When Fahad Sami went to pick his mother up from the airport around 11:45pm, he realised the flight schedule was up in the air.
A cousin from Islamabad had called to inform him that there were rumours of a militant attack at Jinnah International Airport. “I checked the flight inquiry website and that stated that the PIA flight was scheduled to land on time,” he said. “I got there 15 minutes before the flight was going to land but they stopped me at the first security check post and said I could not go any further.” He added that since there were no update of a change in arrival timings he thought the flight still might land on time.
According to Sami, there was no way of getting any information. “I kept getting calls from my family asking what was happening at the airport and I had nothing to tell them. The website kept confirming that the flight had landed and that is what worried me,” he said. “Eventually I got a call from my mother who said that they had landed in Nawabshah.” He added that he was tempted to go pick her up from Nawabshah as it was just a three-hour drive away but decided against it when his mother informed him that the airline had given them an option of flying to Lahore and then back to Karachi once the situation was under control.
Sami was one of the many family members waiting for their loved ones to get in touch and land safely. Sufya Umar, a teacher, spent a restless night waiting for her son to arrive. “He was scheduled to land at 6am. The last time I was in contact with him was when he boarded the plane in London,” she said. “When the airport was attacked around 11:30pm I realised they would not land in Karachi. Some people told me the flight would be redirected to London, Muscat or Sukkur.”
Umar was extremely anxious but what helped was a smart phone application her brother-in-law had on his phone that could track the plane’s movements in real time. “All you need is the flight number. So when he checked, he learnt that around 1am our time, the plane was flying over Romania,” she said. “There was a lot of uncertainty as the flight was scheduled for five hours later. But my brother-in-law learned they were re-routing to Lahore.”
Eventually, Zain, called his mother to tell him he was fine. “He said the airline had given them food,” she said. “Now they are just waiting it out. If he isn’t on the 4pm flight, he will take the one that flies out after.” She added that while she was concerned, she knew he was safe. “He’s a 22-year-old boy, at worst, I knew he would be uncomfortable and tired,” said Umar. “I was, however, scared when I saw the militants go on the offensive.”
Umar’s friend Aamira also spent an anxious night as her brother who was supposed to fly out to Lahore was stranded at the airport. She was in touch with her brother over WhatsApp and Facebook as the phone network was down but the internet was working. “It was a total nightmare. I had to take half a Xanax to sleep for a while,” she said. “My husband who left for Dubai earlier also started to panic as I am supposed to join him a day after tomorrow.” She added that if all goes well, she does plan to carry on with her travel plans.
Inside the departure lounge
Mehwash Ansari was on board Emirate EK-603 to Dubai and the plane was about to take off when the pilot decided to taxi back. “They did not tell us what had happened. The crew just said that there were some security concerns,” she said, as she waited to catch the flight on Monday afternoon, after spending over 18 hours at the airport. “Initially, they just delayed the departure but then people began to realise that something was wrong.”
People started contacting their family members to find out what was happening and then some passengers saw the fire outside. Ansari said the flight became a bit chaotic when the cabin crew kept asking the passengers to disembark and then return to their seats. There was a point, said Ansari, when the crew told us to be ready to leave without our handbags.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2014.
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