RAWALPINDI, July 17, 2011 : Several hundred passengers were left stranded and the international and domestic flights’ schedule was badly disrupted on Sunday after Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) workers went on strike against the murder of their union’s president in Karachi.
Amir Shah, president of the PIA People’s Unity, was gunned down in Karachi’s Gulshan-eJauher on Saturday.
“I was to leave for Karachi by 7pm flight. But I have been waiting at the airport for more than six hours,” a passenger, who did not give his name, told Dawn on Sunday night.
He was finally told that he would be “adjusted” in a flight which will leave for Karachi on Monday morning.
An eyewitness said the protest initially started on Saturday night when the check-in of PK-319 at Benazir Bhutto International Airport was underway. Some members of the union appeared at the briefing counter and told the passengers that they were observing token strike. However, soon they started handling the passengers of a flight leaving for Karachi. The flight left on time.
But on Sunday morning the workers went on strike, as a number of flights were cancelled. Worried passengers, including foreigners, waited for hours before leaving the airport.
Requesting anonymity, a senior PIA official said as many as 20 domestic and international flights were disrupted due to the strike. Scores missed their connecting flights.
Federal Minister for Interior Rehman Malik, who arrived from Karachi on a special plane on Sunday evening, told reporters that the killers of Amir Shah would be arrested soon.
Due to the strike, thousands of passengers remained stuck at the airport as flights for Gilgit (PK-695) and Chitral (PK-600) were cancelled. A flight PK-385 also could not leave because of the flight.
According to an announcement at the airport, flights were delayed due to “industrial action”. Passengers were asked to check before coming to the airport if their flight was leaving on time.
But confusion prevailed at the airport as at one time in the morning it was announced that “flight operation” would be started around 11:30am. But it was put off to 1pm, to the distress of passengers.
Sajjad Akbar, who was travelling with his family for Karachi on PK-301, said he came to the airport in the morning on scheduled time but the flight was delayed till 1pm. When the family turned up at the airport again, they had to wait for another threeand-a-half hours before the flight finally left for Karachi at 4:30pm. It was scheduled to leave at 10am.
Iqbal Jilani, a bank officer who was dropping off a relative leaving for Karachi, said the private airlines were operating smoothly but PIA was creating “problems for its passengers”.
Wearing black bands union workers, led by Haydatullah Khan, staged a peaceful protest at the airport on Sunday morning. They asked the government to arrest the killers of Amir Shah and bring them to justice. Several attempts were made to contact the spokesman for PIA for his comments on the strike but he gave no response.