A Typical Airline Pilot Roster / Schedule
Ever wondered what a typical pilot schedule looks like? We have some examples of both long and short haul rosters for you to look at…
Example Pilot Rosters
A pilot’s roster is very variable and depends on what aircraft they are flying and for which airline. With long-haul rosters, you usually spend more time away from home (when working) than a short haul pilot, but you usually get more days off at home as a result. Short haul rosters often have a mix of day trips and “tours” where you might spend a few nights away from home at different destinations. Some airlines will only plan you for day trips (such as Ryanair). Whilst others will have you regularly staying away from home (flag carriers like BA or KLM).
There is a common misconception amongst the general public that pilots fly a set route, but this is actually very rarely the case. Pilots typically operate any route that is flown by the specific aircraft type they are qualified to fly that is operated by the airline. This could be anywhere from a handful of destinations at a small airline to hundreds at a large one! For example, an airline like Ryanair or easyJet only operate one aircraft type, therefore their pilots could literally operate to hundreds of potential destinations.
A Pilots Typical Long-Haul Roster
Most airlines that operate Long Haul routes have a “variable” roster. That is to say that there is no fixed pattern and you can end up working any day of the week at any time of year. Most long haul airlines operate using a seniority based system which allow pilots to “bid” for certain trips or days off. The more senior you are (the longer you have been working for the airline), the more likely you are to have your request awarded. This means that if you are a very senior pilot and enjoy having weekends off and doing the flight to New York, you could well end up doing this most of the time! Junior pilots (those low on on seniority list) will have less control over their lifestyle, and in the early years will end up operating to the less popular destinations.
Long-Haul Example Roster
This example is over a one-week period without any annual leave or special requests.
Tuesday: London Heathrow (LHR) – Las Vegas (LAS) departing at 11:00 UTC.
Wednesday: OFF (day off down route in Las Vegas)
Thursday: OFF day down route (in Las Vegas)
Friday: Las Vegas (LAS) – London Heathrow (LHR) (departing 23:45 UTC). Arrive LHR Saturday Morning.
Saturday: OFF (rest of Saturday off)
The time you get off down route depends on how long the previous flight was, how long the next flight is and what the rotation of the aircraft is. For example, if the airline only operates two flights to the destination each week, you will probably get a bit more time off down route than if there were daily flights.
Read more about a typical day in the life of a long haul pilot.
Short Haul Pilot – Touring Roster Example
Monday: Check-in 06:00, STN – EDI – STN – MAD, Check Out 14:00
Tuesday: Check-in 05:30, MAD – STN – RTM – STN, Check Out 13:00
Wednesday: Check-in 08:00, STN – ZRH – STN, Checkout 15:00
Saturday: Check-in 12:00, STN – GVA – STN – GVA, Checkout 22:00
Sunday: Check-in 13:00, GVA – STN – ABZ – STN, Check Out 20:00
Airport Codes Used:
STN – London Stansted
EDI – Edinburgh
MAD – Madrid
RTM – Rotterdam
ZRH – Zurich
GVA – Geneva
ABZ – Aberdeen
A short haul day trip roster would be similar to that above but finishing back at your home base every night.
Fixed or Variable Rosters
Some airlines like Ryanair and easyJet operate a fixed roster pattern. At Ryanair for example, most bases operate 5 days on (at work), 4 days off pattern. Many pilots at easyJet operate on a 5 on, 4, off, 4, on 3 off roster. This gives the pilots the ability to effectively plan their time off as they know what days they’ll be working in a year’s time. Some airlines like BA or Jet2.com operate a variable roster with no fixed pattern. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Due to their nature, long haul rosters are nearly always variable.
When do Pilots receive their roster / schedule?
Again, it depends on the airline. Some airlines issue rosters to their pilots a month before the first date on the roster whilst at others it might only be a week or two. Typically, most pilots receive their rosters for the following month about half way through the current month. So, for example, you would usually get your December roster around half way through November.
Some airlines reserve the right to change their pilots rosters right up until the day before the flight without penalty or ability for the pilot to refuse the change.
Other airlines offer roster protection periods, where the roster can only be changed with the pilot’s permission or through financial incentives. This will depend on the scheduling agreement between the airline and its pilot’s and/or union.
Example Pilot Rosters for Specific Airlines
This provides some guidance as to the type of roster and how many days off you get a month with specific airlines based on a full time contract. These are examples only and may vary or be changed by the airline at any time.
British Airways – Variable Roster. Typically 9 – 15 days off a month.
Delta – Variable Roster. 15 – 19 days off a month.
easyJet – Fixed Roster. Most bases: 5 on – 4 off – 4 on – 3 off.
Jet2.com – Variable Roster. A very seasonal operation so you work harder in the summer than in the winter. Typically 5 days on, 2 off in the summer but significanlty more days off in the winter season.
Lufthansa – Variable Roster. Minimum 10 days off a month but typically 11 – 13 days off a month.
Ryanair – Fixed Roster. Most bases: 5 earlies on – 4 off then 5 lates on – 4 off.
Virgin Atlantic – Minimum 10 days off a month with a minimum of 2 days off between trips. Max 750 hours a year.
Vueling – Operate both fixed roster 5 on – 4 off, and a variable roster.