Real Answers from Real Pilots

"Away from Home" hours

Hey Everybody,
My name’s Dakodta and I’m currently working on my instrument rating out of a local flight school here in Utah. I’m just trying to get an idea of what life will be like in the airlines. I know that you can only fly 100 hours a month but I’ve heard that there is also time spent doing other tasks before and after a flight. What I’m wondering is with all of this other work, how much time on average does an airline pilot spend away from home? For example: 100 hours in flight and how many hours on top of that? I know this is similar to other questions but I couldn’t find anything on how much time is spent “working” in addition to actually flying.

Dakodta,

Typically there is about an hour of work prior to and 15 minutes after each flight. To get an idea of how much we are gone from home, check out the “Schedules” section of this website.

Basically, I fly 18 days per month and spend about 14 nights per month in hotels.

Chris

Dakodta,

It all depends on what airline you’re flying for, the airplane you fly and of course your seniority. Trips range from day trips where you’re home every night to cargo routes that can have you gone for 2 weeks at a clip. That’s often one of the factors that attract an individual to one carrier than another. I’ve been flying the A330 seeing the world but frankly I’m over it and want to be home so I’m actually switching back to the 717 so I can be home every night. It’s all about what works best for you.

As Chris said there’s really not that much extra time in pre or post flight. Where the extra time becomes a factor is weather or maintenance delays. Again depending on the operation that can have a big impact on your day or time home. I’m based in HNL where it’s not a factor but when I was based in EWR you could get stuck at outstations, have your days off rolled etc. The good news is there’s not much you can do about it so no point in worrying.

Adam

Thanks guys! That’s exactly what I needed to know.

Is the hotel life manageable? It seems like it’s something nobody looks forward too, obviously, but with every career there are sacrifices. Would love to hear your perspective of the “on-the-go” lifestyle and how you keep well rested and focused when bouncing between different airports and various hotels around the country.

Hey Patrick,

My hotel experiences are all over the board. Some hotels that we stay at
are notoriously bad, but most are pretty good. I hear the hotels are much
better at a major. Plus, my layovers are either 12 or 24 hours long. Not
much you can do with a 12 hour layover. The 24 hour layovers can be a ton
of fun depending on who you’re with. Yeah, changing time zones can be hard,
but it’s part of the job. There’s no secret to getting enough rest. You
just have to make time for it.

Tory

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Patrick,

When I was at ExpressJet flying across the country I LOVED my overnights. I always found cool things to do, see or eat, had some amazing experiences and never had an issue with US times zones. I’ve since moved on and now fly mainly to Asia and Australia and frankly I’m exhausted. It may be that I’m older, and I still do enjoy doing, seeing and eating but crossing datelines kicks my butt. Next month I’m going to training to return to Interisland flying and I honestly can’t wait. I fly with a ton of pilots who love the International life and have adapted so I guess it’s really personal preference. The general idea is to try and eat well, rest whenever you can and exercise (all of which I do) but again it’s taking it’s toll. You’ll just have to try and see for yourself what suits you.

Adam

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That a great response Adam. It seems that it really depends on the person. My friend’s dad is a SWA captain and he tells me that he basically bounces between cities in California and other parts of the west coast. Compared to another pilot at Delta I know which flies the 738 out of LAX to more international destinations.

Time will tell until I get to the regionals/majors but I could definitely see myself flying just around the US.

You said you would be switching to the 717 so you could be home every night. There is such a thing?!? Could you tell me more?

Matt,

I fly for Hawaiian Airlines and although we fly to JFK, PEK and AKL (and many other places), the heart and soul of Hawaiian is our Interisland service. That’s actually one of the best aspects of flying for Hawaiian, that you have that choice. Want to fly a widebody and see the World you can but you don’t have to. We fly the 717 from island to island, there are am and pm schedules but there are no overnights. Not one. It’s actually funny because when I first was hired I was told I was going to the Airbus. When I showed up for training things had changed and there was only a 717 slot and I was not happy. I was given the choice to wait but I was anxious to get onboard and start building seniority so I figured I’d suck it up for 2 years (the length of the initial seat lock) and then move on. Well it honestly was the best thing that could’ve happened. As I said I had no desire to fly the 717 Interisland. I came from a Regional and I wanted to fly a BIG airplane around the World. What I found out very shortly was that Hawaiian Airlines Interisland is the greatest pilot gig in aviation. You get paid well to fly a really nice airplane around some of the most beautiful islands on the planet. The weather is usually VFR, there is no snow or deicing nonsense, few delays if ever and you only work half the day. We have a great locker room with showers. Guys go to work straight from the beach in shorts and slippahs, rinse off, put on their uniforms and fly. Seriously it’s amazing. When I got the chance I went to the Bus and I checked that box. It’s a great airplane and I’ve gone to some amazing places. BUT, as I said I’m tired and I’d much rather go to the beach and take my motorcycle to work so that’s what I’m gonna do and I couldn’t be happier. Oh and btw, it’s not really home every night. I’m an am guy so it’s really home by lunch :slight_smile:

Adam

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That 717 interisland lifestyle sounds amazing. Do any other airlines offer that sort of thing on the mainland, specifically in southern CA? Being home every night flying out of LAX/SNA/SAN would be a dream.

Matt,

There might be a few regional airlines that have day trips on the west coast, but by and large most pilots will be spending several nights a month on the road, it is just the nature of the business.

Chris

Matt,

Chris is right. Other than the Regionals none that I know of. Hawaiian is very unique in that aspect. One of the many reasons I’m here.

Adam

would a few years seniority as a b737 first officer at an airline like united or american enable you to be home often? maybe a 1-2 days on, and 1-2 days off rotating schedule?

Does this smaller plane automatically have closer trips or are you still going to get the 3+ day trips without much seniority.

I realize everything desirable schedule-wise comes with seniority but I’m trying to gauge the lifestyle of the early years at a major airline

Bob,

Most trips at my airline are three and four day trips, regardless of the aircraft type. With improved seniority you might be able to get the two day trips, but maybe not. Take a look at my schedule section, it is pretty reflective of what a typical schedule looks like.

Chris

Bob,

That’s so hard to predict. The best mentality to have is to bid for the schedule you want, but be prepared for anything. You won’t know what you’re up against until you get there.

Not quite sure I understand you second question. You’re asking two different things; proximity vs duration. Yes, smaller aircraft typically have less range, but not always. Also, just because you’re in a plane with a longer range doesn’t mean you will always be flying farther distances. For example, Alaska and Horizon both fly between SEA and PDX. I’m sure both an ERJ and a 737 have trips ranging from 1-4 days too. Again, always bid for what you want, not what you think you’ll get.

Tory