Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has been in the news a lot in the last week or so, following the revelation that up to a third of Pakistan’s pilots may hold fake licences. As a result, PIA has been banned from flying into the European Union (as well as the UK, one of its major markets) for the next six months.

Browsing the PIA website (yes, I know I need to get out more), I was interested to see that the airline has made some changes to the way it markets its top cabin (seen in our cover picture).

PIA business class is now executive economy

PIA has an outdated business class product - and that’s being kind. In a review posted last year, our friends at The Points Guy described filthy seats, non-existent entertainment, bad food and surly service.

PIA’s ageing Boeing 777s offer recliner seats up front, set in a 2-3-2 format (for comparison, economy is 3-3-3). By the sounds of it, both cabins have seen better days.

Presumably recognising they can’t get away with this in 2020, PIA has rebadged its forward cabin, which now goes by the name of executive economy. As PIA describes the move:

“PIA has introduced Executive Economy class on our International routes, offering all means of comfort and convenience. Add that to the extra facilities and exclusive privileges, it’s like you’re flying Business Class, but at affordable prices. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the best of Pakistani hospitality, from the time you book your flight, to the time you’re in air.”

As stated, executive economy tickets come with many of the perks that you’d expect with business class, including bigger seats, extra luggage and lounge access. The only thing missing is the business class experience…

Onboard upgrades to executive economy are super cheap

Sold on executive economy? The good news is that economy class passengers can move on up, even once you’ve boarded the aircraft, as PIA offers discounted “in-flight seat upgrades”. The airline says it works like this:

“Experience more space, comfort, meal choices and personalized service on your next journey with our seat upgrade option. PIA now offers you the opportunity to upgrade to Executive Economy class onboard, by paying a fee. Seat upgrade option will be offered by our cabin crew after the doors close on your flight. You will be upgraded to Executive Economy class against available seats, on a first-come, first-serve basis. The payable fee amount will depend on the region you will be flying to, and will be paid to our lead cabin crew. Once upgraded, you will enjoy all the in-flight features and services of Executive Economy class.”

What about the pricing? PIA publishes a table of its upgrade rates, both from Pakistan to overseas markets:

And from overseas to Pakistan:

As you can see, the prices to upgrade are pretty reasonable. Upgrades from PIA's European Union cities (if and when they return) to Pakistan are just Euros 150 (USD 170), which is not much of a surcharge for a flight of this length.

Upgrades on flights to Toronto - the airline’s longest route, taking 14 hours each way - are also not bad, charged at CAN 600 (USD 440).

As terrible as this product looks, I can’t help thinking that these prices are reasonable for an (admittedly modest) upgrade on a long-flight. If, for whatever reason, you do find yourself flying PIA, this is a cheap way for economy ticket holders to get a little extra comfort.

Just keep your expectations in check…

Summing up

I’ve no intention of setting foot on a PIA plane anytime soon, but these upgrades on long-haul flights are certainly cheap.  Even PIA’s lousy-looking forward cabin probably justifies a surcharge this low (given that any extra comfort makes a difference on long-haul flights).

Anyone tempted to splash out on an upgrade to PIA executive economy? Have you flown PIA business class?

Cover picture: Wikipedia/ White Pearl 7