‘Thank You PIA’: Pakistani air hostesses fly to Canada, and ‘vanish’

‘Thank You PIA’: Pakistani air hostesses fly to Canada, and ‘vanish’

Maryam Raza, a cabin crew member of Pakistan International Airlines, flew to Canada and didn’t board the return flight. She left behind a note thanking PIA. Maryan Raza is one of the several PIA staffers who have sought asylum in Canada in recent years.

On an average, five Pakistani flight attendants slip into Canada each year. This is a representational image. (Image: PIA)

Sushim Mukul

New Delhi,UPDATED: Feb 28, 2024 15:31 IST

In Short

  • Maryam Raza is the second PIA crew member to disappear in Canada this year
  • In 2023, seven PIA staffers disappeared in Canada to seek asylum
  • PIA spokesperson blames it on Canada’s ‘liberal’ asylum programme

A note saying, “Thank you, PIA (Pakistan International Airlines),” was found in a Toronto hotel room after a search.

An appreciation note, like this, is what a flight attendant would expect to find from a flyer after a nice and cosy flight.

However, the note saying, ‘Thank you, PIA’, was actually written by an air hostess, and not a satisfied flyer.

 

The note was from Maryam Raza, who worked with the PIA and had landed in Toronto on a flight from Islamabad on Monday (February 26) but didn’t report for duty on her return flight to Karachi a day later.

When authorities looking for Maryam opened her hotel room, they found her PIA uniform with the ‘Thank you, PIA’ note, reported Dawn.

Maryam Raza isn’t the lone example of a PIA crew member landing in Canada and vanishing into thin air. In fact, she was just following a trend.

Maryam’s disappearance comes just a month after PIA flight attendant Faiza Mukhtar’s disappearance in Canada in January 2024.

Faiza Mukhtar, who was rostered to fly back to Karachi a day after landing in Canada “did not board the flight and disappeared”, said PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan.

PIA CREW MEMBERS SEEKING CANADA ASYLUM SINCE 2018

The disappearances of crew members, Maryam and Faiza, actually follow a worrying trend for the PIA, which is itself battling financial and credibility losses.

The disappearance of Maryam marks the second such instance in 2024.

It’s probably no longer the PIA that Jacqueline Kennedy called, “Great people to fly with”, in 1962. That has become the slogan of PIA since then.

In fact, Pakistan isn’t the same Pakistan of the 60s. Surviving on loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and international doles, Pakistan has seen record brain drain in 2023. Unsure about their future in Pakistan, skilled professionals have been leaving the Islamic Republic in hordes.

The trend of Pakistani flight attendants disappearing after crewing a flight to Canada started back in 2019 and has picked up recently, according to aviation news website Simple Flying.

However, The Media Line, a ‘Mideast ‘-based news website, claims to have received information about PIA flight attendants seeking asylum in Canada and other countries as early as 2018.

7 PIA CABIN CREW MEMBERS ‘VANISHED’ IN CANADA IN 2023

Last year, 2023, at least seven flight attendants of the PIA are said to have disappeared after landing in Canada, according to media reports.

 

Two PIA cabin crew members, who landed in Toronto from Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International failed to report to duty for their flight back home in December 2023, according to PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan.

“The flight was on its scheduled return to Islamabad, the steward did not show up in Toronto. The flight of the national flag carrier had to return to Islamabad without the crew members,” said spokesperson Khan.

PIA crew members, Ayaz Qureshi, Khalid Afridi and Fida Hussain Shah reportedly slipped away after landing in Canada, in November and December 2023.

PIA BLAMES WOES ON CANADA’S ‘LIBERAL’ ASYLUM POLICY

“The reason for this [disappearance] is an overly liberal asylum and asylum programme of the Canadian government,” PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan told ArabNews in November 2023.

Khan said four PIA cabin crew members disappeared in the same way in 2022, while four more managed to vanish in 2023.

While the PIA officials point to Canada’s relaxed asylum norms, experts believe the low salaries of crew and lingering fear of the airline’s future, are prompting the crew members to escape after landing in Canada, rather than coming back home.

The cash-starved PIA’s privatisation was approved by Pakistan’s caretaker cabinet in February, two days before the elections in Pakistan, as a measure to revamp the loss-making airline, reported news agency PTI.

 

The annual average of Pakistani flight attendants who have slipped into Canada is five, reported SamaaTV. The employment period of PIA employees, who requested political asylum in Canada after slipping in five years, is 15 to 17 years, while their age is 35 to 40 years, added the report.

Speaking on the repercussions faced by the absconding crew members, PIA spokesperson Khan said, “We normally terminate the services of such individuals and penalize them by denying them of any benefits”.

PIA FLIGHT ATTENDANT HELPING OTHERS SEEK ASYLUM

A flight attendant, Mahira, who disappeared after landing in Toronto in 2018, provided legal assistance to Fareha Mukhtar when she applied for asylum, reported TheMediaLine in January 2024.

A crew member who went missing a few years ago has settled in Canada and is now “offering guidance” to fellow crew members considering seeking asylum, added PIA spokesperson Khan.

However, PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan tried to downplay the severity of the trend in December 2023, saying, “Crews seeking asylum are common throughout South Asia and other developing countries, therefore this situation is not exclusive to PIA.”

 

However, that justification isn’t a face-saver for officials of Pakistan International Airlines. “The national airline’s management has to face embarrassment from Canadian authorities over such incidents of escape,” an unnamed PIA official told Pakistan-based SamaaTV.

It is actually mid-senior members of the airline who are seeking asylum in Canada. Maryam, the PIA attendant to go missing on Monday (February 26), worked with the PIA for 15 years.

Pakistan is seeing record-high inflation because of a tattered economy and political instabilityIt isn’t unusual for its citizens to be looking for better prospects abroad. Whoever can, tries to fly out of the mess. The PIA cabin crew members can at least fly out free of cost.

Published By:

Sushim Mukul

Published On:

Feb 28, 2024

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