Gone with the wind: The curious cases of Pakistan International Airlines’ vanishing crew members

Rocked by the country’s financial crisis and political instability, Pakistan’s PIA is now battling a brain drain as employees are using a proven tactic to defect to other nations. As per reports, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) have lost yet another employee, who left a ‘thank you’ note before vanishing from her hotel room.

Seven PIA crew members defected to Canada in 2023. Photo courtesy: PIA/Facebook.
Representational image of PIA crew members. Photo courtesy: PIA/Facebook.

Identified as Maryan Raza, the PIA air hostess reportedly absconded from her hotel in Toronto, Canada, on February 26. This is the second such case faced by the airline company in 2024.

As per reports, Raza, a part of the PIA flight that had flown to the Canadian city, didn’t report back for duty on the return flight to Pakistan’s Karachi a day later. A search was initiated and upon reaching her hotel room, authorities found her uniform and a note reading ‘Thank you, PIA’.

This method of resignation has been ongoing for some time now. According to PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan, another PIA employee, Faiza Mukhtar, pulled a similar stunt and vanished.

Canada gets the blame

PIA crew have been seeking asylum in the North American nation since 2018. But the numbers have swelled since last year, when as many as seven PIA employees defected to Canada.

Khan recalled an incident from December 2023, where two company cabin crew members vanished after landing in Canada.

“The flight was on its scheduled return to Islamabad, the steward did not show up in Toronto. The flight of the national flag carrier had to return to Islamabad without the crew members,” he was quoted as saying by India Today.

Speaking to ArabNews in November 2023, Khan had blamed the system in Canada as a contributing factor to PIA’s brain drain.

The Toronto airport. Photo courtesy: Jiaqian AirplaneFan/Wikipedia.
The Toronto Pearson International Airport. Photo courtesy: Jiaqian AirplaneFan/Wikipedia.

“The reason for this [disappearance] is an overly liberal asylum and asylum programme of the Canadian government,” he said.

However, experts believe the problem lies with the system in Pakistan. While Canada undoubtedly provides a better and secure stay, Pakistan’s current situation paints a dismal picture, riddled with financial and political instability.

PIA’s own future hangs in the balance. The airline’s privatisation was approved by the country’s caretaker government in February, in a desperate attempt to revive the loss-making company.

So, what happens to these defected employees? Khan said, “We normally terminate the services of such individuals and penalize them by denying them of any benefits.”

Defected air hostess helping others with asylum

As per reports, former PIA flight attendant Mahira, who vanished after her flight landed in Canada in 2018, provided legal support to yet another PIA escapee Fareha Mukhtar, when the latter applied for asylum in Canada.

A PIA aircraft. Photo courtesy: PIA/Instagram.
A PIA flight. Photo courtesy: PIA/Instagram.

While Khan is keen on downplaying the incidents as rampant throughout South Asia, a PIA employee, under anonymity, told Pakistan’s SamaaTV that such defection incidents often cause embarrassment for the company. “The national airline’s management has to face embarrassment from Canadian authorities over such incidents of escape,” the person said.

The other factor that PIA needs to take into consideration is the position of the employees who are defecting. As per reports, most of the cases involve mid-senior members of the organisation. This is largely due to the factors such as economy, instability and better prospects abroad, that play an active role in the defection.