|When we purchased our Istanbul-Delhi tickets from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), it was issued in a thick-stock green-colored paper sleeve bearing the PIA insignia. Their motto in simple white letters below read "Great People to Fly With". We couldn't help joke with our helpful Turkish agent so asked "What about the planes?" Appreciating the joke, he returned a raised eyebrow and uncertain smile that seemed to say Best of Luck.
That our plane was delayed from the outset came as no great surprise. At least we were given a lunch voucher for our last (Italian) meal in Istanbul. The city destination displayed above the PIA check-in counter read 'ISLAMABAD'. Yes it was our flight but No, Pakistan's capital was not on our itinerary. We showed the agent our tickets—the barely legible letters indicated ISTANBUL-KARACHI-LAHORE-DELHI. After a confusing exchange, we gathered that our flight was now going first to Islamabad and there we would change planes for a domestic flight to Karachi. The agent would check our bags through to Karachi. Still confused but resigned to the fate of a long journey, we said Thank You and left.
Five hours later a plane taxied to our gate. A few people who got off proceeded to baggage claim—the majority that followed were evidently Pakistanis and they filled the empty seats in the waiting area where we sat. For the next 45 minutes, no announcements were made, no status changes appeared on the arrival/departure display. These new arrivees from Pakistan were transit passengers who seemed to be waiting to board our flight to Pakistan... curious.
Eventually we all boarded and only then, with our seat-belts fastened, were we informed of our flight's destination: "Ladies and Gentlemen, this plane to Karachi will be stopping first in Athens and Islamabad. We are sorry for any inconvenience." A glance at a map shows how senseless this 'modified' itinery was. Nevermind Athens, Islamabad and Lahore are both in the north of Pakistan, while Karachi is on the coast of the Arabian Sea to the south. Once we finally got going the right direction—east—we would spend an entire day zig-zagging Pakistan length-wise before reaching Delhi. And of course it would have been too much to expect to be informed that any or all of our connecting flights would be missed; we were already five hours delayed with two additional stops to make.
Browsing headlines in 'The Nation', a Pakistani paper we snatched from first class, the stories were mostly about the recent bloodless military coup. One article told of how the PIA plane carrying General Musharraf (now self-proclaimed Chief Executive) and some 200 passengers was denied permission to land in Karachi, presumably on orders of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It was not until Musharraf's loyal underlings took control of the airport that the plane safely touched ground—incidentally with very little fuel left. I had to feel a little sorry for the PIA pilots—as if that stress was not enough, it seemed the country's national airlines did not have enough planes to fly its advertised lines. Why else would we have to transit four cities on our way to Delhi?
I looked up from the paper and turned to Gregg, engrossed in another Pakistani paper. "How adverturous do you feel?" I challenged him. He seemed to get what I was suggesting. After a quick check of the poor map in the PIA in-flight magazine, we confidently assumed there was no reason we couldn't get off in Islamabad, bus it to Lahore, then travel the short remaining distance to the border into India. Had we been able to take the Karakoram Highway from China to Pakistan as we'd hoped, we would have crossed at this border anyway. We even had Pakistan visas which were obtained to better our chances of getting an Iranian visa, albeit in vain.