Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) looks like it might be heading back to New York. The Karachi based airline is tentatively planning to start flying direct between Islamabad and New York later in 2020.
Back to the future for PIA
It will mark the airline’s return to New York after abandoning the route in 2017. While New York is a Schmick destination on any airline’s departure board, the route was losing money for PIA. In times past, PIA has variously flown to Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C.
The previous New York-bound PIA flight went via Manchester in the UK. This time around, PIA plans to fly direct, initially three times a week, but with a view to increasing frequency. The airline has several Boeing 777s that could make the distance.
A report in Pakistan Today has a PIA spokesperson saying the airline would start flights to New York in May 2020, “subject to TSA clearance.”
Because of security concerns, direct flights from Pakistan to the United States have been banned for some time. Flights had to stopover somewhere. The old New York flights had passengers de-planing in Manchester to undergo another round of security screening there.
It wasn’t a super convenient arrangement for anybody.
But the airline has been in talks with the United States government for some time. Earlier this week, PIA said the United States had approved the direct flights subject to TSA clearance. Frankly, that sounds a bit confusing – flights are approved but they aren’t approved.
New airport at Islamabad improves security situation
The opening of the new international airport at Islamabad seems to have been a factor in moving things forward. It supersedes the bursting at the seams and aging Benazir Bhutto International Airport, a departure airport the USA government had significant security concerns about.
In fact, the USA was so concerned about security at Pakistan’s airports they disallowed direct flights from the country.
This raised a whole host of operational and cost issues for PIA, causing it to terminate its services to the United States.
It now appears security has been lifted to more acceptable standards at Islamabad’s new airport. Just to get your car or taxi near the airport terminal you will need a passport and an airline ticket. There are bonus body and under-vehicle searches.
Once in the terminal, there are again multiple layers of security you and your luggage must move through before you get near an aircraft. The security directions are quite specific – no talking on mobile phones when queueing, hats and sunglasses off. It’s far from a laissez-faire arrangement. So much so airlines recommend passengers departing on international flights arrive at the airport four hours beforehand to have time to get through all this.
On the upside, the new security rigor at Islamabad seems to have appeased the United States government a little. If it does end up facilitating direct flights again between Pakistan and the United States, that’s a good thing. If it makes flying safer, that’s an even better thing.
Simple Flying has contacted Pakistan International Airlines in an attempt to clarify what’s going on with their New York flights. We have not heard back before publication.