Breaking Fast Among the Clouds, All in a Day’s Work For Pilots


A Malaysia Airlines pilot talks about his exciting experiences during the holy month of Ramadan.

Breaking fast among the clouds, all in a day’s work for pilots

KUALA TERENGGANU: Having your pre-dawn meal in one country and breaking fast in another amidst floating clouds at 41,000 feet above sea level must surely be quite an experience.

On top of that, the time for breaking fast varies even on the same day. This is something enjoyed by the lucky few who at times, enjoy short fasting stints or fast all day long when the sun never sets.

In fact, for some Muslim pilots, the month of Ramadan is very much anticipated.

Mohd Hairul Sanot, 36, who has been a pilot since March 2007 with Malaysia Airlines, said it had been a very exciting experience for him, and pilots have been trained to persevere from the very start.

“The time for fasting depends on sunrise and sunset. Day and night occur not only because the earth orbits around the sun but also because the earth spins on its axis.

“The surface of the earth facing the sun will have daylight while the part facing away from the sun will have night…as the axis is not perpendicular and is slightly tilted by 23.5 degrees, the length of days and nights differ in different places.

“It depends on the position of the earth which is travelling around the sun. In addition, the height at which a person is will also determine the time to break fast, be it earlier or later,” he said while sharing with Bernama his fasting experience.

Mohd Hairul added that although Islam gave permission or leeway to break fast if one found it tiring during the flight, most pilots and cabin crew still chose to fast.

“Last June 9, I was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne, Australia. The departure time was 10.30am in Kuala Lumpur. My time to break fast was 4.30pm Malaysian time.

“So, I fasted for 10 hours 50 minutes, compared to 13 hours 42 minutes in Kuala Lumpur and 11 hours 11 minutes in Melbourne. Much shorter time than fasting in Melbourne, isn’t that interesting?

“However, on June 29, 2016, I will be flying to Jeddah. Jeddah residents will be fasting for 14 hours, 54 minutes while KL residents will fast for 13 hours 43 minutes. I will probably have to fast for 17 hours! This is when I have to be really patient. I may break my fast once I have landed.

“If the departure time is close to sunset, I would usually break my fast with dates and drinks first. Only while cruising will I have my proper meal,” he said.

For the safety of passengers and to ensure a smooth flight, if both pilots are Muslims, they take turns to eat, he said.

Mohd Hairul said if the pre-dawn meal was to be taken during a flight, the pilots and cabin crew hardly ate as their appetites were somewhat suppressed due to the pressure of the cabin.

“But as soon as we land, we will feel extremely hungry,” said the aerospace engineering graduate who underwent flight training in Bankstown, Sydney, Australia.

Recounting how he became a pilot, Mohd Hairul said he had never dreamed of becoming one, let alone fly the modern Airbus A330-300 jetliner, the world over.

“I had always loved adventure. When I was little, I did not even know what a pilot’s uniform looked like. I never thought I would be in the pilot’s seat, what more experience Ramadan while flying.

“When you are up there, it is very intriguing, which reminds me of the greatness of Allah,” he said.

On celebrating Aidilfitri amidst the blue skies, Mohd Hairul said in his 10 years of service, he only experienced it once, when he was undergoing training to fly an aircraft in Sydney.