PIA: A case of stale bread
KARACHI: For Sara Zafar Malik travelling to Birmingham from Islamabad with her two young kids and husband entailed the usual chores – catching the flight on time, settling in amid the chaos of passengers vying over space for their luggage and simultaneously making sure everyone in her family remained comfortable.
But little did she know that the Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) flight PK-791, which departed on the afternoon of April 26, would lead to her being an object of internet ridicule by hundreds back home.
When lunch was served an hour into the flight, Malik unwrapped a piece bread. “At first I thought it was a normal fruit bun. But when I turned it over, there was green fungus all over it. It was really bad,” she told media.
She took pictures of that bread, joked about it with her husband and returned the meal tray without registering any complaint with the crew.
“I thought what’s the point? I’ll just share these pictures on Facebook so my friends can be careful.”
When they were finally uploaded a day later, those pictures were shared at a lightning speed. “Many random people appreciated what I did. They said this would help create awareness,” she said.
The incident came to the notice of Islamabad-based Aviation Division and PIA. A man named Jawad Nazir contacted Sara on Facebook. “He asked me if I could be compensated in any way and I asked for three free tickets.”
The official, however, said that they could not compensate her with the tickets. Later, another official Wasif Mehmood approached her and apologised. She thought that was the end of it.
But by now PIA, the aviation division and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) began discrediting Sara on their official Facebook and Twitter accounts.
More and more people were being tagged along and she started receiving rude messages and insults. Nazir, a student who manages the Twitter account named CAA Pakistan, also leaked the conversation he had with her.
“Ok, this lady who was fed by #PIA with fungus cookies (sic) wants to travel back on PIA flight as in compensation. What a moronic mohtarma!” one of his tweets read.
Meanwhile, PIA spokesman Aamir Memon insists that an internal investigation has revealed that no such incident occurred during the flight.
“We have spoken to not one but three crew members and all of them testified that nothing of the sort happened. As a matter of fact, the bun was not even served in part of the plane where the lady was sitting.”
He also alleged that the pictures were fake. “We, the PIA employees have been greatly hurt by this.”
Other aviation authorities say they have not come to any conclusion about the quality of food that was served to Malik and the matter is being investigated.
Sher Ali, an aviation division’s spokesperson, was at pains to explain why PIA used its official Facebook account to malign a passenger when the matter was still being investigated.
“You must understand that we were getting a lot of muck on Facebook,” he said. “PIA has strict quality control procedures and if anything like this has happened then the person responsible would be taken to task.”
Further, Ali said, Nazir operates CAA Pakistan’s account on a “pro-bono basis and he quit and left for higher studies abroad just yesterday.”
But this particular account has continuously been used for official purposes. Aviation Division and the CAA have used it to release notifications and pictures of prime minister’s special assistant for aviation Shujaat Azeem and other important information for months now.
“Our social media accounts are open for public. We cannot be held accountable for what people say there,” Sher said, when he was told about the type of comments being made against Sara.
Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, this is not the first time something like this has happened with the national flag carrier.
With rampant corruption in its purchase department, low quality supplies often make their way into a flight.
“Even if it’s just a matter of one piece of bread, management should have just apologised instead of going on the offensive,” a senior airline official said.
Meanwhile, Sara continues to receive rude messages. “It’s really sad but I am talking to my solicitor on how I have been harassed.”
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