For the fortunate,Christmas is a time spent at home surrounded by friends and families – but the travel industry never stops, so what does Christmas day look like for a long haul pilot?
Not all, but many airlines (particularly long haul airlines) do operate on 25th December. While short haul pilots will have the opportunity to spend at least some of the day at home even if they are working. If a long haul pilot is rostered to work over the Christmas period, its likely they will be spending the holidays with their crew mates ‘down route’ – although if you’re lucky it could be somewhere exotic and for some it can be an exciting experience.
How long you will spend down route varies significantly and depends on which airline you fly for as well as which destination you have flown to. A one night trip is often referred to as a “bullet” – it typically consists of a late morning departure and then spending around 24 hrs down route before flying the return sector home. If you are rostered onto a longer trip, sometimes as long as seven days, some of your days off will be down route, these are also known as a “clear day”.
We’ve taken three Long Haul pilot rosters to see what Christmas could bring:
Positioning is when a pilot travels to a base but does not fly the aircraft. They could be positioning to support crewing requirements at another base, or, as in this case, simply returning to their home base at London Gatwick, which lands on Christmas morning.
While they may feel more rested than if they had operated the flight back, they are likely to spend most of the day catching up on some sleep, recovering from 24 hours in Barbados!
Flying away from home
The pilot belonging to this roster is having a very varied few days over the holiday season. They won’t return home until 27th December – and it won’t be travel by air!
Our pilot will be flying to Goa on Christmas Eve, and spending their Christmas morning down route and enjoying a bit of winter sun. There won’t however be any opportunity for a cocktail by the pool as they are back to work by Christmas evening. Our pilot will fly to Manchester, where they will spend their whole Boxing Day due to the rest required, before making their own way home – most likely by train.
Guaranteed day off
If a pilot has a Guaranteed Day Off or ‘GDO’ (as opposed to simply a ‘Day Off’), this pilot has been very fortunate indeed and has been able to book these days off in advance. What’s more, even though they are working on ‘Standby’ on Christmas Eve e.g. they could be called out to fly, the airline is required to ensure they are back at their home base by 2000hrs on Christmas Eve, to safeguard the full day off the following day. Leave systems, like so many pilot experiences, depend very much on the airline you work for and so will the policy for booking holiday or a GDO over the festive period. Of course, not all pilots who request these days off will be granted them, to ensure the flying schedule is properly staffed. In the general spirit of fairness, it is most likely that this pilot will be working next year!
When you pursue a career as an airline pilot you should be aware that they will operate a meticulously planned schedule 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You will miss celebrations and traditional holidays– but you will also have the opportunity to experience Christmas around the world in a way that very few ever will. For many, it’s well worth it.
To all those flying this festive season, we’re wishing you safe travels!
If you enjoyed this read, check out Christmas day as a short haul pilot
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