Pakistan Airlines To Launch Nonstop US Flights

Filed Under: Other Airlines

If the company is to be believed, we’ll see nonstop Islamabad to New York flights as soon as May 2020…

Pakistan Airlines stopped flying to the US in 2017

In October 2017, Pakistan International Airlines stopped flying to New York, which was their only destination in the US at the time. The airline had flown to the US for over 50 years, and over time flew to New York, Chicago, and Houston.

The airline was allegedly losing about 12 million USD per year flying to the US, and that’s in spite of the fact that the route only operated twice per week. PIA was no doubt at a disadvantage in many ways:

  • Their onboard product was outdated, with angled seats in business class
  • The airline wasn’t able to operate nonstop flights to the US due to safety reasons, so the flight had to fly from Pakistan to Manchester to New York, with passengers being rescreened in Manchester
  • Fares on the “big three” Gulf carriers are often quite reasonable between Pakistan and the US, so the yields weren’t great

I had the chance to fly from Manchester to New York in PIA business class, and had an interesting flight.

PIA’s 777 business class

The thing about “national airlines” flying to New York is that while it’s something that is often done for prestige, in reality it’s rarely a money maker. For example, in late 2018 Kenya Airways started flying to New York, which they described as a “game changer.” Just a few months after launching the route, Kenya Airways’ CEO said “there is nothing lucrative about flying to New York.”

And that brings us back to Pakistan Airlines…

Pakistan Airlines plans to return to New York in May 2020

In March 2019, PIA announced their intentions to once again offer service to the US. This time they want to fly nonstop, though, as they said that operating via any third point makes the flight economics unviable.

The company’s CEO pointed out that they’ve improved greatly when it comes to safety, and with the opening of the new Islamabad Airport, a lot more aviation authorities have faith in the safety of the airport. For example, British Airways has even resumed flights to Islamabad.

PIA had asked for the help of the US in facilitating these flights, and in July 2019, representatives from the US Transportation Security Administration were in Islamabad to audit the airport, in hopes of getting approval for nonstop flights to the US.

We haven’t heard much about this in July, but yesterday a PIA spokesperson stated that the airline plans to launch Islamabad to New York flights in May 2020, “subject to TSA clearance.”

It’s anyone’s guess if it actually comes to fruition this time around, as we’ve heard this repeatedly. But the fact that they’re giving an alleged month for the route to launch is more than we’ve gotten in the past.

Bottom line

It’s great to see the positive impacts of the new Islamabad Airport, in particular with British Airways launching flights there.

However, there’s simply no universe in which PIA will make money flying to the US. Sure, there’s demand, but most of it is fairly low yield. Operating a flight this long with an outdated 777 just doesn’t seem like a recipe for making money, especially given PIA’s track record flying to the US.

Heck, apparently the reason the route wasn’t cut sooner than 2017 was because the company faced “political pressure,” including from top government officials, politicians holding dual citizenship, and even pilots.

Do you think PIA will follow through with nonstop flights to the US, should they get clearance from the US?

  1. Khi/lax flights also needed for seniors with good Pakistani style food AND slim stewards and air hostess who should be very polite for business purposes. Thanks.

  2. The key is family travel by the huge Pakistani diaspora in the U.S., not business travel, in my opinion. To facilitate that, since the logical customer base is dispersed, PIA would need some sort of agreement with a U.S. airline to provide feed to New York, if they want to compete at all with the Gulf carriers that do offer multiple North American gateways with one connection to Pakistan.

  3. Still waiting for them to paint one of their planes in the new livery they released over a year ago!

  4. I can’t imagine there is much business travel between Pakistan and the United States. Maybe arms dealers and defense contractors, but even then. I just can’t imagine they can fill a daily flight, especially without an investment in the business-class product.

  5. The market for this flight is VFR. There isn’t a lot of business traffic between the US and Pakistan and any government traffic on the US origin is nothing something I think the US government will work with PIA on. This is a prestige route and little else.

  6. This could be successful only if the the flights are direct to and from Pakistan AND if the flight service greatly greatly improves AND the frequency is at least four times a week. Only then will PIA have caught upto its modern competitors like Etihad, Turkish or Emirates, to whom it has lost so much Pakistani diaspora business. However despite any improvements I do agree with the posters that this is basically a prestige route and most likely will be a money loser white-elephant PIA.

  7. A couple of years back I was on a full Pak Air flight for a 2 hour ish trip and the toilets were a mess. 15 hours? No thanks.

  8. To make this route work, they need to target Pakistani expats living in the US. They need to market their nonstop flight along with national pride but must have a really compelling product. Most expats have a terrible view of PIA and most would never fly them unless needed.

    I myself am one of them and a week ago Thai Airways canceled all flights to Islamabad for 2 weeks due to the US-Iran thing (which includes my flight this weekend). Now they will only fly me to Karachi and I have to find my own way to ISB.

    To make this work, they really need to prove they turned around. I doubt just Pakistan’s population can make this route work.

  9. Why is 777 considered so outdated? Emirates still flies them everyday for their non-stop SEA-DXB route, although they use A380 for their JFK, BOS and LAX routes.

  10. It will work but PIA need to upgrade the fleet if the service and punctuality is kept in mi d you can’t miss the slot times or paying delayed departure penalties and concentration on cargo utilising maximum payload.

  11. I flew in and out of Islamabad airport this past March. From a passengers perspective it is clean, streamlined, efficient, secure and obviously under-utilized.

    In fact upon my return to NYC I was startled to compare the new Islamabad airport to the borderline rundown, overused and chaotic feel of US airports.

    Of course the US airports are older and handle an overwhelming higher number of passengers and flights so its hard to accurately compare them to the Islamabad airport.

    Suffice it to say, based upon my personal experience, Islamabad airport is ready and more than capable of handling both the security and transportation needs of international flights and travellers

  12. @Salim Badruddin “Slim Stewardesses” This is an airplane not a strip club. Their job is not to entertain you with their bodies. As a Pakistani I must say you are doing nothing to help the worlds false perception of us as sexists.

  13. I don’t think that it will prove to be a profitable route for PIA. They should terminate their operation totally for US with outdated onboard entertainment system and poor seats which aren’t comfortable at all.

  14. Pia still represents our national carrier’s status.
    Pakistanis expats will always welcome direct flights to the USA, no doubt there.
    Both east and west coasts(NYC,Lax) of the USA including mid points like Houston or Dallas can be operated and turned into profitable routes with an emphasis on regularity and frequency.
    After all Pia used to be the darling airline for the Americans in the 50s and 60s.Why not now!

  15. It would be great thing to start non stop flights to US and back to Pakistan. First all huge time saving and the home like atmosphere as soon as one enters the aircraft. Most definitely Me and my family would love to these flight in action as soon as possible.
    Best of Luck PIA.

  16. I agree with some of the commentators; in 2006, after Haj, my wife and I get chance to fly from Jeddah, it was worst experience in life to fly with PIA. Flight back to California was Emirates. There was no law and order on board, pushing, hurling, even passenger was using absurd language, none of the passenger was courteous to anyone, staring at female like they never saw any woman in their lifetime, air hostesses, flight staff members at the check in counter or those who were facilitating the boarding were no courteous at all. As soon as we board on the flight, there was no concept of cleanliness, bathrooms; filthy and awful, that was first and last trip with PIA. PIA only server better to the corrupt politicians of that country and gangsters of Pakistan.

  17. Yes they should explore the business opportunity. The new government and new PIA management are efficient with great people airline have better opportunity. They will learn and can become competitive if they try. Definitely it’s first priority of 200 million population of Pakistan. Non stop flight from US or Canada would definitely save long flight time for respectful Pakistan citizens. Of course PIA should stay up par

  18. PIA used to fly to Washington DC as well back in the 90’s. Houston and Chicago were other destinations for PIA in the 1990’s and 2000’s. NYC had been served constantly since the 1960’s.

  19. @Tariq, Lucky was referring to the interior, seat, hardware, etc., not the plane model itself.

  20. Am I reading this correctly? Do you know how many Pakistani people fly to Pakistan? We used to take PIA from NY to Lahore twice a year AND on business class. Every seat is booked. There is never an empty flight going to Pakistan. They definitely need to update the plane. The demand is there. Just take the crooks out of the mix and then you will see the yield. Bring the flights back and nonstop to NY is PERFECT!! Manchester is awful layover, they treat us like cattle, trying to hold us all in a tiny gate and going through all the ridiculous screening. We love PIA

  21. To all the naysayers who may not have ever flown PIA, I’m happy to report that their economy class on those 777s really, really isn’t that bad. The seats are a little old – but what that actually means is they have padding and are larger and more comfortable. The catering is also pretty good. It wouldn’t be a swanky experience, but its definitely not the worst.

    Also, for the “no business flyers to Pakistan” folks, I fly there in business regularly and I’m definitely not in defense.

    Lastly, if the problem-plagued AirIndia can make their routes work, I really don’t see why Pakistan couldn’t.

  22. I wonder why they don’t do a triangle flight with the YYZ service and offer a higher frequency. Something like Islamabad-New York-Toronto-Islamabad with a 4-5 weekly flights. Triangle might be more cost effective with higher utilization at least. Don’t know about legal and logistical issues though.

  23. This rout should be resume, because its good for travling with kids and elders no extra stop.

  24. Pia airlines direct flights to Pakistan are needed i know myself and others, who have travelled on other airlines and have hated the layovers

  25. This is a niche route and will be an immediate success as no other airline is offering nonstop flight on Pakistan route. Ederlies and families would be willing yo pay premium for direct flight . This will save them several hours of lay over time and exhaustion.

  26. Direct PIA flight would be very benifical to boost Pakistan economy, if US is reluctant to permit it with the old Boing planes thenPakistan must excecute it with new units, I hope Pakistan would soon reimburse the spent money.

  27. The main reason the Gulf Carriers succeeded was because of the traffic from the Indian Subcontinent. Many would like a non-stop flight, and I personally live in NYC and I’m first generation American with my family from Pakistan. We go quite often to Islamabad and would love a non-stop flight, but their on board product value is very little compared to the Gulf Carriers. And their reputation is widely known among Pakistani-Americans. While I’m sure they would fill the flights, it may not be with high-paying customers (especially with the big amount of wealthy expats from Pakistan in North America). They would need to partner with a US Airline for connectivity to JFK and improve their reliance and reputation, which would need some sort of physical transformation to prove it (such as new cabins, new services, etc.).

  28. Jake it was called off.

    As usual I put a link I my reply and OMAAT sends me this “Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview, your comment will be visible after it has been approved”

  29. I hope the US doesn’t allow a direct flight to the capital of the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world. It won’t end well.

  30. This article doesn’t give a full accounting of the current situation of PIA. The 777 product is OLD but that means economy is only 9 across vs the 10 across on almost every other airline’s 777. Anyone who has flown a 9 across (like on Delta’s 777) vs 10 across (like EK) knows there is a HUGE difference in comfort level. PIA’s former business class has angled flat bed seats. PIA management recognizes this deficiency and stopped selling it as “Business Class” and now refers to it as “Executive Economy.” Angle lie flat seats are STILL better than most carriers’ premium economy seats.

    SO PIA can definitely fill the plane if they are aggressive on pricing and luggage allowance vs ME3 and TK. If they price “Executive Economy” at a small premium over what ME3 & TK charge for Y (and well below what they charge for J)…PIA will DEFINITELY fill those seats!

  31. Hiroya what happened when they were flying in the past. Was the status you bestowed on the country not exist then?

  32. @Marco, previously they had to stop in a third country before flying onward to the US. Please read the article before making stupid comments.

  33. There’s always some inbred ignorant bigot who turns anything to do with the M.E. & Pakistan into a terrorism related comment.

  34. There is no more business class – it’s been rebranded as “executive economy” which is Y+, but still retaining the old business class service.

  35. @Nick

    When Pakistanis and other groups stop committing a disproportionately high amount of unprovoked violence and start respecting our right to have our own countries just like every other group in the world has a right to land exclusive for their people (Japan, China, Pakistan, Kenya aren’t bastions for diversity and multiculturalism but don’t get criticized for it), then we will feel different. Europe, the U.S. and Australia do fine without Pakistanis, we don’t need them to bring violence and their commotion.

    I’m sure this route is going to be rip for Visa overstays and abuse.

  36. @lucky. I know a lot of people who prefer to fly with PIA, direct if possible, just because it feel so familiar. The entire plane spends the flight socializing (which can’t be done in other airlines).
    The route could work if it’s direct and more than twice a week. Take a look at their London flight. It is almost always backed back of the bus and is usually not even that cheap.

    P.s. The reason for denying direct flights from Pakistan was not security check was not good enough ( believe me, I have gone through it. Feels like I was physically violated) but because people with connections or vip’s would just circumvent it.

  37. PIA does well in the UK because there is a large Pakistani community in the UK. Mainly spread between London, Birmingham and Manchester. New York seems to be coming back for nothing other than prestige

  38. @Jackson Waters
    It’s not worth arguing when ignorance is the basis of the opposition’s argument.

  39. Speaking of airports….
    Lucky – or anyone out there – any news on the new airport at Colombo that sits empty?

  40. If they price their “Executive Economy” cheap and economy as well, how will they earn profits? I’m not sure if there are any government subsidies and given that this would be a 13-15 hour flight, I don’t think they would earn too much if their prices were competitive. I’d say they need $700-$900 low-peak coach for direct, round-trip – which is around Qatar’s pricing from NYC. Executive Economy should be ~$1800 round-trip. I doubt the flight would always be full (generally Summer and December are peak times for this route) but their 777’s are predominantly coach. Would that be enough profit?

  41. Hiroya, it was not a stupid comment. It just seems strange that now with the nonstop it suddenly becomes a threat. Will the US authorities not be as vigilant as before as when a stopover was required? They have been flying non-stop to Canada for years.

    For most Pakistanis being considered a terrorist nation is something they themselves just wish they could not be associated with. Visit Pakistan someday and see the hospitality that you are welcomed with. Or take a PIA flight and experience it without even having to go to Pakistan :). Cheers

  42. @Marco

    Can’t use Canada as an example. All US flights are screened in Canada by US TSA and Immigration before boarding the aircraft. We are “in” the US while still standing on Canadian soil.

  43. @marco i flew PIA rt Beijing to ISB and must say the PIA staff went above and beyond in terms of providing comfort and service. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. They actually brought out a little crib and toys her crying baby and I’d say overall both flights we’re very comfortable and the service was top-notch get the entire mood was one of Comfort and and they had a personal touch rarely-seen in the service industry. I also must say that my month in Pakistan I was amazed by the beauty of the country in the warmth of the people. Though I must admit a couple times I found it wise to claim I was from Turkey rather than the USA. Sudden hostility changed into brotherly welcoming mood

  44. It will be a cold day in hell before I fly on PIA again. Once was enough.

    In the ’70s, when I was a very inexperienced international traveler, I booked myself on PIA from Paris to Frankfurt because the departure time was convenient. What I didn’t understand was that the flight originated in New York and continued to Cairo, Khartoum, and Karachi.

    When I boarded, the passengers already on board apparently had been fed breakfast before the plane landed at CDG. The sari-clad flight attendant, who apparently had worked the New York leg and was a little groggy, handed sealed orange juice cups, but then took them away from the continuing passengers! I don’t know if there was a relief flight crew already on board, but none boarded in Paris. Hmmmm…

    We flew without incident to Frankfurt, but my bag didn’t arrive. It continued to Cairo, Khartoum, and Karachi, where it vacationed until the next scheduled flight to New York via that route a week later. I had to argue the PIA airport baggage rep into giving me an allowance for underwear and toiletries.

    A week later, of course, I was no longer in Frankfurt — I arrived in Brussels in the afternoon and my bag was to arrive that morning. The PIA rep assured me that it would be delivered to my hotel before I got there. Of course, it wasn’t there, and I had to go back to the airport to get it. Fortunately, nothing was missing.

    A few years later, my employer made a deal with a corporate travel agent, and we were instructed to book our flights through them rather than using our own travel agents. In those pre-internet days, the OAG was our bible for international travel planning, particularly because you couldn’t fly on every day to some Asia/Pacific destinations, so I sent the new agent an itinerary specifying dates, times, and flights.

    When I received my ticket the day before the trip began, I discovered that the agent had changed my PEK – NRT booking from JAL to PIA with no warning or explanation. I canceled the entire ticket, rebooked with my own agent, and told the finance people that they could fire me if they didn’t like what I did.

    The response: our international group was allowed to make our own bookings.

  45. @Salim: what’s slim got to do with it. Flight attendants are there for your safety, not for you to ogle at. Stop being a sexist ass.

  46. I am not sure why PIA would want to restart flights to New York? If it is just for prestige, there are many other problems that plague PIA that need to be resolved that are tarnishing its prestige (corruption, lack of management, old planes, etc).

    In addition to security and nonstop issues, another reason PIA stopped flying to New York is that they kept getting fined for late departures and/or missed or delayed flights. It was actually costing PIA LOTS of money to run these flights and they were not following strict New York airport takeoff and landing timings

    I flew PIA domestically on a 777 two years ago to see if I could handle a long-haul flight, and based on my experience I would not see why someone would want to choose to fly PIA as compared to its competitors (you can check out the full review on my blog). I know people who fly PIA from Canada and the only advantage is that its a direct flight and FA’s know the local language. Other than that, they fly older planes with IFEs that do not work, seats that are barely functional, and a generous on-time departure (last year in February a passenger took PIA after a 36-hour delay from Toronto). Even in Business Class, which cannot be called Business Class because it does not meet the standards so it has been renamed “Premiere Class” or premium economy – the old seats, the seats that do not recline (half of them are broken), no IFEs, no noise cancelling headphones. the only thing they provide in PIA that people enjoy is constant and generous portions of food.

    In my opinion, I would say PIA should focus on strengthening their existing product, updating their planes, and refocusing on service and identity rather than trying to compete on prestige and honor – that is what got PIA into its current mess in the first place

  47. This will not make any money. Leisure travelers flying to pakistan on coach tickets won’t make the route profitable. They will get absolutely no lucrative full fare business/first class tickets from corporate clients. Air India also fails to make money on any of its US routes, despite significantly more business travel between India and the US, and Star Alliance membership which allows thorough ticketing to most of the US vis United.

  48. I am an Pakistani American. I’ve read most of the comments above and I do and don’t agree on people’s comments.
    I only had a chance to fly with PIA back in year 1999/2000 time frame. From SFO to London Virgin Atlantic and from London to ISB so called great people to fly with PIA.
    On my return from ISLAMABAD to SFO with my wife and two young kids.
    So we were the first people at ISB to check in and get our boarding passes from ISB to London Heathrow. As we were at the counter to check in we were told we can not get on a flight to London just because we did not reconfirmed 72 hours prior to flight which we did. They refused it that it’s not reconfirmed so they sold our seats to someone else.
    So they put us at the end of the line telling us that after they board everyone who is booked if there is any seats left they will put us on.
    We waited for couple hours when everyone checked in a ticket agent stood at the counter yelling loudly if there is anyone who is going to London please come forward so he can check them and board them. There wasn’t anyone else but my family and I. That son of a bitch a PIA employee said he will not rebook us on this flight for no reason.
    He said he will put us on a flight which is going in two hours later so come back to the counter when they start the boarding. He did not tell me where that flight was going but I was in impression that it will go to London and we will still be able to make our connection. No that next flight was for Manchester.
    Anyway time came I moved forward pushing my two carts my wife carrying one little girl a young boy holding her finger. As soon we got to the counter he looks at our tickets passports and pretending he does not even know us telling me that I was booked on London flight which already departed. I go. OH REALLY? Oh my God how can I miss that.
    Anyway I asked him will you please put us on this flight as we missed our flight to London he then tells me yes but after he put everyone else who are booked on this flight so go sit down and come back when booking is complete 🙂
    So I pushed everything back and waited till he announced is there anyone who is going to Manchester. I pushed my luggage again to the counter he looks at my documents looked at my passport and gave me a smile telling me you could’ve done this earlier you and your family would’ve been on London flight already.
    Guess what was that smile for? I tell you what it was. It was thousand rupees bill that I put in my passport for him so he put us on that flight.
    There is a long story after we got to Manchester and how we got to London from Manchester which I really don’t want to share at this time.
    Bottom line is on that day when I arrived home San Francisco I told myself that even if PIA give me free flights or even if they come with gold plated seats even if they serve steak and lobster or even if they have state of the art airliners I WILL NOT FLY pia.

    No we don’t want pia even come to any city of The United States of America.
    God bless America and all American Airlines.

  49. Free bee’s and VIP cultured Society take over paid Customers privileges. Political employment entry’s taking most seats in plane. How the Hell this Airline can make profits. Mostly overseas Pakistani love there Flag ship Airline. Make PIA business culture Airline not Governmental, political Serving Airline.

  50. PIA definitely should start direct flights to US. Its time saving for the busy professionals working in the US. Instead of wasting time some where in gulf for connecting flight, it is nice to land directly in destination country. Last time I flew from New York to Lahore, half of the plane was filled with PIA employees and their families returning from vacations . How this air line going to profit when it is giving free or subsidized air fares to politicians and the elites of Pakistan. Unless that culture free rides is not changed, PIA is doomed to fail again. Let’s hope new government handle it wisely.

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