Throughout their careers, all airline pilots will fly both short-haul (30 minute to 3 hour flights) and long-haul flights (flights that last over 6 hours).
There are clear pros and cons to both flights, so there isn’t strictly one that all pilots prefer, as it will depend on their circumstances, personality, and temperament.
With that said, let’s take a look at why one pilot might prefer long flights, while others might prefer flying short-haul.
Table of Contents
- 1 Why Some Pilots Prefer Long Flights
- 2 Why Other Pilots Prefer Short Flights
- 3 How Pilots Pass the Time on Long Flights
- 4 The Longest Shift a Pilot Can Work
- 5 What an Airline Pilot’s Schedule Looks Like
- 6 Short Haul Pilots Have a Lower Salary
Why Some Pilots Prefer Long Flights
1. More Days Off
Pilots who fly long-haul inevitably have to spend more time away from home, but they are able to get more days off in a row, which can be beneficial if they have a family and if their schedule allows them to spend the weekend with their loved ones.
Long-haul pilots get more days off because there are legal restrictions for pilots to have days off after long flights.
2. Opportunity to Explore the City
If a pilot has a long-haul flight, they might get to stay at their destination for a couple of nights, which gives them the opportunity to explore the city.
An airline pilot who has decades of experience has probably seen everything there is to see in the world, but pilots who are new to long-haul flights often say that they love long-haul flights for this reason.
3. Less Work
Long-haul pilots actually have less work to do.
Not only in the sense that planes practically fly themselves, with autopilot controlling the plane for 90% of the flight, but they also won’t have to deal with the surprisingly high amount of paperwork that comes with flying.
4. They Can Live Further Away
Airline pilots have a base that they fly out of.
Just like you with your daily commute, you no doubt want to be closer to your place of work, so you don’t have to spend as much time in traffic and commuting back and forth every day.
As long-haul pilots only have to come into their “office” once or twice a week, they can live further away from their airport base, which allows them to buy larger homes with lots of open space for their kids and in a quieter environment.
Why Other Pilots Prefer Short Flights
1. They Get to Come Home Every Night
Short-haul pilots get the opportunity to come home every night, so if an airline pilot has a young family, they will prefer flying shorter routes and coming home to their wife and kids once their shift ends.
Airline pilot or not – don’t underestimate the value of being able to sleep in your own bed every night, too!
2. No Jet Lag
If a pilot flies short-haul, the most they might have to do is set their watches forward or backwards by a couple of hours. Add to this that they will be returning to their origin airport, they won’t have to deal with any jet lag.
You would think that pilots would be used to jet lag, but unfortunately no-one is immune to the effects of jet lag, which can really take a toll on a pilot’s body and mental state.
How Pilots Pass the Time on Long Flights
As mentioned, autopilot is activated for 90% of flights, so you might be thinking, what do pilots do on long flights?
Don’t airline pilots get bored?
Airline pilots can definitely get bored on long flights, but they still have to perform various tasks, including monitoring fuel levels and the temperature, communicating with air traffic control and the cabin crew, and completing paperwork.
Pilots also need to sleep too, with each taking turns to leave the cockpit and go to a more comfortable resting cabin area where they can sleep in a bed.
The Longest Shift a Pilot Can Work
Airline pilots are not permitted to fly more than 30 hours in any 7 consecutive days, 100 hours a month, and 1,000 hours a year.
On average, airline pilots will fly around 85 hours a week, and 700 hours a year.
Despite this, pilots are still fatigued, with one study published by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, finding that on their most recent flight, 60% of long-haul pilots had experienced moderate to severe fatigue.
What an Airline Pilot’s Schedule Looks Like
An airline pilot’s schedule can look very different depending on their seniority and whether they fly short-haul or long-haul.
A senior pilot gets to enjoy many more perks than a junior pilot, including:
- A higher salary
- Flying larger aircraft
- Being able to choose their days off
- Being able to choose which trips to take
- More days off
Long-haul pilots might fly just a couple of legs a week, compared to short-haul, regional pilots that can fly 20–30 legs the same week.
Junior pilots can expect to have a minimum of 12 days off, whereas senior pilots can enjoy as many as 20 days off a month.
Short Haul Pilots Have a Lower Salary
Most airline pilots begin their careers by flying for a regional airline, which means that they inevitably fly shorter routes.
This is done so the pilot can obtain more experience and become more familiar with the plane’s and airline’s operations.
So like with any career, when you first start out, you are paid less – and there is no exception for pilots working in the airline industry.
Pilots will then move to the majors and fly long-haul, and can expect to receive a salary of over $300,000 in some cases.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.