In the age of COVID 19, any pleasant news regarding aviation is a cause of extreme joy for aviation enthusiasts around the world. As we approached the end of 2020, aviation lovers in Pakistan were beaming with joy at the news of Air Sial, a start-up airline, the brainchild of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce, a leading light in Pakistan’s business circle, inducting Airbus 320s in their fleet. Those who know Pakistan’s aviation industry, the name of Air Sial was something they had heard on and off over the last couple of years. Fast forward to December 2020. Air Sial had been conducting a series of flights which in local aviation lexicon are known as proving flights.
On December 23rd 2020, was the first scheduled passenger flight. The flight route for PF-123 was the usual one, originating from the country’s business and commerce hub, Karachi and terminating at the capital, Islamabad. Scheduled departure time was 1300 hours local time. Stepping right into the check in line after the ASF security checks, the passengers were greeted by a rather festive atmosphere. The check in counter decorated with balloons of colors matching the Air Sial livery, a table was set up with a massive cake bearing the phrase ‘’KHUSHAMDEED’ , the slogan of the day.
I was handed a merchandise bag at the check-in counter, the chance to open it did not arrive until my arrival back to Karachi. It is however safe to say that receiving the bag did put a smile on the face of many passengers, I observed. The aircraft registered AP-BOC was assigned for the mission. It is a 12-year-old airframe, which has a 180 seat all-economy layout in the passenger cabin and is powered by two IAE engines.
The aircraft was easily the best looking of any of the planes docked at the gates. From the windows around Gate 12, I took the breathtaking view of a freshly painted aircraft hull and tail. White is inherently a positive colour, and the bright white fuselage stood out against an ambience comprising of light brown and warm sunlight, a typical Karachi afternoon. It was pleasant to see that after years of domination by various local carriers, in their white, green and blue liveries, the new airline I was seeing today had a refreshing and unique choice of colours in their livery, with white and golden as the dominant colours, and green used minutely. The boarding counter was also decorated with balloons just the same as the check-in counter. I can say it with certainty that Air Sial was the talk of the terminal, even with the passengers boarding other local carriers.
This was the first moment when I saw a group of tall, young and beautifully dressed women, walking through the terminal with their bright pink luggage bags and purses of the same colour placed on top of them. My guess was right when I saw the pictures a week earlier, Nomi Ansari was smart with the choice of colours. My initial words back then were, they look insanely glamorous and will stand out perfectly at whichever airport they fly into, and yes with the matching bags of bright and fashionable colour, it was just like the icing on a cake. Now I could see my eyes validating my earlier comments.
We boarded, and the first thing I saw was the seats. Dark grey leather seats, with a decent amount of legroom. This level of legroom is the same as other A320s I have travelled in, with airlines in the United States of America, and here at home in Pakistan. The interior like all the other things gave a fresh look, but on top of that, it also gave the impression of a very neat job carried out by an efficient team. There is just something good about looking at the seats as you walk down the aisle, and having to see them in one plain colour, which makes a firm statement about the airline’s product.
In this case, the statement was that good quality is king. The one difference from some variants of A320s operated by Pakistani airlines was the absence of any sort of in-flight entertainment service. With short-haul sectors domestically, and even to the Gulf countries like the UAE and Oman, passengers will not have a hard time trying to keep themselves entertained through their own devices. There could be no mistake while saying this, but offering newspapers and magazines will bode well for the airline in making a lasting impression on its customer base. After all, when everything is said and done, it is the food and entertainment that keeps people at smiling regardless of the duration of the flight.
The Commander on the flight deck was Captain. Khalid, and the lead cabin crew was Air Hostess Noor Ul Ain. Upon requesting a visit to the cockpit inflight, which was refused, I was personally a bit low but on a deeper thought was delighted at the fact that even on a media/blogger pass, on a milestone flight like this, the crew took no chances with the safety and precious lives of their customers. I was happy. Due to the pandemic, that is again finding a foothold in Pakistan, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has directed all airlines to terminate their inflight meal service.
The onset of this means there will be no review about the inflight meal options and quality and no true and accurate measure of the operational efficiency of the cabin crew. The cabin crew made announcements at timely intervals and came to us to distribute the hand sanitiser. As you might be thinking, we were not handed sanitiser bottles per passenger, but a flight attendant came to our row by row and gave us a few drops of sanitiser from a single bottle. I personally found this practice very good, it is economically efficient and environmentally friendly. I did see one passenger complaining about not receiving a whole hand sanitiser bottle, but most of them showed no signs of irritation.
The voyage all the way to Islamabad was excellent, smooth sailing, while we sipped water from the Aquafina bottles provided to us. I am a person staunchly opposed to single-use plastic items, like off the shelf water bottles, therefore I will take this opportunity to recommend the company a more environment-friendly approach, which can be marketed as their green initiative. They will leave a lasting impact as the first Pakistani airline to take that route, a trailblazer in the truest sense of the word.
The Air Sial team was very visibly motivated, from the COO, who was present on the flight and talking to people, helping a senior citizen with his luggage in the overhead compartment, to the brand manager who was making sure the revenue passengers and guests were not facing any hurdles, to the ushers present on the terminal premises who wore contagious smiles all the time. Positive and wholesome vibes all over the place! A good demonstration that leading by example is the best policy. Half way through the flight, we were given ‘The First Flight Certificates’, very impressive because each of them were signed by the COO himself, and had our names written on them! That too by hand! It was a classy and touching gesture by a company, I can now say is a very promising brand and has all the treasure to develop into a force that gives stiff competition to the more established players in the Pakistani air travel market currently.
The crew uniform is aesthetically pleasing, and the crew members were courteous and radiated positivity all over the place, the leg space is comparable to any middle eastern, western or domestic airline operating the Airbus 320s and other narrow-body short-haul aircraft, in fact, the seats alone will beat many of the Turkish and European ultra-low-cost carriers and you have my word for it, the approach with their distribution of hand sanitisers is brilliantly efficient, the interior colour scheme is clean and makes a formal impression which is away and distant from the traditional designs of some airlines in the country.
A 7/10 from me. All the best Air Sial, welcome to the blue hue of the skies over Pakistan.