.

If I were a Pakistan International Airlines flight attendant, I would probably no show my return trip from Toronto, too. The airline complains about Canada’s generous asylum procedures. These flight attendants may not even be breaking the law, and but the airline thinks that even asylum-eligible employees should be forced to return.

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. The airline keeps having planes repossessed, and hasn’t been operating its full fleet because the government airline cannot pay the government oil company for fuel.

Nonetheless, the Pakistan market is a large one and one of the drivers behind the United Airlines partnership with Emirates, and for the American Airlines partnership with Qatar Airways. 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.

The state carrier’s home country, though, has an economy that lags Haiti, Uzbekistan, and the Republic of Congo. The country is an Islamic Republic. A work colleague who once wrote for this blog used to describe her homeland as “the 12th century.” Getting people out is probably the single most valuable thing that Pakistan International Airlines can do?

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, 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. This is what happens when a country is a theocracy. They fail. But, try to tell that to the Christian nationalists in this country.

  2. Well, at least they’re going to Canada and not my England, where PIA can/did fly a 777 from my “home” airport BHX, every day.
    Sorry, Eh?

    PS: Do you blame them? Have you been to Pakistan?

  3. Pakistan might not be the greatest place to live, but it has some of the most delicious food on the planet and is an excellent place to visit for the food motivated traveler. PIA offers the opportunity to fly YYZ-KHI nonstop in old SQ Space Beds – which was once the best Business Class seat in the sky – and sells it as “Premium Economy” for about 1/3 the price of flying Business Class on any other carrier. Maybe one day I’ll do this. How bad can it be?

  4. If they’ve got Airbus Planes, UA might be interest – Kirby spoke with Airbus about the A350 this week.

  5. @Woofie … I have not been to Pakistan , but I was told by a merchant seaman in Cairo that he wouldn’t ever wish to return to Karachi . ( We had been conversing about Cairo .)

  6. “They’re only assigning cabin crew over age 50 to Canada flights. Presumably older woman on their own are less likely to try to start a new life in another country…”

    This is reminiscent of the old communist days, when Aeroflot, Interflug (East Germany), and other Soviet Bloc airlines would assign their oldest and dumpiest already – married female stewardesses to flights serving the “Golden Capitalist West” – it was feared that their younger and more attractive cabin staff would be more likely to defect. IIRC these airlines even had strict rules forbidding these staff from “fraternizing” with Western airline staff; Interflug would not allow their cabin staff out of the gate/flightside area during shorter flight turnarounds. Each flight also had an “informer” amongst cabin crew who would report “irregular behavior” to the East German Stasi secret police, same with USSR’s Aeroflot…

  7. @Mak, for great pakistani food can probably get as good or even better in Dubai, London, or some places in nj/nyc. No need to go to the actual country!

  8. Countries have their good and bad points but sure people from countries like Pakistan, India, etc. may see the world as a FA and realize their home country isn’t for them. And even more so for a woman who often have very few privileges in their home countries.

    And I’ve known more than a few people who did assignments in countries like Germany and most would have loved to have stayed there longer so it just depends on the person.

    It would be tough for a person to completely abandon their parents/friends but sometimes the chance of a new life is better for them in the long term.

  9. @Luke I can tell you from personal experience that this is wrong and the cooking in places like Lahore and Karachi are simply unavailable in so-called Pakistani restaurants in New York and London, and only slightly closer in the Gulf. One can say many things about Pakistan – and many of those things will be true – but in my opinion it is in the very top rank of nations when it comes to food culture and cooking. It isn’t the easiest place to travel in (or to), and travelers will struggle with stomach issues and security hassles, but the people are incredibly hospitable and the food is absolutely sui generis.

  10. @Mak: Interesting to hear about the food situation in Pakistan. I’ve certainly never heard of it as a major cuisine / food destination. Next month I’ll be in Bangladesh and the invitation of a friend (staying with his family) and hope to delve into the food scene there.

  11. @Mak I know and agree firsthand food is marvelous having stayed in Lahore for months back in the 90s (laxmi chowk, icchra fish, etc)

    Was only suggesting the alternatives for safety reasons and guaranteed hygiene in nice restaurants in dubai/london (even in pakistan the high end/clean places may not necessarily have the best tasting food!).

  12. @LarryInNYC, for bangladesh I suggest for sure trying some good kacchi biryani there and for sure some fish dishes that are famous in bengal

  13. I’m was never in Pakistan but if they are running off to Canada of all places it must be really bad…

  14. Wiley Dog

    I know a thing or two about Pakistan, and it’s not and has never been a theocracy. It’s also increasingly indistinguishable from its much larger neighbor India, except that India has had more churches being attacked by religious extremists in the last two years than Pakistan has. While Pakistan has far fewer religious minorities than India, Pakistan is in a steady of religionized political bankruptcy and anti-democratic practices while India is in an increasingly worsening state and becoming less and less distinguishable as a democracy than Pakistan. Except in Pakistan it’s the alcohol-chugging generals who pull the strings while in India it’s the Nazi-inspired RSS that pulls the strings for an increasingly fascist state.

  15. PIA used to fly to Norway, but I haven’t looked into whether PIA crew coming into OSL from Pakistan jumped ship in Norway and claimed asylum or did other things so as to remain in Norway. While there is a lot of irregular and illegal Pakistani migration to countries around the world, some PIA crew members ditching their employer abroad upon landing at a PIA destination would barely register.

  16. @GUWonder, really? Whataboutism at its best.
    But while you’re at it, do you want to talk about how the literal title of the country is the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”? Not a theocracy my *ss.

    Or how Pakistan’s minority non-Muslim population has been decimated since independence (while that of India has increased? India, which you felt the need to bring in to the conversation for no reason whatsoever when this is article is about PIA air crew that has nothing to do with India whatsoever?)

  17. Unfortunately for much of the world the culture and the people no longer define a country, the government does.

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