I’m often asked “Do you get a lot of time off?” and “How does your schedule work?”
Well these can both be answered with the same explanation. We pilots do get a fair amount of time off of work and it’s a product of how our schedules work.
Most airline pilots will ‘bid’ for a schedule month to month. The process is driven by seniority; i.e. the pilot that’s been at the airline the longest gets first choice and so on down the line to the last guy. This is also relative to the seat position. The Captains all bid for their schedule separately from the First Officers, etc.
Typically at the beginning of the month, a bid package will come out. This contains the available trips for that month. They frequently change as schedules and cities served can change just as often. The trips are anywhere from 1 day to 14 days long depending on what type of flying you are doing. A normal domestic airline trip may be 3-4 days long and some international ‘round the world’ trips can be as long as 15 days.
For simplicity, I’ll use a 4-day domestic trip schedule as an example.
It’s May 1st and the bid package came out. I want to work Monday – Thursday and have 3 day weekends this month. So I’ll look through the available trips and find the ones that I want that not only start on Monday, but go to the cities that I want to fly to and are productive. A productive trip is one that lets us fly as close to the FAA maximums allowed in the time that we are at work.
So I’ve found 5 trips that fit my criteria, and I bid for those. As a backup I’ll bid to fly similar trips that maybe start on Tuesdays instead. Depending on my seniority, I’ll either get the Monday - Thursday schedule or the Tuesday – Friday schedule.
I usually end up with 4 four-day trips. Thus, I work 16 days per month and have the remainder of the month off. The thing to remember is that when at work, a pilot is away from home for days at a time. So, you can’t stop off on the way home at the post office, or to get your oil changed or even cut your lawn after you get home. All of that is usually condensed into 3-4 days while at home. The up side to that is, when we are home, we are home. We aren’t getting called back into the office, or having to work from home to complete a project that has a deadline. It does take some getting used to but once you are used to it, it’s really a great schedule.