I have been lucky enough to fly both long haul and short haul. Actually, that is pretty common - most airline pilots will start on short haul and work their way up to long haul because generally, airlines (and the folk who offer them insurance) like to see more experienced pilots operating the bigger, more expensive, more passenger-filled aircraft. But a lot of pilots who are just starting out might find themselves wondering where to start out - a feeder airline with the plan to go long haul eventually, or hang your hat on a decent short haul regional and make a career there?
Short haul is great fun. You might be doing several sectors a day, and generally, you’re going to spend most evenings in your own bed which is a marvellous perk for a pilot. Only two crew are required which means you are more than likely going to get at least one landing a day. So short haul let’s you fly. Really fly! What we all sorta signed up to when we decided to become pilots in the first place. But it also has some downsides. If you fly a 4 sector day then you might be battling raging winds at the end of two of the sectors, and a tricky non-precision approach at the end of the other two.
It can be fairly physically exhausting. What’s more, that glamorous pilot lifestyle you dreamed of starts and ends in an airport - turnarounds don’t usually give much time for seeing the sites, unless you count the walk-around as “visiting” the country. Short haul comes with one more big plus worth mentioning though. The potential career progression. Now, this bit is for the European pilots (US folk turn away, it isn’t the place for that debate right now). In Europe, you can enter an airline with next to no hours, straight outta training if you’re lucky. Which means a few years of 4 sectors days and those hours will have stacked up in your logbook, and if you’ve learned a bit of experience along the way then you might just be able to go for command. So, short haul can have great career progression. You will have the chance to really develop your flying skills and enjoy what it is you became a pilot for in the first place. On the downside, the work can involve long and tiring days and lack that “glamorous” adventure lifestyle we also like.
For me, the reward of being a pilot is 50% the adventure, 50% the responsibility of managing a flight safely, and 5% everything else. (I know - my maths doesn’t add up there. Another tiptop: you don’t have to be a maths whizz to be a pilot.) Long-haul flying is much less about physically flying and much more about managing the flight. Don’t read just “button pushing” there - managing a flight safely and efficiently over challenging places like the North Atlantic, Polar routes, the Himalayas involves much more than snoozing while the autopilot flies it for. That’s the responsibility bit I was talking about. It’s challenging, it’s fun, it takes planning and experience, risk assessment and decision making. It can also be deathly boring 8 hours into the cruise at 3am of course, but then you always have the promise of a layover at the other end. And this is the other perk of long-haul - the travel. I have had the opportunity to fly into sox continents. I have been eating pizza in New York, taking selfies on the Great Wall of China, and chilling on Bondi beach all in one month. But, those pictures on instagram don’t paint the whole picture.
You see, airlines want their crew to be as productive as possible, which means as many hours as possible. Now, heading East then West causes a bit of a problem, because there are rules about knackering your crew too much. On top of that, long haul flights are crew heavy - you need 4, and you need to let them have time off in-between. Luckily for the airlines, most fly a mix of long and less long haul. So in between your lovely ULRs, you probably will find a few night turns, or rubbish 18 hour layovers at airport hotels thrown in too. Then there is the jet lag. On paper the long haul lifestyle looks good. On an average month I would do maybe 5 flights. 2 long haul with nice 48 hour layovers, 3 medium length with 24 hour layovers. 12 or so off at home. Lazy days. Easy flight over with 7 hours sleep in the airplane, eat some Ray’s famous pizza, see the sites, fly back, chill at home for 3 days. Only it doesn’t really feel like that. It is more long, tiring flight where you don’t sleep in the bunk because it really, really turbulent out, grab a slice of greasy pizza from the dodgy place by the hotel, fall asleep, wake up with pizza slice stuck to your face, fly back again, recover from jet lag, spend last day off getting uniform dry-cleaned and bag packed for next flight. Ok, so they weren’t all like that. Like I said - I love long haul and have had some amazing experiences both during flights and on layovers. But I have also been chased around a make-up store with the assistant telling me I should buy a $100 bottle of wrinkle cream because she mistook me for someone 15 years my senior. Long-haul is a different game. It is about managing more than flying, preparing more than reacting. It is tiring, but in a totally different way, and you’re generally flying much bigger machines with many more lives on board, so your career progression is going to be slower.
Only you will know, but hopefully this gives you so things to consider, and hopefully you will get the opportunity to try out both, throw in some cargo while you’re at it, and maybe even corporate for a while. This is wonderful side of aviation - it connects the world, provides all this opportunity, and is challenging, exciting and rewarding for those who decide to work in it.
welcome aboard the new airside
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