Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Trip Report: airblue, Lahore to Dubai (January 2013)

Trip Report: airblue, Lahore to Dubai 
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Pakistani-based airlines have not instilled a lot of confidence in their passengers, especially in the last couple of years.  With multiple delays, cancellations, rude service, and lost/damaged bags many passengers have flocked to other carriers (mainly Middle Eastern carriers such as Emirates and Qatar).  Some of those perceptions changed in 2004 when airblue, Pakistan’s first private airline, commenced its service.  airblue had a different reputation than the national, and predominant, carrier of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) which was known colloquially as ‘panic in air’ for the aging fleet and lack of service.  Airblue had a reputation for having newer planes, for having better service, and for being more internet-friendly.  This is one of the reasons why I choose to fly from Lahore to Dubai on airblue (it was also far less expensive as I paid two times less for 2 passengers than what 1 passenger was costing on Emirates).  Airblue has been promoting its website (and web-booked reservations) to reduce cost and increase efficiency so I was able to easily find and book my flight.  To allow for passengers who are on a cash-based system (or do not have credit cards), airblue has a 2-step booking process: 1) first step is to find and book the flight which is held for 24 hours and 2) step 2 is the payment of the flight, which can made online or at an airblue office, and final confirmation of the booking.  I booked my flight online and received my confirmation via email shortly thereafter.  I had booked my flight for December 30th evening, but due to a family illness had to change my flight to December 31st evening.  It was very easy to change the flight and see other available options (plus the change fee) online and all changes and additional payments were made online. 

Anyone flying into Lahore in December knows that fog plays havoc with flight departures and arrivals, so I had been checking the website to ensure my flight was on time and was not cancelled (most airlines had rescheduled their flights or cancelled them completely to avoid the fog).  The flight was scheduled to depart Lahore at 00:35 on January 1st and airblue had advised passengers to check-in 2 to 3 hours prior to departure.  We had arrived 3 hours prior to departure and it was a good thing we did; check-in for the flight was done at an ad-hoc counter on the side of the international terminal and it was extremely chaotic.  There were 3 airblue flights leaving around the same time and nobody knew what line (there were 2 counters open) was for which flight (or if all flights had been open to check-in).  When we finally got to the counter, I put my bags on the counter and waited for the boarding pass only for the check-in attendant telling me I need to go and get a ‘credit card verification’.  To decrease credit card fraud, any flights booked via credit card must go through credit card verification to ensure it is the same passenger (this information is stated on the reservation).  I had read the statement, which said ‘the card holder must present (in person) the Credit/Debit Card and their Photo ID to Airblue personnel for verification. This can be done at the airport at the time of check-In, -or- at any Airblue sales office prior to travel’ and as it had said it could be done at the time of check-in, I waited until then.  The airline representative said that she could not do the verification, but rather I had to exit the terminal and go to the airline office housed at the airport, do the credit card verification there, and then come back and receive my boarding pass (when I pointed out what their statement said, their response was ‘oh that’s not correct anymore’ even though I had received the changed ticket only the day before departure).  After an hour of going through this process, I was finally able to come back and complete the check-in process and receive a boarding pass.  Seats were assigned at the airport, thus another reason to come and check-in early. 

Boarding started at 11:30pm, in no particular order, and we were bused to the awaiting plane.  The plane was a relatively new Airblue plane, with a 3-3 layout consisting of relatively comfortable leather-covered seats (it had been previously owned by, and we pushed back for an on-time departure at 00:35.  As it was the first day of 2013 one of the first things the airblue attendants did was wish everyone a happy new year, which went to the level of attention to detail they offered.  Airblue has adopted the low-cost carrier model being replicated throughout the world (commonly referred to as the ‘southwest model’) and thus is only a one-class airline and only provides snacks and drinks.  The reservation stated that on flights less than 2 hours, only beverages are provided and no meals; our 3 hour flight was not applicable to this rule and thus were offered a snack and a beverage.  Additionally, passengers were given a choice of international or national newspapers to read and a movie (ice age 2) was shown on the main screen (a welcome sight for the late-night flight).  The snack consisted of chicken or veggie sandwich pocket, served warm and was appetizing, along with a choice of beverages as well as tea or coffee.  After serving all passengers and on their way back to the main galley, the flight attendants were offering to refill beverages and ask if passengers needed anything else (another attention to detail which was appreciated).  There was no in-flight magazine to read, but the availability of the newspapers as well as the movie made the flight go by smoothly.  We landed on time in Dubai and after a long taxi, and a delay in getting the door open, disembarked.   

Based on the state of aviation in Pakistan, I was hesitant to fly a Pakistani-based airline (even many of my Pakistani-based relatives and friends were shocked I had booked airblue for my flight especially because Airblue recently had a fatality in YEAR when one of its planes crashed into the mountains while trying to land in Islamabad, killing all 152 on board) but in spite of our hesitation I had a pleasant and wonderful experience from Lahore to Dubai.  While a Pakistani-based airline may not be everyone’s first choice, my flight with airblue restored some of my confidence in Pakistani-based aviation.  

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