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A day in the life of a Holiday Airline pilot

by Captain Tony Smith Boeing 737 Pilot

I am currently a Captain flying the Boeing 737 for one of the UK’s largest holiday airlines. Since completing my flight training, nearly 15 years ago now, I have flown regional turboprops and jets before landing in my current role… the time has flown by (I promise these are the last intentional puns!)

Being based in Glasgow (GLA), we’re at the northernmost edge of the company’s base network. This means our sectors are generally long, in excess of 3 hours in most instances. At the opposite end of the country, we have a base in Bristol where a flight to the Canaries can be 40 to 45 minutes shorter. For this reason, our duty days rarely extend beyond 2 sectors and we normally end up back at our base at the end of every shift.

Being home every night is one of the advantages of narrow body leisure operations.

My previous experience was in the regional airline sector with Flybe. I flew both the Dash 8 Q400 and Embraer E175/195 while there and now with 3 civil aircraft types under my belt I can say that the way aircraft are operated isn’t particularly different between the types or sectors of the industry. Regional flying was more sectors per day with much less time in the cruise and similar duty lengths but we also got home every night.

Our early duties generally start between 5am and 7am, finishing between 2pm and 3pm. These are our shorter duties and subsequently can be rostered over consecutive days and sometimes up to 6 in a row during the summer.

Our late duties start between 2pm and 4pm and finish between 11pm and 3am. These are longer duties and, although we can be rostered consecutive duties, they would tend to be separated by a day in between and at most 4 duties in a week’s block.

With the potential to reach the limitation of a maximum of 100 hours flying in 28 days it’s a rare occasion to see more than 12 duties in a month in a non training role. This means more days at home per month, another advantage above my previous job in regional flying.

The next up/downside is that, like much of the airline industry, we do more flying in Summer than in Winter. This is even more pronounced in the leisure market and Winter tends to be much quieter than the Summer.

A Summer season is generally very fatiguing and the Winter is required for a recovery.

The airline flies to more than 65 destinations across Europe and just beyond. With 30+ of those from GLA there’s plenty of variety: every flight is different in many ways. As I mull over this paragraph, we’re in the cruise at 36,000ft over North Western Turkey on our way back to Edinburgh (I’m operating out of base for 2 days).

There’s thunderstorms flashing away either side of our track and while I never tire of watching them they’re just one aspect of the weather that affect our day to day operations.

On this duty we’ve had late fuelling, vaping in the toilet, incorrect catering and airport construction works causing extended ground delays in Antalya. All par for the course and nothing this crew hasn’t seen or dealt with before. The rest of the flight will pass uneventfully and we’ll arrive back at Edinburgh at 2:30am just behind our colleagues who’ve been on a long slog to Pafos (Cyprus) and back.

The pandemic had a profound effect on the company’s operations.

From March 2020 I didn’t see the flight deck again until September the same year. I was back for 2 duties and then we were grounded again until July 2021, after which I wasn’t called back to operate until the October. The company came through in a strong market position and received praise for its customer service and general handling of the shut-down and re-start of operations.

Looking ahead, there is significant expansion planned and a large number of new aircraft on order.

Leisure travel has been prophesised to decline in the not too distant past but it appears forecasts of demise were far wide of the mark with demand at it highest this year.

I wouldn’t swap this job for any other in the world, it’s stimulating and rewarding, tiring and frustrating in equal measure, but for anyone like me who has dreamed of flying since childhood, there’s nothing else that comes close.


This is part of the a blog series by BALPA pilots about their jobs. Read the others by clicking below:

A day in the life of a cargo airline pilot

A day in the life of a North Sea helicopter pilot…..

A day in the life: short-haul pilot part 1

A day in the life: short-haul pilot part 2

A day in the life of a flying father