Flying Gulf Carriers During Ramadan 2019 — What Should You Expect?

Filed Under: Emirates, Etihad

Ramadan 2019 kicks off at sundown tonight (Ramadan Mubarak!), and this year it runs through June 4, 2019. Given that the “big three” Gulf carriers are all based in countries that generally observe Ramadan, I wanted to provide a quick rundown of what people should expect when flying these airlines over the next few weeks.

Those observing Ramadan typically fast during daylight hours, though those not observing are of course free to eat. However, some airlines also adjust their alcohol policies out of respect for this period.

For the Gulf carriers it’s an interesting balance between respecting their “roots” while also serving non-Muslim international travelers, many of whom are traveling between non-Muslim countries, and simply using the Gulf as a connecting point.

Here’s my understanding of what you should expect if flying Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar over the coming weeks (I’ve also in the past shared my experience flying Saudia during Ramadan):

Do Gulf carriers serve alcohol onboard during Ramadan?

Onboard EmiratesEtihad, and Qatar flights, you can expect it to mostly be business as usual during Ramadan. That’s to say that alcohol should be served to all destinations except Saudi Arabia, which is the case year-round.

Emirates A380 onboard bar

You may notice some differences in how alcohol is served and displayed, though:

  • At the Qatar Airways A380 onboard bar, alcohol may not be displayed, but rather is likely to just be stored underneath the bar (at the Emirates bar it will be displayed as usual)
  • Some reports in past years suggest that on Etihad and Qatar, they’ll pour alcohol in the galley for first and business class passengers, rather than bringing out the bottles and pouring at the seat
  • Some reports in past years suggest that Qatar won’t serve alcohol on the ground as a pre-departure beverage, but rather only once the door is closed

Qatar A380 onboard bar

Note that the last two points above seem to very much be crew dependent. I’ve had the opposite experiences on both airlines, and data points seem to be mixed. So don’t be surprised to be denied an alcoholic drink on the ground, though it also doesn’t hurt to ask.

These are all minor things, and for all practical purposes alcohol service should remain the same in the air.

Do Gulf carriers serve alcohol in lounges during Ramadan?

While not much changes in the air, the same isn’t true on the ground.

Of the three carriers, Emirates is the only one that doesn’t adjust their policies during Ramadan, including in their lounges in Dubai.

Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai

Etihad, on the other hand, will not display alcohol in their foreign lounges during daylight hours, and won’t serve any alcohol during daylight hours in their Abu Dhabi lounges. Keep in mind that at this point Etihad doesn’t actually have that many lounges abroad anymore, so it’s possible that “The House” lounges they use at several airports will in fact have alcohol.

Etihad Airways First Class Lounge Abu Dhabi

Lastly, Qatar Airways is making the biggest change, as they won’t be serving any alcohol in their Doha lounges through the end of Ramadan. Policies at outstation lounges seem to vary, with most lounges not displaying alcohol during daylight hours.

Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge Doha

Bottom line

Of course this isn’t a big deal, and I recognize airlines have to find a balance between respecting their Muslim roots and also serving the non-Muslim community. If you’re looking forward to enjoying an adult beverage in one of the “home” lounges of Etihad or Qatar, you’ll instead want to have an extra drink or two onboard.

Those who are observing Ramadan are in the toughest position because of this, as there are different opinions as to whether or not you should fast on travel days during Ramadan.

For example, imagine a pilot flying a Dubai to Los Angeles flight, which takes 16 hours. Altogether someone taking this flight would experience over 24 hours of consecutive sunlight. This raises some safety concerns for pilots — is it really possible to be fully alert and sharp when you’ve fasted for that long?

Similarly, this can also present some challenges for crews to serve Iftar (the traditional meal served during Ramadan at sunset). This means that crews during Ramadan have to provide several meal services, accounting for the needs of both Muslim and non-Muslim passengers.

Sometimes they’ll have to serve a meal either in the middle of the flight or just a few minutes before landing, based on when the sun sets. For example, a couple of years a Saudia flight attendant explained to me that they had to do five different meal services on a Saudi Arabia to US flight due to Ramadan.

If you fly one of the Gulf carriers during Ramadan, please report back with your experience!

  1. Not sure that Ramadan is an issue for pilots at work, Ben. My understanding is that travellers can be exempted fating rules and that surely applies to pilots!!

  2. @ Tom — It’s my understanding that different people have different takes on that. I know for sure that some pilots at the “big three” Gulf carriers do choose to fast during Ramadan.

  3. As an ex-Muslim, I can tell you that traveling Muslims are exempt from fasting. Those who fast during their travels are just show offs like the evangelicals here in the US. But these religious rules, whatever the religion is, impacting the lives of us atheists is very annoying. What the hell is religion anyway?

  4. If someone is Muslim, shouldn’t they be abstaining from alcohol anyway, even when it’s not Ramadan? Why make a non-Muslim go without when nobody is forcing Muslims to partake in drinking? And the whole half-hearted approach of not displaying it but serving it seems bizarre.

    Keep business as usual for passengers, and let Muslims abstain if they want to.

  5. I have several friends pilots working for Emirates and Etihad. As Tom has mentioned, fasting is an individual decision and same applies for the pilots. The rule of skipping the fast it’s not easily applicable to pilots and cabin crews because the days that are skipped needs to be done on a later stage. Whoever can’t also recover on a later stage then needs to contribute a certain amount in charitable initiatives. So either it is skipped or it is not (I am writing about the pilots) and most of whom I know they observe the fasting. The first three days are the challenging ones, then the fourth forward it becomes a routine easier to manage also in terms of fatigue.

  6. I’m flying Qatar for the first time today. My return flight is also during Ramadan. I’m a bummed about the no alcohol in the lounge as I have an 8 hour layover. Fingers crossed it is served on my 15 hour flight.

  7. Andrew, just like all religions, some Muslims take different approaches to these things. I know a few Muslims that normally enjoy alcohol but who try to abstain during Ramadan. So I’m not surprised that the airlines try to make it more discreet during Ramadan.

  8. How about Gulf Air, Oman Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudia and Royal Brunei Airlines? What are their policies during ramadan?

  9. Muslims are not really “fasting” during Ramadan. Waking up early before sunrise, gorging on rich foods, lumbering lazily through the work day (or sleeping all day on weekends) and repeat binging after sundown is not exactly suffering. The idea of self denial or the Greek philosophy of stoicism has been warped by the modern practice of Islam.

    I laugh whenever I hear my Muslim friends complain they are “fasting” for an entire month. If anyone has a right to complain, it should be the Muslim women who cook all day but are not allowed to even taste their food. Meanwhile their male counterparts are snoring upstairs. That is true torture!

    This along with many other absurdities of the religion led me to disavow Islam long ago. Agnosticism is far more sensible!

  10. As if I needed another reason to avoid supporting petro oligarchies…. the hypocrisy of an LGBT travel blogger giving these airlines or countries a second of attention never ceases to amaze me.

  11. @ben this is the same article as last year and the year before. There is more to Ramadan flying than Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. What about Gulf? And Oman Air? And Garuda, Malaysian, Turkish, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Middle East air? That might make a more interesting story.

  12. Qasim,

    I fast during Ramadan. I don’t stay up all night and indulge. I work during the day. I have 2-3 hours of commuting per day. I will wake up by 3:40 am for sahoor. For medical reasons, I don’t eat plants and eat a ketogenic diet, so food fasting is easy, but abstaining from water from 430 am to 830 pm is not easy with the commute and long work day. Eating after 830 has to be light also to make room for enough water. With isha so late, I barely get sleep in Ramadan. I’d say that doesn’t fit the narrative you described.

  13. Thanks Lucky. To second what Ben asked, any idea about Turkish or Oman Air?

  14. @Chiguy1979 isn’t that a bit harsh? Ben has openly discussed the contradiction in his approach to anti-gay countries. The H word you chose is loaded and since I’m as queer as a three dollar bill myself, I feel licensed to comment.

    What purity test shall we administer, to ensure Ben’s blogging properly punishes bigots? Should he never review Lufthansa because of the Holocaust? Is Ben’s German ancestry a problem? Should he never review Air Canada because of Aboriginal neglect? Qantas for the same reason? Should he not fly American/United/Delta because of USA’s banning of HIV-positive people for immigration? Avoid BA? What about Dresden? My (gay) boyfriend is Saudi from Mecca. He once laughed in my face and said “Grindr works perfectly well in Jeddah”. How does that complicate things for you? I suggest you drop the purity test as a solution to The Problem, @Chiguy1979. We can do more to change bigots’ behaviour by being neighbours and talking, than by punishing. Gay Marriage’s “we’re just like you” message (true or not) did more for acceptance than all the Pride protests.

    Ben has explained his rationale for visiting and engaging countries, companies and cultures which are partly homophobic. I hope you’ll reconsider your contempt for his approach. We learn more when he goes, does, and writes. I’m for learning.

  15. @Josh
    I’m absolutely confident there is no change to Garuda’s service during Ramadan. Despite the fact that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country, it is practically business as usual during Ramadan, even on the ground. The only change you’ll just about see is SOME restaurants (like a small number) will put up curtains over open areas as to be respectful.

  16. Just to shed some light on the topic. Muslims ARE PROHIBITED from consuming INTOXICATING food and drink and not alcohol per se (Quran 5:90). Alcohol is present despite in minute amount in a variety of food and (mostly) drink. As a muslim myself, it’s both sad and funny to see muslims who will not touch pork with a two feet pole but have their own favorite alcoholic drink and brand. The middle east countries even produce their own alcoholic beverages. At the end of the day, money talks. Each to their own but if you meet a muslim justifying consuming alcohol, now you know better.

  17. Lucky,

    I will be in Qatar for a couple of days this summer. What should I expect in terms of Ramadan there? Surely I would be able to find something to eat during the day?

  18. @DenB – well said.

    Turkish make no changes during Ramadan although their service of alcohol is more discrete than the others. You certainly don’t see trolleys laden with bottles pushed up the aisle but if you ask for an alchoholic drink it will be served politely and with a smile in exactly the same way as a glass of mint tea.

    They may have made changes on their move to IST (from IST!) but we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

    It’s quite a few years since I flew Malaysia during Ramadan but my memory was it was business as usual in the air but in the lounges at KUL it was certainly out of sight, I didn’t ask for it so I don’t know whether it’s available or not. Certainly in the city of KL it’s common during Ramadan, in a restaurant to be brought a list of non-alcoholic drinks and to be told that ‘we have other drinks too if you prefer’ and as a westener getting alcohol is no problem. That said, trying some of the fruit based cocktails was a revelation and I now often ask for them in preference to a beer or glass of wine.

  19. Ramadan Kareem to the muslims that read and comment on this page, best of luck with fasting this month, hope all goes well. If I’m not mistaken, iftar is served when the destination’s sun is setting, as EY 454 arrives at 17:50 in Sydney as an example and iftar was served about 40 mins prior to landing, when the sun did officially set

  20. To the idiot who thinks Muslims fast and sleep all day I guess the opinion is they sit on their fat asses and collect government handouts like so many Americans? Perhaps the rampant obesity here would do well to lay off that bag of potato chips and 2 liter Pepsi every now and again (try fasting! Lol)

  21. Thanks for the tip! We have a 6hr layover and were gonna buy up to the F lounge access, but hardly worth it sans booze! Any idea if duty free stores will still be selling alcohol for carry on?

  22. I flew Qatar airways last year during Ramadan. No alcohol In the lounges, but champagne served at my seat on boarding and throughout the flight.

  23. Islam is not a religion, it is a political system. A vicious, totalitarian political system similar to communism or fascism.

    I am not a Christian, but I have a respect for it that it is often very apolitical or anti-political. But yeah, Islamophobia is basically a crime… Christophobia on the other hand is actively encouraged.

    Islam – death to apostates… World tiptoes around it.
    Christianity – turn the other cheek, convince people freely to convert… World walks all over it.

    How terribly brave. Beating up on the most tolerant religion in the world, the religion that created the idea of universal tolerance.

    Islam is a disaster for a country, it is a disaster when it reaches a majority of the population. I would like every “liberal” in America to tell me what Islamic country they would like to live in… seems like they have a pretty strong preference for Christian countries… while they hate it.

  24. Airlines are nowdays multinationals with employees of all religions.I guess that Emirates,Etihad Turkish Airlines etc will use non muslim pilots for their long haul itinaries so pilots can drink & eat normally without feeling any fatigue.

  25. @Lucky,
    If you do hear about other airline policies, can you kindly add EGYPTAIR to the list? I’m on them 5/17.

  26. Egyptair is a dry airline all year round. So Ramadan or not, you ain’t getting any beer or wine.

  27. LOL @ DaKine – how long has that rehearsed pent up bigotry been waiting to come out? The topic is about one month where a little booze may or may not be served….

  28. I will likely be flying on GF (Gulf Air) long-haul near the end of May. It will still be Ramadan and I shall report back. I will also use their Falcon Gold lounge in Bahrain and I sure hope it isn’t dry.

    Alcohol is usually restricted during daylight, and on May 30th, sunset is at 18:24 in Bahrain. Coming from Riyadh, I like to hit the ground running. Wait and see…

    I’m also curious to see if the lounges in Riyadh serve anything during daylight. FYI – All restaurants in Riyadh are shut during daylight; yes including Starbucks. High-end hotels will have room service during the day but dining rooms open at sunset for Iftar (Breakfast).

    Ramadan is a pleasant time of the year in KSA even though my only coffee of the day is at around 04:30. 🙁 🙁

    Judging from your posts, you (Sir Ben) seem to enjoy sweets. You rarely skip desert in premium cabins. You’d be in heaven here during Ramadan. Every pastry shop (some of the best that I have seen) go ‘all out’ during the month. Even hypermarkets set up special counters for sweets during Ramadan. I’m not attracted to sweets of any kind, but The Anchor has little resistance. Shawwal (the month that follows Ramadan) is usually diet time for her.

  29. FWIW, I will be flying OmanAir from Delhi to Amman via Muscat later this month, and was advised by the call center in Delhi that alcohol will be served on flights OUT of Muscat, even to Amman, but not into Muscat. I was also told food will be freely served to all passengers who aren’t fasting. No alcohol on the ground in the lounge. Of course, I haven’t travelled yet so cannot confirm if the agent was correct.

  30. @Dakine, do you know anything about Islam besides your Islamophobic talking points? I am in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia right now for my job and experiencing my 4th Ramadan. As a non-Muslim, everyone is very gracious and treats me with great respect. I also enjoying fasting sometimes and enjoying an Iftar meal with my Muslim friends during Ramadan. Anyway, you seem obviously ignorant and I would recommend you open your mind and heart to other cultures and faiths. You’ll have greater joy and peace in your life.

    Regarding my experience traveling during Ramadan: Even though it is a time for fasting, Muslims are not obligated to fast while traveling (due to the hardship of travel). As long as they make up the missed day fasting sometime during the year, it is permissible. So, don’t be surprised to see some Muslims eating with you during fasting hours while traveling on the plane. Many will choose to continue their fasting, but some will certainly be eating something due to travel.

    @Rob_Riyadh, I suspect the airport lounges will serve food in KSA during fasting hours for those Muslims who will eat something due to travel, as well as non-Muslim travelers.

  31. Just flew Gulf Air from Bahrain to Beirut. The Falcon Gold lounge in Bahrain was not serving alcoholic beverages during the day, but they were from 7:30pm. On board they were not serving any alcohol, even to the business class customers. This was a bit of a shock and seems to be a new rule from this year, but may be different on their long-haul routes (e.g. London, Bangkok, Frankfurt). Cynically, I feel that this could be a cost-cutting exercise badged up under the auspices of religion, especially since the policy has not been advertised.

  32. My take: Ben is writing this blog first as a travel reviewer NOT as a gay travel blog. He happens to be gay (me too) and that brings an added and welcome perspective when he flies Airlines such as Royal Brunei

    His audience is world wide and diverse.

    Don’t like a gay man writing reviews regarding travel? Don’t read it.

  33. Well as mentioned if you Are traveling you Are not in need to fast.

    But this has nothing to do with the sun. Think of All those muslims living north if the arctic circle with up to 3 months never seeing the moon. Those People Are allowed to eat during night too. Though in a shorter periode than in the middel east.

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