A Trip Report: Shaheen Air International, domestic
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We were travelling domestically in Pakistan, and decided to try Shaheen Air International (SAI). Shaheen Air has had an interesting history – it started in the early 90’s but then had to restructure in early 2000’s when the government said it owed a lot of money. Airlines in Pakistan have not been known for their service or on-time record. There are three major carriers in the Pakistan market: 1) PIA – Pakistan International Airlines – is the national carrier and has been the dominant carrier in the market. They also have the most planes and staff; 2) airblue which is a private airline that started in the early 2000s. They had initially gone through a tremendous growth spurt, but were unable to maintain the growth and thus have scaled back; and finally 3) Shaheen Air which has had a troubled past but after the restructuring seems to be investing a lot in its fleet and expanding their services. Given their new direction, we decided to try Shaheen Air.
We had booked our ticket through Shaheen’s website. Both the website and app are very user-friendly, easy to navigate, and it was easy to book a ticket. We were travelling from Karachi to Lahore and as Shaheen is still a growing airline, they do not have as many flight options as PIA (although more than airblue). They operate this service twice a day, once in the afternoon and then once in the evening. We decided to choose the evening flight – both options were the same price so the evening flight gave us more time in Karachi. Even though we were able to book and receive a confirmation on the website, the payment could not be made online so we had 3 days to go to a Shaheen Air office or a travel agent to pay for the ticket and confirm the booking. This was a bit of a pain. Shaheen Air is a full service airline, which meant that the ticket includes free luggage allowance, free hand-carry, and a free meal. You are not able to pre-book your seat, either through the website, travel agency, nor through the call center; seat assignment are only received at check-in.
Given that we were going to receive our seat assignment upon check-in, we decided to get to the airport early. The flight was scheduled to depart Karachi at 7:00pm and arrive Lahore at 8:45pm, for a flight time of 1hr 30mins. We arrived at the airport around 4:30pm, and check-in opened at 5pm. Check-in was quick and efficient, and we received our boarding passes with seat assignments. We then proceeded through an empty security check and had plenty time to enjoy Butler’s Café in the Karachi Airport. We went to the gate area around 6pm and between 6pm and 6:45pm, three Shaheen Air planes landed and deplaned passengers. Our plane was the last to arrive, and once passengers deplaned it took a while before the next crew boarded the plane to get it ready for the next flight. The flight crew seemed to be asking the ground crew when they could board, but the ground staff did not seem to be in a hurry so it took a while. Boarding finally started around 6:45, and Shaheen has two boarding groups. The first group to board are passengers seated in the back of the plane, while the second group are passengers seated in the front of the plane. As we were near the front of the plane, we boarded in the second group.
The A320 plane from the outside looked nice with a nice paint job. On-board, the look of the plane was very nice in a 3-3 layout in seat covers that kept the interior plane looking modern and fresh. The seat itself was decent – more comfortable than PIA or Etihad, but not as comfortable as other airlines. The seat pitch was also decent, not too much legroom but my knees were not hitting the seat in front of me. It was a fine for our short duration. The plane itself did not look new, and closer inspection of the wear and tear on the seats proved this theory. The panels above the seat also looked a bit older; however, this plane looked better maintained versus the PIA plane which had brought us to Karachi. Entering and sitting on the plane reminded me of flying with Southwest – the planes are kept up decent enough given the high utilization and the wear and tear that comes with this. As we boarded the plane late, we took of late as well. The doors did not close until 7:15/7:20p and we did not take off until 7:30/7:40pm. On-time departures are not something that Pakistani airlines are known for.
Despite the late start, the service on board was fantastic. Glasses of water were passed out during boarding and the attendants greeted each passenger with a warm smile. Again, given the short duration I did not expect much from the flight but as soon as cruising altitude was reached the service began. As this was an evening flight, complimentary dinner plus complimentary water, soft drinks, and juice were provided. The complimentary meal included chicken biryani with yogurt and dessert, and the portion was extremely generous (the portion was generous in itself, but also extremely generous given the short duration of the flight). Once dinner was served, the attendants came through with complimentary tea and coffee. The service was a lot, especially given the short duration, and more than I have experienced with other airlines (such as Etihad).
As the coffee and tea were being served, we had already started our descent into Lahore. I am not sure if it was the amount of service provided for the short duration, or the fact that we experienced some turbulence and this may have affected the service, but towards the end the attendants were a bit frantic in trying to clear the trays and the clear up the plane prior to landing. At one point, I seriously thought we were going to land with the trays in our laps but the attendants cleared the plane and get in ready just in time to land. As we left late, we also landed late as well – about 30 minutes behind schedule (no time was made up in flight).
In terms of in-flight entertainment, there was none. There are not PTVs in the back of the seats and none drop from the overhead ceiling. There are also no magazines to read; however, the airline did pass our newspaper as passengers were boarding. The newspapers, available in English and Urdu, were the only form of in-flight entertainment. Given the short duration of the flight it was fine, but I understand that Shaheen has no entertainment on any of their flights – and they fly to destinations across the Middle East, China, and now the U.K.; that’s a lot of time without any entertainment.
When we booked our flight with Shaheen, we were a bit hesitant. Both Pakistani aviation, plus Shaheen’s own troubled history, did not provide us with a lot of confidence in the flight. Despite our reservations, we had a really pleasant experience on board Shaheen. This flight changed our mind about flying with Shaheen and we would not hesitate them to fly them short-haul or medium-haul. Given the lack of PTV’s, I am going to wait to fly them long-haul. Shaheen’s motto is ‘Change is in the Air’ and you can definitely feel the change at Shaheen.