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'Thank you PIA': Pakistani airline crew member 'vanishes' in Canada, second incident this year

Maryam Raza, who joined the Pakistan International Airlines 15 years ago, failed to report for duty on the return flight to Karachi. This is the second such case this year and several crew members of the cash-strapped airline have vanished in the past to seek asylum in Canada.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Islamabad Published on: February 28, 2024 17:49 IST
Pakistan, Pakistan International Airlines, crew missing, Canada
Image Source : REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE Pakistan International Airlines (PIA)

Karachi: An air hostess working for the cash-strapped Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) abruptly went missing after landing in Canada - the second such case this year since January. Maryam Raza, who joined the PIA 15 years ago, failed to report for duty on the return flight to Karachi, according to a report by Dawn.

Raza arrived in Toronto on PIA flight PK-782 from Islamabad on Monday but did not show up on the return flight PK-784 to Karachi. When the authorities opened her hotel room, they found her uniform with a note reading ‘Thank you, PIA’.

This is the second case of a mysterious disappearance of a PIA employee this year, after a stewardess 'vanished' after landing in Canada, according to the airline’s spokesman. Officials believe it is because of Canada's flexible immigration system, which offers asylum to anyone entering the country.

Several crew members 'vanished' in the past

An air hostess named Faiza Mukhtar failed to report for the return flight after arriving in Canada in January. “On its scheduled return to the country, Ms Mukhtar did not turn up [in Toronto] and the flight of the national flag carrier had to proceed without her,” said a PIA official. The attendant was suspended a few years ago for her alleged involvement in smuggling mobile phones and foreign currency, Dawn reported.

At least seven PIA cabin crew members went missing in Canada while performing flight duties last year. PIA's spokesperson said one of the crew members who slipped away while on duty some years ago has now settled in Canada and 'advises' other crew members considering seeking asylum there.

In 2022, five crew members also disappeared during overseas flights. The spokesperson said the PIA management has been coordinating with Canadian authorities to stop such incidents in future. Pakistan’s caretaker cabinet, in a swansong move, has approved the restructuring of the national carrier

PIA's growing financial problems

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has been running into loss for years and the caretakers just two days before elections decided to bifurcate it into two entities, according to a statement issued after the cabinet meeting held earlier this month. The meeting chaired by caretaker PM Anwaar-ul Haq Kakar had been informed that in the light of the financial adviser hired for financial restructuring, the functions of the national flag carrier would be bifurcated into two companies, namely TopCo and HoldCo.

The decision to bifurcate the PIA was to pave the way for its privatisation but it came too late when the caretaker set-up had a limited time and it would cease to function when the new leader of the house was elected by the parliament after the election of February 8. Experts believe the low salaries of crew and concerns over PIA's future, are prompting the crew members to escape after landing in Canada, rather than coming back home.

A flight attendant identified only as Mahira disappeared after landing in Toronto in 2018. She now lives in Canada and provided legal assistance to Faiza Mukhtar when she applied for asylum, according to media reports. The growing number of crew disappearances represents a significant downfall of the once-celebrated airline plagued by financial challenges, governance issues and controversies.

(with inputs from PTI)

ALSO READ | Pakistan Aircraft Investigation Board reveals reasons behind PIA fatal crash that killed 101 people in 2020

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