Do you wonder how often pilots are at home? As a career known for long periods away, the answer may surprise you. In this article, we take a look at the average number of nights airline pilots spend away from home each week.
There are several factors that play into this, including regional or shorthaul pilots vs. longhaul pilots, and legacy airlines vs. low-cost carriers. But regardless of what type of pilot you are, chances are you’re spending more time away from home than you might think!
The big question: How often are pilots at home?
So, how often are pilots home? There is no one-sized fits all answer, but we can make educated guesses depending on the type of commercial pilot.
Cargo / Charter
But it’s not just the type of pilot that determines how often they’re at home – it also depends on the airline. Legacy airlines tend to have their pilots on trips for longer stretches of time, while low-cost carriers typically have minimum times abroad.
Here we’ll explain some differences and what to expect
Shorthaul pilots — 0-2 nights a week
If you’re a regional or shorthaul pilot, you can expect to be away from home anywhere from zero to two nights during the week.
This is because most flights are within a day’s journey, meaning pilots can fly there and back in the same day. A typical roster might involve 4-6 days at work in a week, with the majority being “day trips”. Aka, flying from a home base to a destination, dropping passengers off, and then operating the return sector back home to finish.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. Some shorthaul legacy airlines — a name given to older, established airlines that were once flag carriers — operate tours or something known as W-patterns.
Pilot’s at legacy airlines usually operate a mixture of day trips and longer tours, and as a result can be away from home nearly as many nights a week as longhaul pilots.
Example tour for a legacy shorthaul airline pilot e.g Lufthansa
|Day 1 (3 flights)||Home Base —> Destination A —> Home base —> Destination B|
|Night away||Destination B|
|Day 2 (2 flights)||Destination B —> Home base —> Destination C|
|Night away||Destination C|
|Day 3 (3 flights)||Destination C —> Home base —> Destination D —> Home base|
Longhaul pilots — around three nights per week
Longhaul pilots tend to be away for around three nights each week on average. This is because flights are longer and often go through multiple time zones, which means crews need longer overnight stays to rest. The average longhaul night stop is around 24-48 hours away from home.
One difference between shorthaul and longhaul, is that low-cost vs legacy airlines both have similar nights away from home:
A longhaul pilot’s typical month
Trips (per month)
Trip length (days)
Hours at destination
Charter airline and cargo pilots — up to four nights a week
If you’re a charter or cargo pilot, you can expect to be away from home for up to four nights each week.
Pilots at charter airlines — sometimes referred to as Holiday carriers — such as TUI often have significantly longer trips than scheduled carriers.
For cargo pilots, rostering can be an entirely different style to some passenger airline pilots.
Because types of flights are often to multiple locations in sequence, dropping off parts or cargo in each area, it’s not uncommon for cargo pilots to be away from home for up to 21 days at a time.
For example, a cargo pilot may fly overnight from the US to Europe and then spend multiple days flying cargo around Europe. Each night the pilots will stay in differing places, and occasionally stops will last for several days if important cargo is delayed.
Typically, rosters are built around fixed patterns, rather than trips. For example, a popular cargo roster is a 9/5 split — pilots will be away for 9 days, then have 5 days off in a repeating pattern. This does give pilots a level of consistency about their roster, but it does mean that cargo pilots can spend significantly more time away from home overall.
Rostering patterns vary significantly, from 5 day blocks of work, all the way up to 21 day blocks. However, if you’re a charter airline or cargo pilot, the average time you’ll be away from home equates to 4-5 nights per week.
In summary, how often pilots are at home varies hugely depending on the type of pilot and airline. Some shorthaul pilots — especially at low-cost airlines — might only ever do day-trips, never being rostered on any layovers. This means the only nights away from home they will experience are infrequent, and due to unexpected technical or delay issues.
However, these pilots are in the minority. It’s safe to say that if you’re a commercial pilot, you will likely spend more time away from home than the average person.
Typically, pilots spend around 3 nights away from home a week, but in extreme cases, many cargo pilots or private charter pilots can spend several weeks away from home at once.
For some, the travelling can be exhausting, with many older pilots bidding to work as few nights away from home as possible. For others, the continuous travelling becomes a lifestyle. Even on their days off, many pilots are away, using their discounted tickets to continue exploring!