PAKISTAN’S national airline said it would investigate allegations too many people were allowed to board an international flight, amid claims the extra passengers had to stand in aisles during the flight.
Pakistani news outlet Dawn has reported as many as seven passengers were told to stand in aisles during a Pakistan International Airlines flight from Karachi to Medina, Saudi Arabia, on January 20 because all the seats were booked.
It claimed the airline put passengers’ lives at risk by allowing 416 people to board the Boeing 777, which can only seat 409 passengers.
The airline confirmed 416 passengers boarded the flight and said it would investigate how the passenger allowance on the flight exceeded the maximum allowed.
But Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) spokesman Danyal Gillani denied reports those extra passengers were forced to stand during the three-hour flight, dismissing the claims as “exaggerated and baseless”.
“It is not possible for anyone to travel like that in an aircraft, regardless of the duration of the flight,” he said.
Mr Gillani said a pilot and two other crew members were being disciplined over the incident.
“All concerned are being questioned,” he said. “PIA is committed to ensure the safety of the passengers and cannot allow any incident to happen which compromises safety,” he added.
This could constitute a serious air safety breach as passengers without seats would not have access to oxygen, and would also cause congestion, in the case of an emergency.
Reports also claimed passengers were given handwritten boarding passes and the seven extra passengers were not listed on the official list of passengers on board.
The flight’s captain, Anwar Adil, said he only found out there were extra passengers on board after takeoff, when it was too late to turn the plane around without having to dump its fuel load.
“I had already left and the senior purser did not point out extra passengers before closing the aircraft door. Therefore, after takeoff, immediate landing back in Karachi was not possible,” he said.
“It may be appreciated that immediate landing in Karachi after takeoff required a lot of fuel dumping, which was not in the interest of the airline.”
It was the latest embarrassing incident for the airline, which was considered a global leader until the 1970s but was plagued by controversies over recent years and saddled with billions of dollars of debt.
A Pakistan International Airlines turboprop built by European manufacturer ATR plummeted into a mountain in a northern region on December 7, bursting into flames and killing all 47 people on board.
The airline was later mocked after its staff were photographed sacrificing a goat on a runway to ward off bad luck.
Domestic flights are often delayed for VIPs while flight employees have been caught smuggling goods ranging from iPhones to narcotics.
In 2013 one of its pilots was jailed for nine months in Britain for being drunk before he was due to fly from Leeds to Islamabad with 156 people on board.