The Pakistan International Airlines allowed seven passengers to travel standing in the aisles all the way to Saudi Arabia last month, prompting a probe into the serious breach of security regulations by Pakistan's loss-making national carrier, according to media reports.
As many as seven passengers aboard the Boeing 777 Pakistan International Airlines flight PK-743 (Karachi-Madina) on January 20 were forced to stand throughout the over three-hour flight after the airline boarded excess passengers, Dawn newspaper reported.
The PIA management appears to have taken this lightly as no action has been taken against those responsible for the bizarre incident, the paper said.
PIA spokesperson Danyal Gilani said the matter was being investigated.
Gilani told the BBC that an internal investigation had begun "and appropriate action will be taken once responsibility is fixed".
If someone was found responsible for any wrongdoing, the PIA would take stern action against them under the company rules, he said.
The Boeing 777 aircraft has a seating capacity of 409, including jump seats for staff, while flight PK-743 carried 416 passengers from Karachi to Madina.
The report said allowing seven passengers to travel by standing all the way to the destination constituted a serious air safety breach as in the case of an emergency, passengers without seats would not have access to oxygen and could also cause congestion in case of an emergency evacuation.
The boarding passes issued to the extra passengers were hand-written and not computer-generated, sources said. The computer-generated list, provided to the aircraft crew by the ground traffic staff, did not mention the excess passengers, the report said.
Sources said that the senior purser (air hostess), Hina Turab, maintains that she informed the captain that there was chaos in the cabin because the passengers were over and above the configuration, but the captain told her to "adjust" those passengers as the aircraft was on the taxi way.
Captain Anwer Adil, who operated that flight, maintains that the computer-generated sheet did not show excess passengers. He said: "After take-off when I came out of cockpit, Ms Turab informed me that there were some extra people who [had been] boarded by the traffic staff. I also noticed some people were those who were categorically refused jump seats by me at the check in counter before the flight.
"I had already taken off and the senior purse did not inform me about extra passengers before closing the aircraft door. Therefore after take-off immediate landing back at Karachi was not possible as it required lot of fuel dumping which was not in the interest of the airline," he said.
Protocol necessitates that in such cases, the aircraft should be brought back to the terminal and excess passengers offloaded, sources said. Only then can an aircraft resume its flight.
Interestingly, the crew of the flight conveniently did not mention the incident in their reports at the end of the journey or after returning to Karachi, the newspaper said.
The national carrier, was once a symbol of the country’s engineering and aviation prowess but now suffers from huge debts, an ageing fleet and a string of corruption scandals.
The airline has accumulated liabilities of over Rs 300 billion and an additional loss of over Rs 5.6 billion is being added to this amount every month, the PIA management told a Senate committee at a briefing last month. The panel was also informed that the airline earned around Rs 7.5 billion a month while its expenses were over Rs 13.14 billion.