Rightly or wrongly, when most people think of an airline pilot’s life, they think it is one permanent vacation! The rise of instagram pilots — who seemingly sit on a beach 24/7 — showcase a working environment that’s one big holiday.
So, do airline pilots get any real vacation time? Yes. While most of us enter into the aviation industry with the understanding that the job comes with long hours and little time off, the truth is that pilots are entitled to paid vacations just like everyone else.
It’s not always been this way, though. Pilot unions have fought hard to secure paid time off away from the cockpit, and many pilots still won’t have vacation time in the peak summer months. In this article, we’ll take an overview of pilot vacation time — how much do they get, and what do they get up to!
Do airline pilots get paid vacation time?
Like many shift workers, commercial airline pilots are expected to work all hours of the night and day, weekends, and throughout the holiday seasons. But do they get legal vacation time?
The short answer: Yes — but it’s been an uphill battle.
The long answer: Monthly flying schedules at many airlines varies considerable across the year. Airlines generally try to get away without paying their pilots any vacation time, by offering their pilots unpaid leave during low-flying seasons…
When do pilots get time off?
When it comes to when pilots are allowed time off, the biggest factor for airlines is when their peak demand is.
After all, if airline pilots took vacations in the summer holidays, who would fly you there? Conversely, for pilots that work in freighter airlines, demand is more consistent throughout the year, so leave can be spread out more evenly.
This essentially means, when you get time off as an airline pilot depends largely on the type of airline you work for: scheduled, or charter.
For charter airline pilots, seasonal contracts are normal, with the majority of time off during the spring and fall. Charter airlines are typically working at maximum capacity — sometimes even hiring temporary staff — throughout summer and for winter ski and sun breaks. Outside of peak times, pilots can expect large amounts of time off, but the downside is this will normally be unpaid or at a very reduced rate.
For scheduled carriers, either low cost or legacy, flight demand is more consistent throughout the year. As a result, pilots typically get assigned half their weeks of leave in the summer schedule, and the second half in the winter schedule. There are still some seasonal variations, with busier holiday weeks having reduced amounts of leave available. However, pilots usually select who gets these “premium” weeks off by a rotating bidding or seniority system.
What do pilots spend their vacation time on?
Pilots typically fall into one of two camps when it comes to vacation time: those who take advantage of discounted travel perks, and those who never want to go anywhere near an airport!
Exotic adventures vs airport free camping!
Like many travel industry workers, pilots get access to cheap flights and hotel deals. As a result, it is not uncommon for pilots to spend the weeks leading up to their leave planning audacious getaways to far-flung destinations that they wouldn’t normally travel to at work.
Many shorthaul pilots will have spent their season flying around to destinations they would like to go on vacation to, without ever leaving the aircraft once they are there!
“We can fly to South America on our staff tickets, then use standby tickets on a local carrier to the regional airport. And take a seaplane across to the island!”Enthusiastic young pilots!
Pilot’s in the second camp typically fall into two types, longhaul pilots and those with young families.
It’s no secret that airline pilots often experience gruelling work hours – with ever-changing schedules and holidays spent away from family. But despite the seemingly non-stop nature of airborne operations, airline pilots are still guaranteed some paid time off by law.
When this vacation time is, largely depends on which type of airline a pilot works for. The highest demand for pilots are when most people are taking a break; so airline pilots don’t typically get the same summer holidays that regular folk do.
At larger scheduled carriers, airline pilots receive less vacation, but more evenly spread throughout the year. For charter airline pilots, seasonal contracts are typically the way of life, with minimal breaks at all in the high-demand months, and long vacations in spring and fall when flying demands slow down.
On holiday, while plenty of pilots do take advantage of their discounted travel perks, there is a second group of pilots who avoid anything to do with flying on their vacations. For a commercial pilot, turning up at the airport and taking a long flight is another day at work after all!