The life of a pilot is a glamorous one, full of flying to far-flung locales and discovering new places on layovers, but it is also a lonely one. Pilots have to spend lots of time away from home, which affects their relationships with family and friends. How often do pilots actually get to be home to enjoy the lives they earn thanks to their hard work?
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Airlines and the FAA have strict regulations around how often commercial pilots have to be at home. The answer depends on a few factors. Pilots who fly short routes can go home every night, while long-haul pilots usually work 15 days a month and get 15 days off.
Keep reading to learn more about the often-punishing schedule that pilots keep.
How Often Are Regional Pilots Home?
When looking for work-life balance, pilots who fly short or regional routes probably have the sweetest deal. Most short-haul pilots have multiple flights a day, but because these are only a few hours, they can go home every night if they want.
Other short-haul pilots organize their schedules so that they work four or five days a week out of the base, then spend two or three days at home. This is a similar schedule to most 9-5 jobs, although, depending on the location of the base, these pilots may still spend several nights a week in a hotel.
How Often Are Long-Haul Pilots Home?
Pilots who fly longer routes tend to spend more time away from home. FAA regulations state that pilots have to have a rest period after flying flights longer than seven hours. Usually, pilots will fly a long-haul flight, then have a day or two in the international destination to rest and potentially explore the city before flying back. This means that long-haul pilots often spend at least three days a week away from home.
While this is exciting for those who like to travel, it does mean that long-haul pilots spend less time at home because they are doing their mandatory rest periods in between flights. Long-haul pilots can expect to spend 10–15 days a month at home. For younger pilots, this is often not as big a problem, but pilots with families can struggle to maintain those relationships and routines.
What About Pilots Who Commute?
The figures mentioned above are for pilots who live near their bases. However, many pilots live further away from their bases for family reasons or to save money. Even though the pilot’s time off starts after the plane parks, that’s not time they will spend at home.
Some pilots live hours away from their base and have to commute after work, sometimes even flying. Flying as a pilot is not as simple as flying as a passenger. Even though pilots fly for free, they fly standby, meaning they have to wait for an empty seat to pop up on the plane. Getting home could start with waiting hours at the airport for a free seat to open up on the flight.
Pilots who choose to live far away from their base and commute have to balance this decision with the reality that this means spending less time at home because airlines don’t count commutes as working hours. Some pilots manage this by arranging their work schedule so that they work several flights in a row, which is easiest for short-haul flights that have a shorter mandatory rest period, and then spend an extended period at home.
Does the FAA Mandate How Many Hours Pilots Have to Be at Home?
The FAA has limits on how many hours pilots can fly without a break and how many hours they can fly a month. Airline pilots usually fly 75 hours a month and have to put in around 80 ground hours per month. The rest is mandated rest so that pilots can be fresh.
However, the FAA does not mandate how many of those rest hours have to be spent at home. Part of this is due to the frequency of commuting among pilots and because the agency cannot legally mandate how pilots spend their time off. It is up to pilots to arrange their schedules so they can spend the most time at home.
What About Non-Airline Pilots?
For pilots who work other jobs instead of at traditional commercial passenger airlines, the time they spend at home varies. For charter pilots, that depends on the season. During high season, charter pilots can spend as many as four nights a week away from home.
Cargo pilots often fly in rosters and blocks where they’re on duty for nine days at a time and then have a block of five days off, which they can spend at home. Pilots who fly air taxis close to home can come home for dinner every night.