Pilot Lifestyle
February 15, 2016

My parents operated their own business for forty years.

Every year, they shut down “the shop” during the first week of July and took a well deserved vacation.

One week a year.  Except for taking a rare day off here or there, my parents were hard at work five or six days a week… for four decades.

The hard work paid off.  My mom and dad were able to provide a home, meals and college education for my sister and I.  Today, they are enjoying retirement splitting their time between homes in Massachusetts and Florida.  They’ve certainly earned it.

I will be forever grateful for their hard work and sacrifices.

Airline pilots also work hard and deal with problems and stresses completely unique to our industry.  However, at least at the “major airline” level, we are well compensated and provided with a generous amount of time off.

Airline Vacation

With the years of service I’ve accrued, I receive thirty five vacation days a year.  Vacation days can be taken seven days at a time.  So, I’m allowed five weeks of vacation during our annual cycle.

The cycle at my airline runs from May to April of the following year.

During January and February, we bid for weeks of vacation to be assigned for the following vacation year.

Yes, that is confusing and I have no idea why the vacation cycle runs this way.  I equate it to the “fiscal year” of a corporation not aligning with a calendar year.

Right now we are bidding vacation for May 2016 through April 2017.

To muddy the waters further, the airline runs three separate vacation bids.  Each allows us to bid on the fifty two vacation periods.  Next to each period, we can see how many allotments of that week are offered by the company.  Strangely, there are more available during October than the summer.  Also odd is the smaller amount of blocks available over holidays.  But, I digress.

In the “primary” vacation cycle, we are permitted to be awarded two “blocks” of vacation.  If desired, a block can be more than one week bid together.  Using two weeks of vacation back to back constitutes one “block” and would allow the pilot to bid one additional block during this cycle.  However, taking two separate weeks counts as two blocks.

The “secondary” cycle allows us to finish with a total of three blocks of assigned vacation.  Bidding two in the primary would allow one to be awarded in the secondary.  If the pilot came out of the primary bid with zero weeks assigned, (s)he could bid three blocks in the secondary cycle.

Finally, the “tertiary” cycle completes the vacation bidding.  All remaining blocks are assigned using the unappealing scraps of leftover vacation time.

(During the year, we have limited options of trading weeks of vacation during a monthly bid process.  We also have the option of “vacation dropping” trips by borrowing from next year’s vacation days.)

My Vacation Situation

A year ago, during the primary cycle, I bid two weeks (one block) of vacation in June and another week in the beginning of January.

On the secondary bid, I grabbed a week during March’s Spring Break so I could spend time with my family.

I completely forgot to bid in the tertiary cycle which resulted in the computer assigning a random week in April.

This year, we just finished the primary vacation bid.

For this first cycle, I focused on two weeks.  My son plays high school football and I wanted to secure the week during the “dead period” in June that the team is not allowed to practice.  That is usually the best week for us to enjoy a family vacation.

Also, my in-laws wanted to take a family trip after the kids are released from school in May.  I made sure to bid that week in the primary cycle.

Considering my seniority in the right seat, I was not surprised that I was awarded everything I requested.

When checking my awards, I came to a stunning realization: I now have a week of vacation scheduled in March, April, May and June.

Four months in a row.

The real kicker? I still have three unassigned weeks to bid for the rest of the cycle.

Life is Good

I almost did not share this information for fear of how it would “come across” to those of you not in the airline business.

However, I write this blog to give you an accurate glimpse inside my world as an airline pilot.

I’ve endured a lot of pain in my career, but right now, things are very good.

I held my head high during the bad times and I’m incredibly thankful for this upturn in the industry.

So, please don’t send me emails saying I’m spoiled or how it “must be nice” to be in this position.

Unless you’re my mom and dad.

From them, I’d understand.

If you like this blog, please share my posts using the social media buttons below. It just takes a second and an increase in readership encourages me to write more posts. Thanks!

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.

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There are 10 comments

  • Carlos says:

    I’ll just go ahead by saying: you’ve deserved it! Just like all hard working people do! 🙂

    By the way, since you’re commenting from “the inside”, how does a pilot become eligible for international long-haul trips? Does the company ask you, or is there a biding process? That would be interesting to know. Kind regards!

  • Charles says:

    That position you talk about might be special in the US, but it’s your right to take vacation days whenever you want in most European countries. By law.

    • Does that mean all 12,000 of us could take off Christmas week?

      • Carlos says:

        Nope. If all 12000 want to take vacation days over Christmas, only the ones with the highest seniority (or similar criteria) will be awarded. But technically, one may bid vac. days all over the place, or take them all at once.

        • Thanks for the clarification. At our airline, a pilot could take all his/her vacation as one big “block” in the primary vacation cycle. (ie: five weeks together) But, each one of those individual weeks would need to be available for that pilot to be awarded the big block.

  • Don Rieck says:

    Just catching up on old posts. If for some reason you took 5 weeks off consecutively, would you still be current ? Love the blog btw !

    • Hi Don,

      Yes. We are required to land the aircraft three times during the previous 90 days to be current. We are also required to complete a proficiency check every nine months or year. (varies by airline) But, those checks can be done in an early or grace month. (If the pilot is “due” in July, the check could be done in June or August.) So, the pilot would schedule the proficiency check around the five week vacation.

      Thanks for the kind words about the blog. I appreciate it!

      – Brian

  • hina says:

    Hi Brian, I’m catching up on the blog, still so very interesting! I’m glad to read that post and see that it pays off in all aspects of life, this job was attractive, and was supposed to be hard work and very rewarding, so that’s how it is, and it’s good! I’m happy for you and you certainly very much deserve it since you started it all at FIT! ( and by the way, a big up for your parents and their hard work!) Thanks for sharing your insights on the industry!
    Hina ( yup, from FIT)

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