Pakistan Airlines Tells Crews Not To Fast When Flying During Ramadan

Filed Under: Other Airlines

With Ramadan starting on Monday, one airline has issued a safety alert to pilots and flight attendants.

PIA warns pilots & flight attendants not to fast

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has issued a safety alert to employees, advising both cockpit and cabin crews not to fast during flights. According to Dawn, here’s what the safety alert says:

“Although, while it is perceived that flying with fasting is a possibility, in such a case the element of risk is considerable and margin of safety minimal. In an emergency with multiple complexities, wrong and delayed actions may result in serious consequences due to impaired judgment and incapacitation.

While fasting, one has to go for a change in normal routine. Therefore, fasting and flying may not be confined to religious reasons as there are defined relaxations on fasting while travelling.”

The safety alert also noted that fasting can cause dehydration, slowing of reflexes, deterioration of judgment, and lowering of stamina, all of which can be a problem if you’re in a situation where you have a lot of responsibility.

Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 777

Are you supposed to fast when traveling?

While I am no expert on Islam, I’ve flown Gulf carriers over Ramadan a countless number of times, and some readers have filled me in on what the “correct” policy is when it comes to fasting over Ramadan.

Essentially here’s my understanding on the most common viewpoint (and someone correct me if I’m wrong):

  • There’s an exception for fasting during Ramadan if you’re traveling
  • However, you’re expected to make up for any days where you’re not fasting after Ramadan
  • As you might expect, if you’re an airline employee, you may find yourself having to fast for a couple of additional weeks after Ramadan

That’s why it’s my understanding that many pilots and flight attendants who observe Ramadan try to just fast when traveling, because it’s more complicated to make up for it after the fact. But that’s also really complicated, and potentially dangerous.

Just to give one extreme example of what it would be like to fast on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Los Angeles:

  • Dubai is 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles
  • The sun rises in Dubai at around 6AM, the sun sets in Los Angeles at around 7:30PM
  • The 16hr20min flight from Dubai to Los Angeles departs at 8:55AM and arrives at 2:15PM
  • In other words, if you wanted to observe your fast on this flight, you couldn’t eat anything for over 24 hours, which seems… kind of dangerous, especially if you’re expected to be alert

Crews fasting sometimes go 24+ hours without eating or drinking

Ramadan is tough on airline crews in general

Regardless of whether or not an individual crewmember observes Ramadan, the logistics can be complicated. For example, a few years back I flew Saudia on a long haul flight over Ramadan,

The flight attendant serving me explained how on a recent westbound flight to the US, the crew had to serve five different meals. For passengers not observing Ramadan there were the two standard meals plus a mid-flight snack, and then for passengers observing Ramadan there was the Iftar (meal after sunset) and Suhoor (meal before sunrise).

Perhaps it’ll be a bit easier on airline crews this summer given that passenger numbers are lower, but the logistics of Ramadan and travel sure aren’t easy.

I had an interesting Saudia flight over Ramadan a few years back

Bottom line

Pakistan International Airlines has told its crews not to fast when flying during Ramadan, out of fear that it could impact the safety of operations.

It’s my understanding that PIA is an outlier here, as most airlines leave it up to individual crews to decide whether or not they want to fast. That sure seems questionable if crews are potentially going 24+ hours without eating or drinking.

  1. You are correct in the concession when traveling and the need to make up those facts after Ramadan. It really is difficult to make up the missed fasts after Ramadan hence people fast tough it out and fast. There could a potential risk if reactions are delayed when in charge of others safety, having said that I would still leave it to the individual concerned to make the best judgement for him/herself.

  2. It’s my understanding that most people fasting during a flight will follow the timings of the departure city. So in your example Ben, the person who observed the fast in Dubai will likely break fast according to sunset in Dubai (not LA).

  3. Hey Lucky,
    Yes, during Ramadan you don’t have to fast if you’re traveling. I agree, Ramadan is kinda tough on the airline industry but this year I think it would be much better for the crew. Speaking of your Saudia flight, Lucky, what do you think of Al-Ula, Amaala and Neom? are you planning to visit these places once they open? If yes, I’ll be more than happy to be your host and guide since I live in Miami and I’m from Jeddah 🙂

    One more thing if possible, I would love to read more reviews about the Hyatt small luxury hotels, I think there’s an amazing use for Hyatt points over there. Thanks for the detailed and balanced articles, have a nice weekend and stay safe!

  4. If you want to travel while fasting you use the sunrise and sunset times of the city where you began your fast. If you start fasting in Dubai then you stop fasting when the sun sets in Dubai…no matter where you are in the world at that time.

  5. Another key aspect is that you aren’t expected to fast if your role doesn’t allow it. It’s why a lot of athletes won’t fast on the day of a game as it would stop them from being able to play. If fasting does make it so you they can’t safely work, they are allowed to fast at some other point in time.

  6. The first day of Ramadan will be Tuesday. It’s just that in Islamic teachings with the night prayer the next day already starts so no one will fast on Monday night but right on when the sun rises on Tuesday morning. There is no unison when Ramadan actually starts or finishes among the Muslim nations. Saudi Arabia f. e will start on Monday as they are using mathematical calculations with a fixed calendar. There is a understanding that the begin and end of Ramadan should be visible observed. Almost the whole time Muslim scholars would look for the sight of the young moon to officially announce the start of Ramadan in their jurisdiction . Needless to say that politics play at hand here nowadays. KSA will not have the same start date as Iran for example.

  7. Wonder how vaccinations will slow down among the Muslim population throughout the world if its thought to not be allowed during the day while fasting. Saw an article about plans in UK at least to open special night hours at vaccination centers for this purpose.

  8. I arrived at Dubai once on Ramadan, we knew it was close to Iftar becase the immigration staff had the plate of dates near, but the poor soul could barely talk or comprehend us. Actually had some issues to communicate with my father (who speaks perfect arabic), it felt like he was going to black out at any moment.

    My father used to be muslim many years ago, told me that only fasted a couple of years while young. And also told me he felt pity for the guy.

    So I could only imagine a pilot operating in that conditions. We better avoid flying overall on muslim based carriers during Ramadan just to be extra safe.

  9. Considering the majority of Emirates (and other ME airlines) crew are expats and non-Muslim, fasting is a non-issue.
    However, out of respect for the tradition eating and drinking is done out of view of those observing the fast.

  10. @Luke, there have been multiple news stories here in Qatar to suggest that the taking of the vaccine does not break your fast because it is taken intramuscularly, not orally and it is not nutritious.
    Having said that, maybe some will not be so keen taking it on an empty stomach or after not having anything to drink for many hours which may lead to a reduction in vaccinations in Muslim majority countries. Many people may prefer to take it during the night if possible as you have mentioned.

  11. Ramadan also poses a problem for Muslims residing north of the Arctic Circle if it occurs during June/July when the midnight sun means there is no sunset. They’ve solved this by using “fake” timings to avoid a full month of no food or drink.

  12. Unbelievable. The World is still relying on religious beliefs for control the mind of the people.
    I would like to know if every believer in whatever belief, will live longer that the time alotted on its book of life.

  13. @Andreas – In these extreme cases, its my understanding that some people also observe their fast according to Saudi Arabia, rather than their home.

  14. I can understand why those who live in Muslim-majority countries wouldn’t want to have to make up days after the fact … so much of life is reorganized around the fast in such countries during Ramadan that it makes it a lot easier — shorter working hours, big celebrations at night for breaking the fast, everyone else is fasting with you, etc. Doing a fast on your own on a “regular” day would be much tougher without all of the solidarity that is available during the month of Ramadan. But that said, I would definitely prefer if my pilots weren’t fasting…

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