Pakistan International Airlines flight attendants have been failing to report back after landing in Toronto, and while some blame low salaries and fear of privatization, the airline blames Canada.
Yet another Pakistan International Airlines flight attendant disappeared in Canada last week after touching down in Toronto, the airline’s spokesman, Abdullah Hafeez Khan, confirmed on Wednesday.
Khan said that flight attendant Faiza Mukhtar landed in Toronto on Jan. 19 on PIA flight PK-781 from Islamabad, and was supposed to depart the following day on flight PK-784 from Toronto to Karachi.
However, “she did not board the flight and disappeared,” Khan told The Media Line.
Mukhtar’s disappearance follows at least seven disappearances in 2023 by PIA flight attendants after landing in Canada. Khan confirmed that in late December, Syed Ali Abbas and Farkhanda Shaheen landed in Toronto on a flight from Lahore and failed to report back for their departing flight. Earlier that month, Ayaz Qureshi also failed to report back after landing on a flight from Lahore to Toronto. In November, flight attendants Khalid Afridi and Fida Hussain Shah vanished soon after landing in Toronto on a flight from Islamabad. Several others also slipped away in Canada in the months before that.
Khan said that “crews seeking asylum are common throughout South Asia and other developing countries, therefore this situation is not exclusive to PIA.”
According to some sources, the wave of disappearances comes in the wake of low salaries for flight crews and fear about a privatization plan for the airline. However, the airline attributes the disappearances to Canada’s liberal asylum policies. It has attempted to stop the flow by raising the minimum age for flight attendants traveling to Canada.
Khan said the airline had set up a unit to investigate the disappearances.
“Strict departmental action will be taken against those who abandon duty and they will be fired from the job. These individuals will be subject to serious legal action right away as they get back home,” he said.
“There is no failure [on the part of the airline] as we have tried to put in the most stringent possible efforts to curtail that. However, the laws of Canada are so liberal that those measures become counter-effective. On the other hand, we are now seeking some legal measures against the perpetrators, involving law enforcement agencies.”
Khan said the airline was “strictly monitoring the situation and keeping an eye out to make sure that our flight attendants are not engaged in any strange conduct or sending money abroad.”
A persistent problem
The Media Line has obtained information about PIA flight attendants failing to return and seeking asylum in Canada and other countries as early as 2018.
Shazia Saeed arrived in Paris, France, in 2019 on PIA flight PK-734, and vanished after sneaking away from the crew’s hotel.
Yasir Ali vanished in July 2020 after landing in Toronto on flight PK-781 from Islamabad.
Fareha Mukhtar disappeared in September 2021 after landing in Toronto.
A flight attendant identified only as Mahira disappeared after landing in Toronto in 2018. She now lives in Canada and provided legal assistance to Fareha Mukhtar when she applied for asylum.
A male flight attendant vanished in Toronto in January 2021, followed a day later by Zahida Baloch.
Waqar Ahmad Jadoon vanished in January 2022 after landing in Toronto on flight PK-781. In October of that year, Ejaz Shah disappeared after landing on the same flight.
Initially founded as Orient Airways in 1946, the airline underwent a series of transformations before becoming Pakistan International Airlines in 1955. As Pakistan’s national carrier, it has played a pivotal role in connecting Pakistan to the world and fostering economic and cultural exchanges. The airline has achieved significant milestones, including being the first Asian carrier to operate the Boeing 777 and introducing innovative services.
Despite its achievements, the airline has faced a tumultuous journey in recent years, grappling with financial challenges, governance issues, and controversies.
“As Pakistan’s flag carrier confronts crisis, comprehensive reforms that tackle corruption, political interference, governance deficiencies, and labor disputes are imperative,” Syed Junaid Agha, a Karachi-based aviation expert, told The Media Line.
“Allegations of misappropriation, financial corruption, and mismanagement have eroded public trust and contributed to the financial woes of the national carrier. The lack of transparency and accountability has allowed corruption to fester, adversely impacting the airline’s ability to compete on the international stage.”
Agha said that “the resolution of salary issues is equally critical to restoring the confidence of the workforce and creating a foundation for sustained success in the challenging global aviation landscape. Political interference further exacerbates the crisis, with appointments and decisions often driven by political considerations rather than merit. As a result, PIA’s ability to adapt to the dynamic aviation industry has been hampered, leaving it vulnerable to external pressures.”
In recent years, there has been a discernible rise in the number of Pakistanis attempting to enter Europe and North America to flee difficult economic conditions.
Some have taken illegal and dangerous risks to do so. Last June, at least 400 Pakistanis lost their lives when an overcrowded boat transporting illegal immigrants from Libya to Italy sank off the Greek coast.
A special meeting of the Senate‘s Standing Committee for Overseas Pakistanis, chaired by Senator Rukhsana Zuberi, was held in Islamabad on Wednesday. It was told that “44,000 Pakistani nationals were barred from leaving the country from different airports in 2021 to 2023.”
A report provided by the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment found that in 2023, about 1 million Pakistanis left the country. Most were labor professionals. Educated and skilled young people were also among those headed overseas.
“Economic factors are an important driver in the choice to migrate,” Tanzeela Javed, a Rawalpindi-based expert on Canadian immigration, told The Media Line.
“Pakistan is experiencing tough economic difficulties such as currency depreciation, unemployment, and inflation,” Javed said.
“A lot of people think that a brighter future is outside the nation because of the dearth of employment possibilities and the unstable economy. Subsequently, people looking for possibilities outside to create a more stable and financially viable living include young graduates, entrepreneurs, and talented professionals. … The trend of Pakistani migration is not limited to any specific demographic. Rather, it spans across various age groups and professions. Families, students, and individuals alike are making the difficult choice to leave their homes in pursuit of a safer and more promising future.”
Javed said that “in Canada, while anybody is waiting for a decision on an asylum claim, he cannot be deported to his country of origin. Even if he enters the country without a visa or entry permit, he cannot be deported until his asylum application has been considered. It is true that the Canadian asylum rules are so generous, and it always benefits the applicant.”
She urged national policymakers “to focus on enhancing security measures, fostering economic growth, and promoting inclusivity to create an environment where citizens feel secure and optimistic about their future within the country.”