Do Commercial Pilots Prefer Longer or Shorter Flights?

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Jan. 13 2014 11:25 AM

Do Commercial Pilots Prefer Long-Haul or Short Haul-Flights?

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A pilot in the cockpit of a French Airbus A310 on Jan. 1, 2014.

Photo by Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Kåre Lohse, airline pilot, the past 10 years on variants of the Boeing 747:

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Short answer: Yes.

I do both, and I like the mix. I think that's really ideal for me. I do short-, medium-, and long-haul passenger services as well as freighter runs. Over the next years, I will probably do more short haul and medium haul and fewer passenger flights, as the tendency for new (passenger) aircraft is to implement twin-engine jets, as they have better fuel economy than quad-engine jets. Having said that, the Boeing 747-8 is very fuel efficient and even competitive with the Boeing 777-300ER, if you fill up all seats in either.

My flights are usually not much shorter than an hour, but it happens. Some flights are more than 12 hours, and we just started a new freighter service that is more than 15 hours (on the Boeing 747-8F, and I haven't done it yet myself). On longer flights, we are three or four crew members, while shorter flights only require two pilots. This is called heavy crew among pilots, while the more formal term used is augmented crew.

When I flew Learjets, I counted my average flight time per flight to around a one-hour block. That was a lot more work, so if I had to choose either, I would choose medium- or long-haul for sure.

Some pilots like to do only short haul, medium haul, or long haul. You cannot generally conclude that all pilots prefer any one of these.

The Boeing 747-200/300 was the first to fly shorter sectors, as the Boeing 747-400 was more fuel efficient. Now the Boeing 747-8 is more efficient than the Boeing 747-400, yet the focus is on the upcoming Airbus 350 and Boeing 777X.

If you really want a hard answer, then:

Short haul: Great if you want to be home every night (more or less).

Long haul: Great if you want more days off in a row (but also away for longer).

* * *

Answer by Dave Inch, pilot for 35 years:

Different flying is like different flavors of ice cream. Everybody has a favorite. And often it depends on what's happening in your life.

I currently enjoy long-haul flying with one- or two-day layovers so I can enjoy a bit of the local culture. I seem to handle the time change to Europe better than Asia, so that's my first choice.

When my kids were younger, I preferred the shorter North American turnarounds, so I was able to be home with them in the evenings.

Really short stuff, in the range of an hour or so, is tiring for me (and most pilots) day after day. Most of the work of flying is done in the preparation, takeoff, and landing phases, so four or five one-hour legs a day is more tiring on me than a single eight-hour flight, but some pilots like that type of flying.

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