Real Answers from Real Pilots

A Typical Trip At A Regional Airline


Here is what a typical four day trip is like for me. On the evening before I began my trip I commuted in from Norfolk to Newark and spent the night at an apartment that a group of pilots and I share.

Day 1: The alarm goes off at 4:15 in the morning. By 5:00 am I am on the bus to the airport. My show time is 5:35 which means that I need to be in the weather room by then. We typically meet our Captains in the weather room and then proceed to the airplane together. At 5:50 the airplane is powered up, the walk around is complete and we are waiting for the passengers to begin coming down. While passengers are boarding we are busy entering all of the necessary information into the Flight Management System. This information includes our flight plan, weight and balance, and aircraft performance information. Departure time is 6:35 and at exactly that time the airplane is being pushed back from the gate. Two hours and an uneventful flight later we are touching down in Saint Louis. From Saint Louis we fly to Houston and have a three hour sit; which is dead time spent waiting for your next flight. Our third and final flight of the day is about two and a half hours and takes us to Charleston, West Virginia; where we spend the night.

Day 2: This time the alarm goes off at 5:30 am. I do not like to eat breakfast so early in the morning, so it will wait until we get to Houston. The Charleston Airport is built on top of a mountain and thus has very short runways (6,300 feet is pretty short for a jet). The short runway requires a bit of extra planning and taking off in a different configuration than we usually do. Due to the flight being so early in the morning we are able to get a few shortcuts from Air Traffic Control which enables us to get to Houston about thirty minutes earlier than we had originally planned. After a quick breakfast and a call to my fiance we are off to Torreon Mexico. Like almost all destinations in Mexico, Torreon is surrounded by high mountainous terrain. This also requires more preflight planning than usual and extra vigilance while reroute. Most airports in Mexico do not have precision approaches, just non precision, and Torreon is no exception. After completing a complete approach we land and are shortly on our way to the hotel. We get to the hotel around noon. The Captain and I have never been to Torreon before, so we get a taxi and go check out some of the local attractions. After some awesome Mexican food it is time to do some studying of the Company Flight Manual and then go to bed.

Day 3: Today I get to sleep in, till 6:00 am that is. We arrive early at the airport in Torreon and begin to preflight the airplane. The first preflight inspection of the day takes longer than all of the ones that follow. This is due to the fact that all of the access panels have to be opened and visually inspected for anything that should not be there. In addition to the access panels we also run through a complete check of all of the aircraft’s systems. These checks are not done on subsequent flights. Today is the easiest of our trip. We do the quick hour and a half flight back to Houston and follow that up with an even quicker flight over to Baton Rouge. Today we are finished by 12:30 in the afternoon. I use the rest of the day to work on my schedule for the upcoming month and to continue my study of the Company Flight Manual. The studying does not stop when one becomes an airline pilot, if anything it increases. Knowing the correct procedures at all times is absolutely essential to the safe operation of any flight.

Day 4: We start the day off early again, but early is good because it usually means that we will be finished early. We make the quick flight from Baton Rouge back to Houston. After thirty minutes on the ground in Houston we are on our way to Nashville and then on to Newark. At 1:30 in the afternoon my trip is complete. I am lucky today in that there is a 3:00 pm flight to Norfolk and that I do not have to wait too long for a flight. The flight is full, so I end up sitting in the cockpit on the jumpseat. By 5:00 pm I am at my house.

Note: This was a typical trip for me, not necessarily for everybody else. Some people like trips that start very late in the afternoon so that they can commute to work the morning of their trip. Many people that live within driving distance of Newark like to do one or two day trips so that they can be home more often. This trip was also free from any kind of delays, bad weather, scheduling reassignments, or anything else out of the ordinary. These things do not happen that often, but they do happen and can sometimes change your trip. However, I will say that whenever my schedule is changed it usually works out to be better for me than it was before.

(Jessica Brown) #2

Is it typical to not end up where you started your day? For instance, if I live right by an airport, is it common to fly a couple flights a day, but end up where I started?



It is very typical to end your day at a different place than where one started. At the majors we fly all over the world, even at the regionals we flew all over the country. Typically I go on the road for four to five days at a time, spending the night in cities all over the country.

Take a look at my schedule, it will give you a really good idea of the traveling that we do in this industry.




It really depends on the airline, the aircraft and the equipment you’re flying. When I was at ExpressJet we had 1,2,3 and 4 day trips. As you may have heard us say seniority is everything and allows you to get the schedule and trips you want. Now the day trips that get you home generally go pretty senior but they do exist and once you get to a certain seniority you can get them. When you move to a Major it becomes a little more challenging but again it depends on the airline. Here at Hawaiian we have our Interisland operation which has no layovers and gets you home every night. JetBlue and SouthWest also have day trips but I don’t believe any of the other Legacy carriers (Delta, United or American).

Really comes down to what’s important to you and is often the reason people chose one airline over another.


(Mendgy moise) #5

when you guys have this multiple days trips. does the airline pay for the hotels?


Yes, they do. They also pay for the transportation to and from the hotels. At United we typically stay at Marriott, Hilton, and Westin level hotels.


In addition we get paid an hourly “per diem” (typically $2-$4 an hour) for every hour you’re away from base. While that doesn’t sound like much it actually adds up on 3,4 day trips as the clock is running the entire time (ie, 72, 96 hrs). The money is intended to offset the cost of meals and expenses while you’re away.



To add to what Adam said, that expense money is called “per diem” and is generally tax free money.

(Mendgy moise) #9

Thank you so much guys

(Andrew) #10

Hi guys, about the hotels… will the airline pay for those directly, or is the per diem expected to cover that cost? Can you guys earn hotel rewards while on a trip? That’d be a pretty great perk for personal vacations… haha



The airline pays for the hotels and transportation directly, per diem is not used for that. As much as I would love it if we earned points from our stays, we do not do so as the airline is the one directly paying for the room.


(Paul Putintsev) #12

Hello I’m knew to all of this so i have a couple of questions
1 what could I make fighting a commercial aircraft?
2 if I started from nothing how long would it take me to get my commercial license and
3 what would it cost me??


Hello Paul,

You really don’t say much about yourself? Education? Flight experience etc? I’ll give you some generic answers to get the conversation started.

  1. There’s a huge salary range for commercial pilots. Now when you say commercial I’m going to assume you mean Airline pilot because any pilot who gets paid to fly is a commercial pilot (flight instructor, crop duster, banner tow). Anyway airline salaries can range from the mid $30k for a new Regional First officer to over $300k for a senior Capt at a Major.

  2. ATP offers their Airline Career Pilot program which will take you from zero experience to the all your required licenses and rating in 6 mos for as little as $63,995. After that they offer a guaranteed flight instructor position so you can build the required 1500hrs needed to fly for a Regional.



Hey Paul,

Looks like you know the important questions to ask :slight_smile:

Airline pay starts out at about ~$20k at some regional carriers, although the average first year pay at most regionals is a little bit higher nowadays. It is very hard to give you an accurate number because it depends on a lot of factors such as which company you are at, how long you have been with the company, what position you are holding (Captain or FO), etc. Airline Pilot Central has a bunch of information on each airline and you can get a pretty good estimate on pay.

ATP’s Fast Track program was designed to get you from zero time to being a CFI (Certified Flight Instructor) at a fixed cost and in the minimum amount of time. You have two options for the program, one including 100hrs multi-engine time, and the other with 40hrs multi-engine time, both leave you with the same exact ratings. The price difference is $13k between the two. You can check out this thread for the pros and cons of each program.


(Paul Putintsev) #15

well of course I know to ask the important questions for me it would be all about the money as well as what kind of a life I would have out of it…:slight_smile:
I heard some commercial pilots make as much as
$360k a year how long would it take to make that much per year and is it really possible?


It’s definitely possible and I have heard of even higher numbers as well.

I will let Adam and Chris take this one, they can probably give you a more accurate answer.



It is possible to make that amount of money, but only towards the end of your career and only if you are positioned well in the industry.

Of course money is a concern and should be when making a career choice, but there should be a lot more that goes into choosing a field than just the money. This job requires long hours and a lot of time on the road, you have to be in it for more than just the money to find this a rewarding career.



Paul there are definitely easier career choices of your focus is on the money. First off things will be very tight the first few years as an instructor and then at a Regional. While it’s possible to get to the upper echelon it takes a while and I don’t know a single pilot that’s there now that hasn’t suffered a set back or two along the way. Thing is the pilots that do it for the money, when there is a challenge or set back (furlough, downgrade,merger) tend to be miserable. Those that have a passion for it know it’s more than the money and rise above.


(Paul Putintsev) #19

I appreciate the information I’m currently a local truck driver age 24 home everyday making $70k a year
So financially I’m doing pretty well:)
I just want to have a chance at travelling the world
Learn a dozen languages, already speak 3…
Also I have a passion to be able to fly one day but
If I can’t make any money out of it I just don’t know if it would be worth that’s all…



I always heard truck drivers make good money, but $70k is sweet!!

Anyways, you will definitely “suffer” a pay cut initially, probably 3-4 years, until you are back at those numbers. But if you are 24 years old, assuming single without kids, you will make it on the lower salaries i’m sure.