LONDON: Ticket prices for flights to Pakistan from the United Kingdom have tripled after Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was barred from flying to three destinations in the UK.
The flag carrier is also facing a suspension of six months from the European Union, and a ban on all types of flights from the United States.
A return flight from London, Manchester, and Birmingham to Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi used to cost an average of £500-650, but after PIA was suspended from operating by the UK's Civil Aviation Authority, ticket prices have seen a three-fold increase to the £1,500-2,700 mark.
According to Skyscanner, a major travel website, the cheapest return ticket from London to Lahore is being offered by Turkish Airlines which costs a whopping £1,445 — equal to almost Rs300,000.
British Airways, which recently started operations in Pakistan, is offering the same flight for over £2,000 which would cost the traveller over Rs400,000.
The return tickets from the UK to Pakistan offered by Qatar Airways and Emirates cost over £2,500, which is an unprecedented price for a return ticket. Another flight by Qatar Airways and British Airways costs £2,796.
This comes at a time of severe crisis for PIA after Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan claimed that around one-third of Pakistani pilots had dubious licenses. The announcement caused panic all over the world, leading to a chain of events that resulted in the suspension of the flag carrier's flights and grounding of pilots working globally who were issued licenses by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority.
There are over 1.5 million Pakistani origin Britons in the UK who regularly travel to Pakistan and are severely disappointed by the increase in the ticket prices. According to the British government, at anytime, nearly 100,000 British Pakistanis are present in Pakistan. After the COVID-19 lockdown, nearly 60,000 Britons flew on chartered flights from Pakistan to three destinations in the UK.
Abdullah Sheikh, a Pakistani student in the UK who regularly travelled to Pakistan said, "I wanted to [visit] Pakistan but couldn't go because we travelled through PIA and now we can't. I used to go 3-4 times a year but now these prices have resulted in significantly altering our travel plans."
Abdullah added that stopovers in various other airports had made it difficult for the elderly and vulnerable travellers who found it hard to take multiple connecting flights to go to Pakistan.
In a conversation with Geo.tv, Mahboob Hussain of the Mahboob Travel Agency, which solely deals in PIA tickets, said: "I only did business with PIA. Now my company has no more business. I worked with PIA to promote my national carrier but now I am being punished for my patriotism. Other airlines have greatly benefitted. Who is responsible for the demise of PIA? We will get no answers."
Mahboob said that while PIA had issued some refunds on cancelled flights, he was still waiting for further information on the remaining refunds."
Earlier, a spokesperson for the UK's Civil Aviation Authority had said: "Following the decision on 30 June 2020, by the EASA to suspend permission for PIA to operate services to the European Union, PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow, and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect.
“The UK Civil Aviation Authority is required under law to withdraw PIA’s permit to operate to the UK pending EASA’s restoration of their approval that it meets international air safety standards.”
Recently, the US also banned PIA from operating "all types of flights" in the country. PIA's spokesperson, Abdullah Hafeez accepted that this was a major setback for the national carrier.
"We are continuously engaged with them and sincerely hope that with the confidence-building measures, the decision would be reviewed,” he said.
The development has also resulted in the suspension of employment of various Pakistani pilots employed in several airlines across the world.
The aviation minister's statement about the dubious licenses of Pakistani pilots came in the backdrop of an investigation into a recent crash of PIA's flight PK-8303 from Lahore to Karachi which resulted in the deaths of 97 people.
The investigation seems to have absolved the aviation ministry from any responsibility and instead has blamed the pilot for not properly following the instructions of the air traffic controller.