A Day in the Life of a Mainline Pilot

F/O Stephen Rocha, A220

As a pilot, I have the opportunity to explore many different cities. As a mainline pilot, those opportunities are expanded. I currently fly the Airbus A220 for a major airline based out of Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC). On this fleet, our trips can be anywhere from one to five days. I prefer flying trips anywhere from three to five days since I live in a different city than my base. This is called commuting, a practice very well known to many airline pilots. Occasionally we have trips that have long enough overnights for me to explore around the city.

This is one of those trips: I began the day by commuting to SLC, arriving a couple of hours before show time. Here, I got some food and updated my iPad with the most current info. Once it was close to show time, I checked in and went to the gate of departure. The first day was a little long with three flights; the first two were a round trip (what we call turns) to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and back. Then we flew to Santa Ana/Orange County Airport (SNA) for the overnight. The hotel is rather nice with big rooms, but we were only there for 12 hours and after a long day commuting and flying, I was ready for bed upon arrival.

The following day was easy and short. Only two legs with the first leg being a deadhead from SNA to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Deadheading is when we are on duty, but we ride as passengers, so we get in position for our next flight. Once we got to SEA, we had a couple of hours in between flights so I got some lunch then walked around the terminals for a little exercise. When it was time, about an hour from departure, we made our way to the airplane, got it ready, and flew to Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC). The next day we were flying out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO), so we took a van and stayed at a hotel in the downtown area much closer to the SFO airport. We also had 21 hours there, so I got up, worked out, walked around the waterfront, and got some brunch before heading back to the hotel to get ready for work.

The next few days are the ones that I was really looking forward to. When I was in SNA, I spoke to my parents and made plans for them to meet me on my third day of the trip. Today was that third day. The plan was for me to fly from SFO to SEA for a short layover before flying my schedule to Fairbanks International Airport (FAI). In the meantime, my parents would use my flight benefits and fly from Denver International Airport (DEN) to SEA where we would meet up and then they will hop on my flight to FAI where I had a 24-hour overnight. This gave us plenty of time to explore and get to know FAI! This was also the very first time that my parents are my customers so needless to say, we were all very excited. After speaking with my parents and making those plans, I made arrangements to rent a car and book a reservation at Chena Hot Springs, a popular resort for hot springs and other winter activities. This trip took place in March so going to the hot springs was a perfect activity.

As I mentioned earlier, day three started just like any other day. The flight from SFO to SEA was uneventful. We landed in SEA and my parents were already waiting for me. We had about three hours before the flight to FAI, so we had plenty of time to get dinner and chat before our night departure. Upon returning to the gate, my captain surprised me and asked if I wanted to show my parents the aircraft; the gate agent agreed to escort them to the aircraft as they explored the A220 and its wonderful flight deck. Once it was time, my parents returned to the gate to await their boarding group. To their surprise, they both got first class seats! Not only is their son flying them to FAI, but they are also doing it in style.

The flight to FAI was a night departure so there wasn’t a lot they saw on the way up there. The northern lights sadly didn’t make an appearance either. Approach to landing was fun especially since we landed on a snowy, yet safe, runway. I was the pilot flying so I was the one that flew the leg from SEA to FAI. I landed safely and we taxied to the gate. At my airline, it’s customary for the pilot flying to stand at the entrance to the flight deck and say goodbye as customers deplane. My parents knew this but didn’t really believe I landed the airplane. Guess it’s one of those moments that they realized, “my son is not a child anymore.” It was rather flattering.

Once we all got off, I got the rental car and made our way to the hotel. We arrived in FAI at about 11:15 p.m. so instead of going straight to the hotel, we took a long detour to see if we could get away from the city enough and spot the northern lights. Again, we were not successful in seeing them but enjoyed the detour. We arrived at the hotel at about 1 a.m. and went straight to bed for the next day’s adventure.

We got up relatively early so we could maximize the day and also to give me a chance to nap later in the day as I was working the redeye flight back to SEA. We left the hotel at about 9 a.m., got some breakfast, then made our way to Chena Hot Springs. We spent the whole day there bathing, relaxing, and seeing the ice museum/hotel before heading back to FAI and grabbing a late lunch/early dinner. Once that was done, we got back to the hotel and I took a nap before getting ready for work.

Since it’s a redeye back to SEA, I got up at about 10:30 p.m. and left the hotel at 11:15 p.m. to give myself enough time to return the car and be at the gate an hour before departure. To their luck, my parents got first class again! The flight to SEA was uneventful and peaceful. This busy overnight shows how important it is to manage your time, so you get plenty of rest before operating an aircraft. Upon landing in SEA, we got some breakfast and made our way home. The last leg of the trip was a deadhead back to SLC (my base), but we have a provision in our pilot contract that allows us to skip that deadhead and just go home from where we are if we have no flights left to operate. With this option, we all flew back home to Denver.

This might seem like a once in a blue moon sort of trip but, in reality, it’s not. This happens more often than what you think. If you have enough time during your overnight, go out, explore, get to know your crew, and go on adventures. I am very lucky to have this job; a job that has provided many opportunities and many mini vacations while on a work trip or not. I still look forward to every trip even after professionally flying for 10 years. Especially when I am able to explore or meet friends if they are in the city I am overnighting at. I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my career. 

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.

Read A Day in the Life of a Regional Pilot