In late March, I traveled from Istanbul to Islamabad. As the flight began, it occurred to me how certain experiences were peculiar to flights bound for Pakistan. I penned the following at various stages of the journey.

Credit: M. Y. for coining the term ‘Flight Number Bismillah,’ and for introducing me to it.


You know you’re on a flight to Pakistan when….

The overhead bins fill up faster than you can say “carry-on.”

You hear several aunties gasp “Bismillah!” as the plane begins to taxi.

There is at least one contingent of Haji’s on board, flashing smiles as they enjoy their newfound celebrity status.

There is at least one contingent of British Pakistanis on board, speaking a hybrid of cockney and Punjabi.

You are given a complimentary in-flight performance by the Pakistani Children’s Wailing Orchestra each time.

You start to see women wearing ‘joggers’ with shalwar kameez.

Instead of air-freshener, the plane smells of desi khana.

The carry-on of choice is a large black shopping bag.

You overhear the following words at least once during the flight “Who kia zamana tha jee Pakistan k liay. Bas ab halaat aisay ho gaye hain…

At least once, you also hear a mother saying to her kids: “Agar tum logon ne ab aur shor michaya tau!!!” The threat is delivered with that menacing hand gesture also known as a chapair.

This happens once during the flight: A well-to-do girl comes to sit in the economy area, and after taking a look at the masses, makes a face that says “why didn’t daddy send me first class?!”

When every glance exchange with guys your own age seems to say “Oai, kaun se visa par bahir gaye thay?”

The person in front of you decides to use their seat like their drawing room sofa.

You can go to the toilets to see a replica of Karachi’s open air sewer concept, even before you reach the actual city.

The announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, our aircraft has not reached its final destination, please remain seated and do not open the overhead bins,” has to be played multiple times.

The stampede that ensues at the end of the flight as people rush to the gate reminds you of the scene when Mufasa dies in Lion King 1.

By the time the plane reaches the gate, you have a new-found appreciation for life’s miracles.

If the Dubai, Riyadh, and Bahrain flights land around the same time as yours, you know the baggage claim area will look like a commodities packaging warehouse.

After watching Pakistani women wrestle suitcase after suitcase off the conveyor belt, while their children tantrums, you begin to wonder whether the mothers brought them along just for the extra baggage allowance.

No matter what the flight is like though, it is always great to be back in the Fatherland!


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