An investigation is under way after reports that a Pakistan International Airlines plane flew from Karachi to Saudi Arabia with people standing in the aisle all the way after staff boarded extra passengers.
People with handwritten boarding cards scrambled for seats as the Boeing 777 taxied for takeoff on 20 January, according to the report in Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
Although the plane was allowed to carry 409 passengers, there were 416 onboard flight PK743 to Medina, the report said.
A spokesman for PIA, Danyal Gilani, confirmed that an internal investigation had begun into “the matter pertaining to the travel of more passengers than the booked load” and “strict action would be taken against anyone found at fault.”
But he dismissed reports that some passengers had travelled standing as “exaggerated and baseless”. “It is not possible for anyone to travel like that in an aircraft, regardless of the duration of the flight,” he added.
Carrying additional passengers on a plane is a serious breach of safety regulations. Those without seats would not have oxygen masks and might cause congestion if the aircraft needed to be evacuated.
The flight’s captain, Anwar Adil, told Dawn he only learned about the extra passengers after takeoff, by which point it was too late to turn around as this would have meant dumping fuel in order to land safely.
“I had already left and the senior purser [cabin crew]did not point out extra passengers before closing the aircraft door. Therefore, after takeoff, immediate landing back in Karachi was not possible,” he said.
“It may be appreciated that immediate landing in Karachi after takeoff required a lot of fuel dumping, which was not in the interest of the airline.”
The national carrier was once a symbol of Pakistan’s engineering and aviation prowess, but suffers from huge debts, an ageing fleet and a string of corruption scandals.
PIA, which has losses of $3bn (£2.4bn), has been at the centre of a political row for years. Last year, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, had his attempts to privatise the airline blocked in parliament, leaving the government reluctantly in control.
Reports of mouldy food and in-flight entertainment not working on PIA flights are common. More seriously, in 2013, a PIA pilot was arrested in Leeds for attempting to fly a plane carrying more than 150 passengers while under the influence of alcohol.
Last December, a PIA flight crashed near Abbottabad, killing all 48 people onboard.
Source: The Guardian