Flying Gulf Carriers During Ramadan 2018 — What Should You Expect?

The month of Ramadan 2018 has officially kicked off, and this year it runs from May 15 through June 14. 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.


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. For example, 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, last year 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!

Comments

  1. I flew Qatar last year during Ramadan to Amman, no alcohol at Doha first lounge and also no alcohol at all on intra-Gulf flights.

  2. @GBA

    I flew TK last year during Ramadan and didn’t notice anything different (I actually didn’t know it was Ramadan at all and just looked it up, turns out it was).

  3. “Of course this isn’t a big deal.” Says who? When buying a ticket, some folks might expect to get the normal amenities (including food and drink). Seems a bit anti-consumer to be this stringent regarding religious policies that may or may not apply to individual passengers. Then again, it seems the ME3 can do no wrong in some peoples’ eyes.

  4. Thanks for the heads up Lucky.
    I am flying Sydney to Paris through Abu Dhabi on Saturday, but should be alright as the flight is from 9pm to 5am.
    Will be trying to get some alcohol in the Etihad Sydney lounge, will see how that goes

  5. Where have all the reviews gone? I love this blog but recently there is just a ton of promotional / superfluous posts that take away from the reason I kept coming here so often in the first place.

  6. Islam has a rule where someone who’s traveling for a living can fast according to their home time zone, if they’ll end up in a special circumstance where there will be over 24 hours of daylight. This would prevent any case of malnourishment for crew.

  7. @Mohammad

    I don’t think pilots should be allowed to fast at all while operating an aircraft. I know I am practically non-functional after 8 hours of being awake without any food or water. I’m sure there must be more liberal interpretations of Islam that would allow them to forego fasting the same as the sick or the elderly due to safety concerns.

  8. @Mohammad
    I am so glad, Islam has that rule. That was really foresightful by the founders of Islam that they took into consideration air travel 1400 years in the future. Otherwise we’d be stuck with pilots and crews not allowed to drink any water for up to 16 hours during a flight and there would be nothing we could do about it. That would really suck.

  9. Etihad experience last year:

    I was served alcohol in the first class lounge at night but by the time the sun rose there was no hint of any alcoholic beverages around.

    On board, AUH-KUL in the First Suite, they wouldn’t bring the champagne bottle out to me when pouring and wouldn’t even let me see the bottle when I asked because of Ramadan (ps- I was just trying to see which Billecart Salmon variety they were serving so I asked if I could see the bottle)

  10. You can choose not to fast during long haul flights and replace it by fasting on another day after Ramadan.

  11. @BrewerSEA: Not everyone feels the same way about food as you do.

    It’s 9pm local time and I’m having my first meal of the day because I’ve not had a break since I woke up. I wasn’t even hungry, but I ate knowing that I’ve not had anything all day.

  12. It’s true you don’t have to fast during traveling. However, I can understand why people fast during Ramadan, since flying in an airconditioned airplane with a flatbed is not exactly the kind of traveling compared to riding on a camel through the desert like it was 10 years ago with angled flatbed in businesses class.

  13. I love how some people’s imaginary friend in the sky can have so many implications in a modern society. If you are smart enough to fly a plane, or even believe in air travel, you should know that there is no fairy that created all people and things. I don’t let my crazy beliefs affect your life, so yours should not affect mine.

  14. @Lucky — I think your dates are slightly out. I live in Saudi, and yesterday was the first full day of Ramadan (the 17th), so it started the evening of the 16th. It was expected to start on the 15th, but the moon wasn’t spotted (http://www.arabnews.com/node/1303326/saudi-arabia).

    Similarly, the exact end date depends on the moon, so it’s probably better to write “to approximately June 15”.

  15. I’m no longer a practising Muslim but most of my family are (to varying degrees). So I’d like to give my two cents. It is not required and actually discouraged by many to fast during travel. Some, however, still choose to do so and there are differing opinions on how to do it. Some people believe (and I find this to be the most logical) that if you start your fast before boarding, you should break it when the sun sets from your departing area. Others think it should be when the sun sets at your particular location during the flight, but that could be never if it’s a daytime flight heading west. It’s also silly because sunset on the ground is different from sunset 38000 ft up.

    Personally, even if I was religious, I’d feel like it’s an unnecessary burden on the body, especially because you need to be well hydrated on a plane. But if someone wants to do that and it makes them feel closer to their god, then go ahead.

  16. We flew Qatar airlines yesterday on the first day of Ramadan from Doha to Venice. We were offered a glass of champagne etc pre departure. The glass was brought to the seat. We did not see any alcohol in Al Mourjan however we did not really look for it. The food service seemed as per usual

  17. I live in the Middle East since over twenty years. I’ve been flying during Ramadan and never an issue because of the crew observing fasting due to Ramadan. I have friends that are observing and are cabin crew. They can observe only if they are fit to do so. If in any way they don’t feel healthy thenthey are allowed to stop. The Gulf its becoming more and more liberal in all matters. Food courts in shopping malls are open and serving food. Same applies for hotels. As a courtesy to those fasting of course it is recommended to avoid consuming food or smoke in the street but if some one does he’s not harrassed. I’m a Christian and I totally feel comfortable and respected where I live.

  18. We were in Dubai about 4 years ago during Ramadan and the food courts were not open at all. Even in the huge Dubai Mall. You couldn’t even buy it and take it away. Even the sweets shop there wasn’t trading but it was open.

  19. Honestly the level of outrage some people have at potentially not having access to alcohol for a day is somewhat concerning. If you are actually unable to be comfortable without a drink for 24 hours maybe the problem is you.

  20. @Nicola
    Restaurants might be open (with the windows covered or the eating section in malls blocked off from view) but you can still be arrested in many, if not all, Gulf countries for eating/drinking/smoking in public, ie, the street or in your car, during the daytime during Ramadan.

    In any case, as for traveling, you might not have alcohol at certain lounges or certain routes during the daytime, which really shouldn’t be that big of a deal for most people.

    Plus, what Emily said.
    Pl

  21. @Emily
    Its not what this is about… Its about the product we bought vs what we get.
    And its good to know. I booked with Thai for end of the month, since I dont like the Ramadan policy of the airlines un question. My choice as a consumer.

  22. @dca You do get normal amenities when flying ME3 during Ramadan. Its only the alcohol that you dont. The consumers have to be aware when booking a trip with them. If they are dying for alcohol then simply avoid ME3.

  23. If traveling multiple time zones, some Muslims use the sunrise and sunset times of Mecca.

    Same with people who live in far northern latitudes where you might only get a few short hours of night (like near arctic circle)

    Heck, it’s even hard here in Minneapolis where sunrise is 450am and sunset is near 10 pm.

    Obviously the founders of Islam had no way to know about the globe when creating their rites

  24. @Emily, completely agree. If you cannot survive without alcohol for less than 13 hours on an airplane the problem is not the Ramadan policy. You’re downright foolish if you pay the J premium for the booze and not the flatbed.

  25. Bringing up the safety issue of pilots fasting is quite interesting.

    As a physician, I personally know several doctors (many of whom are surgeons) who fast during Ramadan. I’m sure patients have no idea their surgeon may be extremely “hangry” at the time of their operation. Add that to sleep deprivation and you have a potentially dangerous combination!

  26. @Aaron

    Rules for all the Gulf countries are changing every year. Since last year in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi food courts are open and working as usual during the day time limited by a hoarding. Since many years in Dubai you would not get arrested for consuming food or drinks in public. You might get a kind request to stop eating publicly and that is as far as it goes. Last year during Ramadan there was an accident and two cars with police on the side of the road. One of the drivers was drinking freely and no one saying anything to him.

    Things are changing fast and it’s me who is saying, who’s living here since 20 years out of which 14 in Dubai.

  27. Quite surprised that for some alchool looks like a big deal. Beside the fact that alchool and coffee dehydrates and on long haul flights it’s not really recommendable to abuse its consumption. But for me J class means primarily to eat decently, larger screen, flat bed.

  28. I think pilots and surgeons should be personally held legally liable if something goes wrong if they are fasting. About the same level as impairment due to alcohol.

    Your religious stupidity should not affect my rights and safety.

  29. @Emily..How about my right to NOT have your choice in religion affect my life? It’s not about the alcohol, its about infringement on personal freedom.

    I live with religious zealots attempting to take away my freedoms on a daily basis (right to marry, adopt children, on and on), all because it is against the word of God! I’m sick of a fairy-tail inflicting hardship on me. Practice whatever religion you want as long as it doesn’t cause other nonbelievers hardship. Yes, it is a hardship if I paid for an experience that I can’t get because of YOUR CHOICE!

  30. @Emily – do they or do they not typically serve drinks as an amenity, part of the paid ticket? Your judgments notwithstanding, why should these carriers kow tow to religious beliefs? Should U.S. airlines start serving only fish on Fridays?

  31. Perhaps Alitalia should stop serving meat on Fridays during Lent?

    Fish or fish? I’ll have the fish.

  32. @Dave and @dca

    Apparently lounges in Qatar and Abu Dhabi restrict drinks but not their respective airlines on the flight. EK for sure doesn’t (as per my last experience), business as usual. Those that are annoyed by this can always avoid flying with these airlines. Saudia and Kuwait Airlines and same applies for Brunei, it’s dry policy all year around. I think it is fair for anyone with certain expectations to avoid flying with an airline if it is not complying with expectations. For me for instance I avoided in the recent past those airlines that didn’t offer a flat bed on long haul flights and for me alcohol really it’s a non existing issue.

  33. Goodness gracious the outrage over a few hours without alcohol is ridiculous. Sounds like the only solution is an AA meeting or find another airline. If you choose to fly a gulf carrier during Ramadan then deal with their rules and policies, such a whiny bunch!

  34. I flew EK Paris – dubai – Tehran last year during Ramadan and no issue with alcohol in first but leaving Tehran I was offered a pre take-off Dom but asked if I could wait till moving from gate, sure I said but the crew member must have thought bugger it and brought me the drink. I was amused.

  35. Religion being forced on me because I buy a Qatar ticket. I didn’t buy it for the religion, I bought it because on-board they are a good airline – on-ground is a completely different story, they are absolute crap.

    I did not know this religious holiday would be shoved down my throat when I bought the ticket otherwise I would have bought elsewhere. I’m afraid I don’t look for religious holidays, I have no interest whatsoever what anyone does with their religion as long as they leave me out of it.

    Imagine if say Qantas had a month of “You must wear deodorant on board” because it is part of a religion. Imagine the outcry from the Middle East, CA and NY states. The squealing and hissy-fits coming from CA and NY in particular would be almost funny to hear.

    Stick to flying Qatar and get your religion out of my face. I’ve had it.

  36. Just flew from Nice to Sydney via Dubai on EK. It was business as usual both on the ground in the lounge and in the air, only thing I noticed was a special screen on the airshow displaying time remaining to Iftar.

  37. Have been flying Qatar First yesterday. A few data points:
    – Alcohol available but not on display in the Premium Lounge in Paris
    – No alcohol served on board prior to takeoff (for customs reasons)
    – Alcohol served on board in First (poured in the galley, but they did bring the bottle of Krug for a picture on request)
    – Alcohol is served in the lounge as well, but they do not display the bottles
    – No alcohol is available at the airport in Doha (in the terminal and in the lounges), but they do serve non-alcoholic drinks and food throughout the entire day.

    Overall, still a great experience. I thought they did a fantastic job catering to the wishes of both muslim and non-muslim travellers

  38. @Jerry
    Coincidentally my brother-in-law just flew back to Chicago on Jordanian in J. He said they did serve alcohol on request, two gentlemen next to him made the request. Seems most other gulf carriers are still serving alcohol in flight as well so, crisis averted?? Lol

  39. Just flew EK F yesterday, IAD-DXB-PEK. All is as normal at each phase. Liquor was flowing heavily at the bar onboard. The lounge was quiet but it was 2am, so can’t tell if that was different. I was still offered and served champagne on the ground.

    Same went for the hotel. I stayed at Fairmont Palm for my long layover and alcohol was being served. I got there in the morning and had no issue getting champagne right away.

  40. Is this basis for free of charge rebooking or cancellation?
    Because I am defnitely NOT getting the product I paid for due to some fantasies about invisible guy in the sky.

  41. Last year, Qatar didn’t serve any alcohol on flights between “muslim” countries, which was in our case between Qatar and Egypt. We were in domestic first and the staff onboard told us this policy does exist. So better not expect anything on those routes 🙂

  42. I remember flying on Emirates a few years ago and an announcement over the PA system advising that at our current location it was sunset so food could be eaten for those observing Ramadan but that was on a flight from Barcelona to Dubai to Sydney but on flights going the opposite way I guess it would be more challenging.

  43. I flew MH yesterday from SGN-KUL; KUL-LGK in J. Although not a ME3, it is the flag carrier of a muslim country.

    I was surprised to see that beer/wine was absent from the menu on the first flight, which included a full single-tray meal.

    The second flight – barely longer than SEA-YVR in distance, they manage to serve a hot chicken satay ‘snack’ in J. One again I was offered apple juice (what am I, 6?) or water.

    I asked about the lack of availability of alcohol on the flights and assumed it had something to do with Ramadan. Nope. Rather, they do not serve alcohol on flights <2h.

    This seems rather arbitrary. Anyone know why? And the first meal was an incredibly spicy (but delicious) seafood noodle dish which seems unfair to serve without the help of a cold beer!

  44. @debit

    For probably the first time ever I totally agree with you!

    Noone who is responsible for the safety or care of others should be allowed to impair their ability to perform at the highest level for any reason – alcohol, drugs, lack of sleep, or the negative effects of FASTING!

    For this reason alone pilots and crew should not observe Ramadan while on duty. The Koran allows a person to delay fasting and make up for it at a later time when convenient

    I also believe that non-believers should be treated properly. Either tell them at booking that their flight experience will suffer because of Ramadan timings for food and Christian Beverages or provide full service!

    The days of ignorant tourists being arrested for drinking water in public are hopefully over. Perhaps religious tolerance may actually allow more inter-faith acceptance in the future

  45. @Azamaraal

    The ME3 airlines implement strict rules on safety (and this is proven by the safety statistic and recurring evaluation which is the highest). Have their procedures and allow pilots to evaluate whether they are capable to perform fasting and at the same time keep vigilant and capable to perform duties. Besides as a standard practice for all carriers worldwide all pilots undergo to psychological evaluation on a routine basis. I am to believe that safety is not a concern in this case.

  46. Umm is this year like the first time ever Ramadan and commercial flights have existed together?

  47. I flew Qatar business MXP/DOH/BKK last Friday.
    The only difference I noted was that alcohol in the A380 lounge (in daylight) was not displayed, but was readily available and the crew made an announcement about Ramadan and what to expect outside the airport. No issues with alcohol in the lounge either.
    Onboard service was terrific!

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