An airline pilot’s work schedule can vary significantly depending on seniority and the type of flying the pilot does.

Often, these two factors work hand in hand.

How Seniority Impacts an Airline Pilot’s Work Schedule

In many industries, you have to pay your dues before you can enjoy career advancement and the perks that those lower down the pecking don’t get to experience. The airline industry is no exception.

Seniority is everything as an airline pilot.

A pilot’s seniority starts the day they get hired by the airline. It also doesn’t transfer between airlines, so pilots will rarely switch airlines as people do in other careers.

Pilots Sitting In the Cockpit
Traditionally, in the cockpit, the captain sits on the left side and the co-pilot sits on the right side

Airline seniority is so important because it determines:

  • A pilot’s monthly schedule, the routes flow, and when a vacation can be taken
  • Where a pilot will be based and what aircraft can be flown
  • How quickly a pilot can progress from first officer to captain, and from a regional airline to a major airline
  • How much a pilot will earn
  • How many flights a pilot flies in a day

As you can see, seniority affects a pilot’s schedule in several ways. It is therefore hard to be specific when talking about schedules.

However, generally, a newly hired pilot working for a major airline will fly domestically for a few years before switching over to international and flying out from an international airport.

Long Haul, International Pilot Schedule

More senior pilots are more likely to fly long-haul, which might only include flying two legs during a week, compared to a regional pilot who may fly 20-30 legs over the course of the same week.

Pilots can prefer long flights for this reason.

Senior pilots are more likely to be able to choose which trips to take, as well as their days off.

colorful world map

While airline pilots aren’t necessarily known for enjoying a great amount of work-life balance, senior pilots who are more likely to have families have it better than younger, less experienced pilots.

They are more likely to have their bids and requests for more favorable routes and schedules granted, resulting in a better work-life balance.

Having to spend time away from their families is definitely one of the cons of being a pilot.

Hours a Week/Month/Year Airline Pilots 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.

Keep in mind that the above only applies to flight time and not all the other tasks that pilots carry out between the trip, each leg, and at the end of the trip.

This can include paperwork, pre-flights, post-flights, clearances, packing their aviation headset and other equipment in their flight bag etc.

Pilots Get Many Days Off a Month

Again, seniority is king.

Junior pilots can expect to have a minimum of 12 days off, whereas senior pilots can enjoy as many as 20 days off.

15 days is approximately the average.

There isn’t necessarily a set amount of days off a pilot takes a week, but it usually amounts to 2-3 days off weekly.

What An Airline Pilot's Schedule Looks Like

When Pilots Receive Their Schedule

When a pilot receives their schedule is largely dependent on the airline.

Pilots can either receive their schedules a month before their first scheduled flight or just a week or two in advance.

Typically, schedules are received by mid-month.

The extent of trip trading depends on the airline, though generally, most pilots fly what is assigned to them.

See Also: A Complete Guide to Airline Operations

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.