Flying a plane can be more tiring than you think. Between the long days and weird hours, pilots don’t have a set schedule. So when do pilots go home?
For short haul pilots, most will either go home daily if possible or they’ll work for 5 days and then spend 3 days or 4 days at home. Long haul pilots spend more time away from home but get around 10 to 15 off days per month to go home.
The life of a pilot might seem glamorous on the surface, but one thing some people don’t think about is the strange work schedule. When do pilots actually get to go home for the day? How often do they get to see their families? How many days a month do pilots have to work? In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.
At SkyTough, we want to make sure that our readers get the best, most helpful information that they can find anywhere on the web. We pride ourselves on providing you with real-world experience and input from pilots and experts in aviation in every article we write. And this one is no different. We have included the opinions and thoughts of a number of pilots across the industry to get the best idea of when pilots go home.
Do Pilots Work Normal Hours During The Day?
If you’ve ever bought airline tickets or been to the airport, you can see just how many flights there are per day all over the world. In fact, it is estimated that there are about 100,000 flights that take off and land every day across the globe. Perhaps even crazier to think, it is estimated that there are about 500,000 people in the air at any given time around the world.
All that said, you can probably guess the answer to the question of if pilots work normal hours. No, they don’t. Pilots actually have one of the most abnormal work schedules of any career out there. Flights happen just about every minute of the day, with some being delayed, moved around, or even canceled without having anything to do with the pilot.
It can be tough to be a pilot because of the difficult schedule, but many pilots actually love that part of the job. Among the many perks of being a pilot, not having to work a 9 to 5 job is one that many pilots love. So what kind of hours do pilots actually work and when do they get to go home?
Let’s take a look.
Short Haul vs. Long Haul Flight Hours For A Pilot
As you can probably guess, a pilot’s hours on the job largely depend on the flights that they are scheduled to fly. The keyword here is scheduled because that’s the same word used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in their flight duty limitations. Per the FAA, pilots are only allowed to be scheduled to fly 8 hours in any 24-hour period, with an uninterrupted 10-hour period for rest between scheduled flying shifts.
That said, the actual hours that the pilots have to work really come down to which flights they’re flying and whether they’re short flights or long flights. All domestic flights in the US are considered short haul flights, regardless of how long they might feel for you. Flights that are over 7 hours in duration are known as long haul flights. Let’s take a look at how this affects the hours that a pilot actually works on any given day.
On short haul flights — which will again encompass all domestic flights in the US — pilots will typically have multiple flights per day. As long as the total number of hours stays below the 8-hour limit. In many cases, a pilot and crew will fly from one city to another, and then pilot the returning flight back to the original city. This is ideal for many pilots so they can have one “home base”.
When it comes to long haul flights, pilots’ work schedules get a little more difficult to predict. Since some international flights can be upwards of 12 hours or more, that certainly goes over the 8-hour limit. On these flights, the main pilots will usually be replaced by extra pilots (known as heavy crew) while the plane is cruising so that they can get some sleep. The main pilots will then typically land the plane and then have a couple of days in the city they flew to.
How Many Days Do Pilots Work (And Get Off) Per Month?
The number of days that you would work, and that you can expect to get off, during any given month again depends largely on if you’re a short haul pilot or a long haul pilot. This will of course also depend on your employer and what type of schedule they have their pilots fly. But for a general idea of what you can expect, let’s take a look.
Short Haul Pilots Work And Off Days
Most short haul pilots work what’s known as either a fixed pattern (or schedule) or a variable pattern. As the name suggests, a fixed pattern is a set schedule of days on/days off. For many short haul pilots, they will work 5 days on/4 days off. Or another common pattern is 5 on/4 off alternating with 5 on/3 off every other week.
Variable patterns, on the other hand, are typically offered by airlines that have a much more seasonal business model. With these airlines, you will likely be required to work many more days during the summer when demand is high, but then you get more days off in the winter when demand is lower. At major airlines, this likely won’t be an option and the fixed schedule is much more common.
Long Haul Pilots Work And Off Days
On the other side of the coin, long haul pilots typically get more days off in a given month than short haul pilots. This is because they have to spend more time away from home depending on where they’re flying to/from and also because their flight times are significantly longer than their short haul counterparts.
Fixed schedules are far less common with long haul pilots, as it really just depends on which flights need to be flown during that month. On average, long haul pilots can expect to have anywhere from 10 to 15 days off during the month. This accounts for about 1-6 days off per month more than short haul pilots on average, so take that into account if you’re deciding what type of pilot you want to be!
How Often Do Pilots Get To Go Home And See Their Families?
Without a doubt, the biggest reason that pilots want to be able to go home — and the same for just about any other career out there — is to spend time with their families. Nobody wants to have a job that keeps them away from loved ones at all times, so many prospective pilots wonder about how often they’ll actually get to see their families.
Once pilots have enough rank and experience, they’ll typically operate out of a major airport that’s close to where they live. This will enable them to potentially even make it home every night, even on days that they’re working. Otherwise, pilots will usually have a “home base” airport that they operate out of, and they’ll stay in the hotel on-site during the days they’re working, then head home for the days that they’re off.
Long haul pilots have it a little worse since they’ll often be away from home for many days at a time. Many times they’ll even be overseas for days between flights out of the US before they’re able to fly back, so long haul pilots spend more time away from home in most cases. But with the extra days off per month, they can potentially spend longer blocks of time with their loved ones when they’re off.
There are pros and cons to working as a short haul or long haul pilot depending on what type of hours you’re looking to work and what you want your work schedule to be. So take it all into account as you’re becoming a pilot!
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood