Pilot Lifestyle
Hurry up and wait
December 13, 2010

I hate being on reserve.  No, I don’t have a bad attitude.  Nor am I a bad employee for making this statement.  Ask anyone…other pilots, managers, crew schedulers…they will all tell you the same thing: reserve stinks.  (Some use more colorful language, but I’ll keep it clean.)  Because it is so undesirable, the reserve schedules are almost always assigned to the most junior pilots.  Since I just finished new-hire IOE, that would make me very junior.

But, reserve is a necessary evil for all airlines.  Reserves are extra pilots.  Once all the trips are assigned, the junior pilots get reserve schedules.  There are two types of days on the schedule: off and available.  To meet FAA rest requirements, each available day has a start and finish time.  During that window, I am responsible for answering my phone, receiving an assignment, and reporting to the airport within a few hours.

Trips become available for many reasons.  Sometimes, a trip was never originally assigned to a pilot.  Or, a pilot could have dropped the trip in exchange for vacation.  If a pilot calls in sick, the trip goes to a reserve.  A good winter storm will wreak havoc with a schedule and give reserves plenty of opportunity to fly.  The reasons go on and on and on…but, it all comes down to preserving the flight schedule.  You wouldn’t be too happy if your flight was canceled for lack of pilots.

In my career, I’ve sat reserve in Bangor, Boston, New York, Chicago and Washington DC.  The stints in Bangor and DC were tolerable since I lived locally.  If the phone didn’t ring, I was home with the family.  New York wasn’t too bad either…  On nice days, I would ride the subway into Manhattan and do some sightseeing.  Once, I got really lucky and scored a ticket to the Letterman Show.  I arrived early and was seated in the third row.  The only downside to New York?  I was responsible for trips out of La Guardia, JFK, and Newark.

Now, I sit reserve in San Francisco.  The area is nice and the hotels are cheap.  I’ve already established a good group of friends to hang out with while I am here.  But, I have to be honest: I am bored and want to fly.

I’ve fallen into a pattern of being assigned a flying trip every other time I come out to San Francisco.  Since IOE, I’ve flown a day trip, a three day trip, and a four day trip.

On the day trip, I flew two round-trips to Las Vegas.  After the four flights, I went back to the same hotel room I had checked out of earlier that day.

Last week was perfect: I commuted in, received a four day trip assignment, and commuted home at the end.  I did not have to pay for a hotel and my meals were all covered by per diem.  I cannot wait until my seniority allows me to have that kind of schedule assigned on a regular basis.

As for the rest of the trips to San Francisco?  I’ve sat here for four and five days.  At home, I am so busy with family that I never stop moving.  Here?  Not so much.  My wife jokes that it would be a treat to go away for five days with no responsibilities.  I’m sure it would be a treat for her…the first few times.

My situation is not unique.  Thousands of veteran pilots have spent years on reserve.  At some companies, these brave men and women have been on reserve their whole careers.  The schedulers at other airlines can be vindictive with reserve pilots.  Fortunately, ours are nice and use a very fair system to assign flying.  We are growing so fast that this should be a short-term lifestyle.  But, for now, this is my assigned role and I will dutifully complete it.  I may be bored, but I am extremely thankful for this job.

So, what’s it like sitting at a two star hotel in San Francisco?  I’m writing this post on day four of five.  In the last four days, I’ve…

  • … called home.
  • … spent time with friends.
  • … worked on this blog.
  • … checked my Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and cell  for messages.
  • … read.
  • … called home.
  • … stared at the television.
  • … walked long distances.
  • … gotten my hair cut.
  • … called home.
  • … found some wet paint and watched it dry.
  • … stood at a newly seeded field and watched the grass grow.
  • … eaten when I’m hungry.
  • … eaten when I’m not hungry.
  • … tried not to nap the day away.
  • … called home.

Oh cellphone… please ring soon.

About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

Related items

/ Other posts in this category:


TIME to fly home

Read more

Hello again, longevity date…

Read more


Read more

There are 7 comments

  • Mike says:

    You know what’s sad? Your reserve duty sounds very much like one of my ordinary trips. Fly one leg, sit for four days, fly home. And I figured out what I don’t like about it. When I’m in a hotel watching paint dry I’m of no use to anyone. Not my family. Not the company. (in my case I’m rarely on call – they just need a warm body in town to babysit the airplane.)

    I find myself lamenting over the fact that I am truly wasting my life and giving away days that can never be recaptured.

  • Jesus Calderon says:

    Yea,for sure this is among the worst parts of an airline pilot’s life. For me, as an atc, is quite different. Sadly, I can’t enjoy the experience of moving around all day and visiting different cities (call it airports) in a row but in the other hand,when I’m in reserve, I’m allways at home with my family with the cellphone on, so nothing really bad. As always,thanks for the post! 😉

    • Thanks… are you back to work?

      • Jesus Calderon says:

        You can bet on it! Currently we are under military supervision and law enforcement, so in case of not going to work, you are desobbeing military orders and so you’re put in jail….not the nicest professional moment in my life that’s for sure…nevertheless: I LOOOVE AVIATION!! 😉

  • Pam Deveau says:

    And I thought the life of a pilot was all glamour. You burst my bubble!!!

  • Leave a Reply to Mike Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *