When Do Pilots Get to Go Home?

This is when commercial pilots usually get to go home after a handful of flights.



June 4, 2022

DALLAS - After parking at the gate and the long-awaited chime of the seat belt sign is heard, have you ever thought about what happens to the pilots that have just flown you?

For a short-haul pilot, he or she may have a handful of flights still ahead that day. However, a night or two in a hotel is likely to be in order after a longer journey.

In terms of actual days, some publications say most short-haul pilots will either travel home every day if possible or work for five days and then spend three or four days at home. Long-haul pilots are said to spend more time away from home, although they do get 10 to 15 days off per month to see their families.

In reality, this may vary a lot. In Europe at least, pilots flying for LCCs are often based closer to home and get home most if not every night. However, a colleague of mine who's a Capt on the A320 with a major British airline lives in Scotland and commutes to London Heathrow (LHR). He has a lifestyle similar to a long-haul pilot since he is away for a few nights and then goes home.

Once a pilot gets back to their home base and sets the parking brake at the end of a duty, the focus then turns to travelling home. This, of course, is no different from any other job at the end of the working day.

In some cases, though, a pilot could still be many miles away from home. Commuting to and from work for many is a repetitive chore, but for airline crews, it turns into a far more complex affair.

pilots operating airplane in cockpit during flight
Photo by Kelly L on Pexels.com

Jump Seating

When a pilot joins a new airline, there will often be little preference given to their choice of base, due to the seniority hierarchy. This in turn, often leads to crew members having to travel fairly long distances to get to and from their allocated base.

This is where the joy of ‘jump seating’ and 'standby travel' comes to life. The word "joy" is used in jest because the flight deck jump seat can often be the most uncomfortable seat on board the whole aircraft!

Moreover, standby travel is great when there are empty passenger seats, but when flights fill up and depart full, the standby traveler can be left behind. That planned dinner with friends is now canceled, and your phone's battery now rapidly drains as you search for other options.

Never mind having a plan A and a plan B, a pilot that commutes by air often needs a plan C and a plan D too.

Photo: Finnair

When close to Home

For those pilots that are lucky enough to live close to their home base, they are fortunate enough to enjoy more time with friends and family. While spending more nights in your own bed is appealing, having a row of early red-eye starts or late finishes can still limit the amount of quality time with those that matter.

As the kids get up for school, the pilot in the family could still be fast asleep after arriving late the night before. This could be a routine that could last for a few days in a row and when the kids get home from school, the pilot in the family is flying again.

In days of old when there were far fewer female pilots than today, an old colleague once told me, “Happy wife happy life!” In amongst the constant change within the airline industry, the one thing that never changes is that a happy pilot is one that has a very sympathetic and understanding family at home!

Featured image: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways