Trip Review QR3458 (KHI-LHR) UK Repatriation Flight

Karachi Jinnah International to London Heathrow (direct)

Listen to the podcast version here (Google podcast link here)

When I heard of a UK Repatriation flight heading to the place where I’ve been stuck for the last 40 days, I took the chance in hopping onboard – not really knowing if I would get a seat on the plane or not due to demand and the fact that only one flight would be operating, in a city where there are approx 20 million people and according to UK official stats, 200,000 Brits stuck in Pakistan.

The UK government entered into a deal with Qatar Airways which would bring qualifying Brits back to the UK. The ticket price (one way) was £498.25 (?) which to be fair, in this scenario was rather decent, I assume the UK government paid the other £400 odd quid.

30th April (I got my confirmation 12 hours before the departure time):

On the ticket confirmation, everyone has been told to arrive at the airport 4 hours before arrival due to stringent checks and Covid19 procedures. More on this later, short version – I arrived 2:30 hrs early knowing how small the airport is.

I arrived at a deserted Karachi Jinnah International airport. This was the only flight operating on the day, normally there would be around 5 Emirates flights in the day, Turkish airlines flights, Qatar as well as local carriers. 

To enter the terminal building, all the luggage was sprayed using some sort of detergent as was the passenger (yes!). As soon as I entered, baggage was screened (as it always is) and I thought the porter was joking with me about the queues inside at the check-in desk being busy. As I peeked at the desk, oooops, yep that was indeed the case. It took about 45 minutes to arrive at the front of the queue and there was no social distancing reminders. 

As I stood in the queue, I was nervous as I was  pretty sure I was over the baggage limit (2x 23kg). Got to the desk and the baggage was over by 2-3kg and was let through without any comment. The check-in desk staff were extremely helpful, welcoming and friendly – something I hadn’t encountered with my main carrier, Emirates. Yes, I know, depends on who you get but a very good impression for someone who is using this airline for the first time.

Got my boarding pass, went through the border/exit control and made my way to the boarding gate. Duty free shops were closed (guess they wouldn’t be open for the one flight) with notices on the window saying opening as soon as Covid is over. Passing through the terminal, the few business class lounges were too, surprisingly, closed. 

Prior to entering the boarding gates area, another round of security checks with some sort of scanner. I was surprised seeing this thinking it was impressive of the government to lay on Covid scanners – turns out it was simply to check if anything was left in my pockets.

So yeah; no temperature checks, social distancing enforcement or thermal scanning.

The UK government had laid on a food voucher to the value of approx £8, I made use of it but went straight back. I figured I was more likely to encounter food poisoning at this point than Covid19.

Boarding commences and its done so by zones and very well enforced.

Baring in mind I’ve only ever travelled in Emirates on long haul, I was kinda excited trying out Qatar as I’d heard good things about them but sadly not used them previously because they don’t fly from Glasgow (airport closest to me).

As I walk through the upgraded airbridge, I feel relieved going back home. I board the aircraft and all the staff are wearing full 3M disposable suits with specialised eye wear. I walk through business class and then onto 22D. Wow, the cabins look really slick and fresh. Loved the atmosphere, interior, lighting, presentation and seating comfort. 

Social distancing? Nop, every seat is occupied including the one next to me.

Captain makes an announcement saying masks must be worn at all times throughout the flight and that ignoring this may result in a fine.

Departure is on time and an hour or so later, food arrives.

Lovely, tasty, hot, good size and nice variety. I wasn’t expecting this to be honest, I thought it would be a simple sandwich job to minimise cutlery etc but no, it was the full whack including cutlery and tray. Did I mentioned the Biryani was delicious?

Crew was fantastic throughout the flight. Smiling and also the fact that they gave chocolates when I requested them (the Godiva ones are heavenly!).

I fall asleep after the meal as the lights were dimmed and window shades were down. I woke up after 20 minutes to find a device being pointed at my forehead by a cabin crew member. You could imagine how I was feeling at that point! No advance warning of temperature checks taking place. Im the worst possible sleeper on flights so I would hear of any announcement after going to sleep. I am politely asked by the crew as she holds up the device in front of my face “are you feeling OK sir?”. Nervous. “Yes, why what’s wrong?”. She responds “sir your temperature is down to 33 degrees”. At this point I was like phew,  as long as its down I’m happy lol.

Rest of the flight involved me looking at the journey map thinking about my onward travel to Scotland and how on earth this was achievable given this flight was around 8 hours. Yes, I had hired a car at the airport for another 7 hour journey to Glasgow. 

2 hours or so before landing, we are given a smaller but again a very nice snack. This is not something I’m familiar with, having two awesome meals on the same flight. Usually with EK, you get one hot meal at the start and then a colder one near the end. Sliders and chips are served (delicious but Y NO KETCHUP?). As I chew on this delicious slider and the screen in front of me reminding me of my onward journey, I’m thankful that this flight wasn’t stopping at Doha otherwise it would have been super tiring.

I understand that no two flights are comparable, you can get the best crew or the worst in the next one. However, looking at Qatar overall, I will be giving them a shot in the future if they ever think about starting flights from Glasgow – which given the current circumstances, probably won’t be in the next decade at least. Yes, they do fly to Edinburgh but its a mission getting there and I hate the airport so unfortunately that isn’t going to tempt me.

I would also add two things which I liked over EK:
1) Blankets weren’t taken away prior to arrival. I am not sure whether they are normally or not but EK tend to take them 40 minutes before departure and its a right kick in the sack.
2) A passenger sitting next to me fell asleep after the second meal and missed the announcement by the pilot in which he announced ‘if anyone wishes to visit the toilet, please do so now as we are landing in 20 minutes’. Seatbelt signs come on and 5 minutes later he gets up to visit the toilet, missing or ignoring the sign. He gets sent back to his seat but a few minutes later the crew come to him and ask him if he still wants to use it. I thought that was a nice touch, I’ve experienced EK crew strictly enforcing this as soon as the TING is echoed through the cabin and yes, one case out of many but there’s way too many coincidences of positivity in this flight.

Arrived into Heathrow Terminal 2, border control was deserted but strangely the baggage area was absolutely bizarre. We were told to form queues (2m distancing) near the carousel for our flight whilst attendants took off all the baggage and put it in a designated area, the staff would then let groups of ten people go into that area to retrieve their bags and then more people would allow to go. ONLY if the staff knew how we travelled to Heathrow in the last 8 hours would they realise this was a wasted exercise.

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