A Day in the Life of a Cargo Pilot

F/O Kandy Bernskoetter

As a cargo pilot, any type of schedule you can imagine is available—domestic, international, 1-day trips, 14-day trips, all-daytime flying, all-nighttime flying, and every combination of these. It is a myth that we only fly in the middle of the night! We fly a lot of U.S. mail, and therefore, have an extensive day flight schedule in the United States. 

Each aircraft has a different mission, and seniority dictates your monthly bid award (your likelihood of getting your desired schedule). At my airline currently, new hires are being assigned to every type of aircraft, including the B-777.

We fly four- and five-week bid months (28 days and 35 days) that don't align with calendar months. All “months” start on a Monday. 

My flight schedule changes depending on business and contracts with companies. In any given month, the type of aircraft that services a particular city could change. B-757 and B-767 are separate bid packs, though you may fly either version of the aircraft when you show for work. On the B-777 and MD-11, first officers can bid and fly as relief flight officers when scheduled flight legs exceed eight hours. 

Memphis is by far the largest domicile (home base for pilots) in our system. Pilots will never be forced to be domiciled in a foreign duty assignment, but sometimes there are special international bid awards to cover flying outside the United States. These routes vary, but could be Central/South America, Europe, or Asia. 

Show time at the ramp for all trips and flights is one hour prior to scheduled departure. Oftentimes we must depart the hotel up to two hours prior to that, but this usually isn’t a bad thing! It means the crew hotel is in a city center, away from the airport. For example, Paris and Shanghai are two cities where the hotels are far from the airport. Currently, FAR Part 117 rest requirements for U.S. pilots do not apply to cargo pilots like myself, so local travel time does not count as duty time. If layovers are shorter than 14 hours, we usually stay at a hotel closer to the airport. 

Flight planning, especially for international flights, may start even before departing the hotel. At my airline, each pilot has a company-issued iPad and can access the Flight Planning tools and Jeppesen charts at any time. 

As a cargo pilot, you can find every type of flying schedule in a variety of aircraft. There is something for everyone here!

We hope you enjoyed this insight into what a typical day in the life of a mainline pilot can be. If you have any questions, please contact ALPA’s Education Committee.