Travel: Praying on the plane

Gulliver: Business Travel, The Economist

WASHINGTON, D.C.: DEVOUT Muslims, who pray five times a day at set hours, often run into problems trying to meet their religious obligations when flying across time zones. The Quran, which was written down in an age before air travel, offers little guidance on the issue. But now, fortunately, there’s an app for that. Agence-France Presse reports from Singapore (I added some links):

“The Air Travel Prayer Time Calculator, developed by Singapore-based Crescentrating, a firm that gives halal ratings to hotels and other travel-related establishments. Launched earlier this month, the online tool takes data such as prayer times in the country of origin, the destination city and in countries on the flight path and uses an algorithm to plot exact prayer hours during a flight.”

“Before embarking on a trip, a Muslim traveller can now go to the online calculator on the Crescentrating website and input his or her departure airport, time of flight and destination. The calculator then comes up with the prayer times set either in the local time of the airport of origin, the destination city or the country that the aircraft is flying over, which the traveller can then e-mail to themselves to access later…. [The company] also plans to develop a mobile app that will point the faithful in the direction of the Islamic holy city of Mecca, which Muslims must face when they pray, based on the flight path.”

It’s only a matter of time, unfortunately, before another ignorant person freaks out about a Muslim saying his prayers during a flight and creates some sort of incident. (Sometimes, simply flying while Muslim is enough to cause a scene.) But making air travel more welcoming to Muslim travellers is a big deal: Muslims represent around $100 billion—around 10%—of global travel spending, according to AFP, and that figure is growing as majority-Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Turkey become increasingly important parts of the global economy. (The UAE, of course, has become a crucial international travel hub in recent years.)

Crescentrating’s air-travel app would be even more useful if it could be ported to mobile devices that are approved for use in-flight, such as iPads, or if the company could develop a version that could be used without WiFi access. Still, it’s nice to see that technology doesn’t always make it harder to follow one’s faith—sometimes, it can also offer solutions. Bravo.