Long Haul vs Short Haul a Pilots Perspective

A Pilot’s Perspective on the Differences Between Short Haul and Long Haul

Our pilots have operated both short haul and long haul, see the pros and cons in this blog.

A pilot’s perspective on the differences between short haul and long haul.

Having flown both short-haul and long-haul operations, in this blog I will try to highlight the differences with as little bias as possible. Apart from the obvious differences long-haul flights typically (although not always) will be operated by larger wide body aircraft and short haul flights generally use narrow body aircraft.

There are exceptions to this rule, some airlines operate from the eastern seaboard of US and Canada into the UK using narrow body aircraft. Likewise, Emirates and some Japanese airlines have used large wide body aircraft on domestic or regional routes of less than one hour flight time.

Operational Differences

From a pilot’s perspective the short haul and long haul operations are totally different. I guess you could say the short haul lifestyle is more of a regular shift work job as with most short haul operations you will go to work and be home the same day and you would sleep in your own bed every night.

Some short-haul operators do night stop crews, but most do not. Sleeping in your own bed every night is not to be underestimated! Every pilot is different and their views on what constitutes a good life style can be totally different. I have colleagues that have tried both short-haul and long-haul, and our opinions seem to be divided.

Workload & Time Off for Long and Short Haul Pilots

If you’re a long haul pilot you will probably find yourself reporting to work on average around once a week, this may enable you to live quite some distance from your home base. In fact some pilots may live in a different continent! In a short haul job with no night stopping you can expect to be travelling into work 4/5 days in a week, although most report times would be outside commuting rush hour times.

Long haul pilots will generally get more days off per month simply due to restrictions on days off after a duty that has a considerable time change.

Under EASA regulations some destinations that have large time differences will require 4 local nights back at home base to re-adjust time zones before you can report for duty again. Long haul pilots also burn up their maximum hours in a shorter period and all pilots have maximum monthly and yearly hour limitations. For example this week I will be reporting for a 3-day trip to Vancouver from London and in those 3 days I will have flown in excess of 19 hours. It would be unusual for a short haul pilot to accrue that amount of hours in 3 days.

Short Haul Before Long Haul?

Typically, newly qualified pilots will fly short-haul operations at the start of their career simply to give them more exposure to the operation. In short-haul I could potentially fly up to 6 sectors a day with at least 3 of those being my sectors, so I would perform the take-off and landings.

You also become familiar with destination airports very quickly as you may end up flying to some of them weekly. In long-haul, sometimes I may run out of recency and end up being rostered a quick 30 minutes in the simulator to carry out some take-off and landings to renew my currency. On an average month I may only conduct 1-3 take off or landings a month let alone in one day!

Rusty Skills!

You can become rusty very quickly in long haul operations and although you may have been operating for over 20 years you will never really become very familiar with any destinations or regions.

In my opinion, it really is the lifestyle that is different. I have flown short-haul and long-haul and it really depends on what you and your body prefers.

Who gets paid more long-haul or short-haul pilots?

Typically, you will be paid more long haul as you require more experience and operate larger aircraft with a responsibility for more passengers. You will also fly for the bigger, national flag carriers.

Some struggle with jet lag on long-haul operations and the nights out of bed flying. If your body struggles to cope with this you are less likely to be able to take advantage of the extra time off long haul gives you.

Personal Preference

I personally much prefer the long-haul lifestyle to short-haul. I remember often operating a run of 4 early starts in a row, these duties would require me setting my alarm clock for around 3am and on the longer days I may not get home until 4-5pm due to traffic. It would then be a case of grabbing food and going to bed as I was too tired to do anything else. So although I was home every night I couldn’t do anything else, but I did generally sleep well in my own bed!

An advantage of long-haul operations is not only would you get on average of around 14 days off a month compared with 9 or 10 with a short-haul roster, typically many flights land early in the morning. I’m typically back in bed for 09:00, up at lunchtime to have the rest of the day free on top of my other days off.

My experience has certainly been that I get more time off to do what I like on long haul than short haul. Long haul flying can impact on families as every time you go to work you are typically away for at least 2 nights, although it could be up to 4 or 5, some families or should I say partners this may benefit their relationship and others may struggle with this. I know my partner and I quite enjoy having some time apart, so we are not always in each other’s pockets, or at least I think that anyway!

The Pace of Operations

The style of operations are very different too. Long-haul pilots are generally much less current and the pace of the operation is a lot slower. Briefings will be longer, you probably won’t have flown with the rest of the crew before. Most decision-making processes take longer in long-haul too, you have more passengers and crew to manage and a diversion airport could be hours away.

In long-haul we are less exposed and perhaps get less frustrated with delays, if we are delayed once outbound it generally only affects that flight, whereas in short-haul you are dependent on the aircraft arriving on time for you to start your day on time, and delays can accumulate throughout the day, sometimes adding hours to your finishing time. Air traffic control slot restrictions are rare on long haul as it is so difficult for different ATC authorities to co-ordinate.

Normally destinations are more varied in long-haul. When I flew short-haul I was lucky enough to night stop in some terrific European cities, but many pilots would only get 30mins to an hour at the destination airport before operating back to their home base. On long haul one trip I could be in South Africa wine tasting in their summer and our winter and the next trip I could be lying on the beach in Rio de Janeiro. It is difficult to get those experiences on short haul, however whilst you’re indulging yourself in these experiences you’re many miles away from your loved ones.

Long-haul vs Short-haul, The Summary

In summary, I believe each individual is different and if the opportunity arises you should try both. Most of my friends and colleagues prefer long haul for many of the reasons I have given above, although probably its just the wine tasting and the sunbathing! The pilots that have tried long haul and don’t like it would normally be because they struggle to manage the sleeping in bunks onboard and the jet lag / time zone impact on your body which would then have a negative effect on their lifestyle outside of work.

Having done both, my vote goes to long haul.