The next time I crib about our national airline, please hit me. I have now travelled on American domestic airlines and I have emerged wiser.
When we checked in for our flight from Honolulu to Washington DC, I had to fill in my ticket details at an automated point – and it generated my boarding pass and allotted seat without even asking me about my preference. Just a random seat. I got to sit with an amply proportioned couple who also had their three-year-old daughter sharing the seat with them. The child kept herself engaged by kicking me during the six-hour flight.
At check-in, I had to pay $25 per checked-in bag. This was in addition to the airfare. Also, according to security regulations, I was not allowed to lock my luggage “otherwise locks would be broken in case of a security check”.
On the plane, we were told that if we wanted to watch the in-flight movie, we would have to buy the headphones and, more we would have to purchase refreshments. For the overnight flight, we were served juice twice. This, according to the airline, was a snack. Next time any of your relatives from the US complain about Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), make them read this.
That day, exhausted, we arrived at DC. It is cherry blossom season here but for us the best part was the dinner hosted by Imran Gardezi, the press attaché at the embassy. Alongwith his charming wife, who we later learnt is our deputy ambassador, they served us a sumptuous Pakistani dinner.
At the dinner, we also met Shaheen Sehbai, group editor of The News, who now shuttles between the US and Dubai where the managing editor now resides. Also in attendance was Anwar Iqbal, the hardworking correspondent for the daily Dawn.
The highlight so far of the trip has been the meeting with former congressman Jim Moody who made it a point to welcome us to Capitol Hill on a Sunday. As a rare honour, he took us around the Capitol Hill building and even let us into the floor of the Congress where we sat on chairs only congressmen sit on.
Despite some ornate design on the walls, the impression the Congress gave was that of taste and utility. There were no gold railings or plush carpets, only wooden floors and leather chairs for elected representatives to sit on. Here, in the world’s richest country and on the floor of the house where trillions of dollars are approved, one feels that money has not been wasted on useless decorations.
Congressman Moody, a democrat, explained how he garnered votes in his constituency by not only meeting constituents in his office but reserving Sundays for churches where the African-American community would be worshipping.
When I asked Moody why he made an effort to take us around places most Americans can only dream to visit, he said “this is a small way to pay back for the love the Pakistani people showed to me when I was in Pakistan in the 60s.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.