By Arab News
Major Pakistan airports remained crippled by industrial action Friday as a strike by employees of the national flag carrier against plans to privatize the airline entered its fourth day.
All of Pakistan International Airlines’ foreign and domestic flights were suspended Friday with thousands of passengers, including Pakistani expat workers trying to fly to the Middle East, stranded at Karachi’s international airport and other key hubs.
“My visa is about to expire in the next three days and I have to reach Dubai before that but here I am stuck at the airport,” Sualma Jia, who works at a hotel in Dubai, told AFP in Karachi.
She said she was not even able to retrieve her luggage from the airline. “My future is at stake here, I tried a few private airlines but they have raised their fares by almost three times,” she said.
PIA spokesman Danial Hassan Gillani said agreements had been reached with rival airlines to fly all domestic and international passengers, including dozens of pilgrims heading for Saudi Arabia who held a protest after their flight was canceled.
However, passengers must pay any price increase and the backlog is expected to take days to clear, with no end in sight to the industrial action.
According to Dawn daily, the PIA management has arranged four Boeing jets to bring back hundreds of Pakistani pilgrims stranded in Jeddah.
PIA reached an agreement with Saudi Airlines, following which two Saudia flights on Friday took 700 pilgrims to different cities, reported local channels. They said the remaining 1,300 Pakistani pilgrims would also be flown home by Saudia flights.
On their way back to Saudi Arabia, the planes are carrying the same number of people to Jeddah for Umrah.
The airline is providing hotel accommodation to fliers in Jeddah as well as in various cities of Pakistan, said a PIA spokesman.
As a backup plan, the spokesman said, PIA was also in final stages of negotiations with Etihad Airways and Turkish Airlines to facilitate passengers going to and coming from Europe, America and Canada.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s civil aviation authority has advised the travellers to buy tickets from the offices concerned of airlines to avoid extra payment and rely on the fare mentioned on their websites.
Recently, two protesting airline employees were shot dead and several more wounded at Karachi’s international airport when clashes broke out between security forces and staff, though authorities denied opening fire.
The strike continues despite Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s warning that the demonstration was illegal and those taking part could face up to a year in prison under a law that restricts union activity in state-administered sectors.