How Do Airline Pilots Book Annual Leave? And How Many Days Do Pilots Get Off?

Pilots often face long hours of work and little rest. They also have to deal with emergencies during flight.

This means they don’t always get enough sleep or eat well. In addition, they have to manage their personal lives and family responsibilities.

How Do Airline Pilots Book Annual Leave? And How Many Days Do Pilots Get Off

Pilots are required to follow strict rules regarding their annual leave. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends that pilots take at least 30 days off every year.

However, how many days of annual leave a pilot can take and how they can book it depends on the individual airline.

We take a look at annual leave for airline pilots.

How Many Holidays Does A Pilot Get?

The number of holidays a pilot can get depends on the airline, and it varies widely across the aviation industry.

Some airlines offer up to 6 weeks per year. However, this does vary depending on what roster system the airline uses, and whether they fly long or short haul flights.

The following shows the time that a pilot has off without booking annual leave.

Long Haul Pilots

Those pilots flying mostly long haul operations usually receive more time off than short haul pilots.

This is because they spend much more time away from home. In addition, they also cover different time zones, which means their body needs more time to adjust.

Depending on the airline, most long haul pilots get up to 15 days per month off. 

Short Haul Pilots

Most short haul pilots get between 9 and 13 days off per month. This is due to the fact that they spend less time away from home.

In addition, they also travel shorter distances, so they need fewer days to recover.

This is dependent on the roster system the airline uses. Some airlines used a variable roster pattern, while others use a fixed roster.

For examples, some airline pilots work for 5 days, and then have 4 days off. Other airlines are more flexible and use no roster system.

Both, working with a roster and none, have their disadvantages and benefits. With a fixed roster, the pilot always knows when he is off work.

If he wants to have a day off when he is supposed to work, then he needs to use his annual leave.

In addition, the flexible roster which is often used by short haul airlines for leisure flights, means that a pilot will need to work more often during the busy seasons, such as the summer.

He can then have more time off during the winter when there is less demand.

How Do Airline Pilots Book Annual Leave?

If a pilot wants to take a day off which doesn’t fall on his time off in the roster system, then he needs to use his annual leave.

Similar to the roster, the way a pilot needs to book his annual leave varies with the airline.

Some airlines ask their pilots to fill in paper forms months in advance.

On the other hand, other airlines may ask pilots to log into an online booking system which allows them to see the annual leave available to them.

The majority of airlines will require to know a leave request several months in advance, so they can plan flights accordingly.

It’s also common that pilots are asked to book a block of time off, rather than individual days. Again, this makes it easier for the airline to plan for future flights well in advance.

How Often Can Pilots Book Time Off?

Pilots should book their holidays well in advance. This usually means they can book annual leave twice a year.

Pilots need to book their winter leave in April, and their leave in summer in October.

However, this does depend on the airline, and their different roster systems.

When Will A Pilot Know That His Annual Leave Has Been Approved?

Once you booked your annual leave, it can take several months for it to be approved. Although it is a legal requirement for airline pilots to take time off, the exact time of annual leave is not guaranteed.

This means that your airline can approve or reject your request depending on its own policies. They might even decide to give you another week, depending on their roster or schedule planning.

Do Airline Pilots Get Sick Leave? 

Do Airline Pilots Get Sick Leave

Sick leave is paid by an employer. It gives employees the right to take time off when they feel unwell.

When you’re sick, your employer typically has to pay you for the time you miss. You will need to let your HR team know as soon as possible that you are too sick to fly.

If you are off for more than 7 days, you will need to provide a doctor’s certificate.

Do Pilots Get Compassionate Leave?

Compassionate leave is unpaid leave taken because of family or personal reasons. Most airlines offer compassionate leave, and provide a range of additional support.

If a pilot is in the air, and something happens, he is usually not notified until he lands. This is mainly due to safety reasons, as the pilot does need to concentrate on his job while flying.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Times Can A Pilot Fly? 

The majority of long haul pilots will fly only once per day. However, short haul pilots or recreational pilots can take off up to 8 times a day.

In comparison, helicopter pilots can take off up to 20 times a day. As aviation is typically a 24/7 job, there are no set rules as to how many times a pilot can fly per day.

How Long Can Pilots Fly Without A Break?

Long haul pilots normally have to take at least 2 hours rest between each flight. Short haul pilots typically have around 30 minutes rest.

This often depends on how quick the cleaning crew and refueling team work to get a plane back up into the air.

Do Pilots Take Naps On Long Flights?

Yes, pilots may be allowed to sleep during long haul flights. However, this rule is strictly regulated to ensure the safety of all passengers on board.

The co-pilot will have to be available, and usually pilots only take short naps.

Pilots on short haul flights do not typically take naps, as they fly only for a short time and distance.

Do Pilots Choose Their Flights?

This depends on the airline. Many airlines allow their pilots to choose their flights, depending on the schedule and aircraft.

They typically use a bidding system.

Are Pilots Away From Home A Lot?

Most pilots spend most of their time away from home. The average long haul pilot spends about 10 weeks a year away from home.

Long haul pilots do however get up to 15 days per month off.

However, most short haul pilots will go home each day. They often spend working for 5 days, and then have 3 or 4 days off. 


Airline pilots are some of the busiest people on earth. They must be well rested, alert, and ready to perform at their best every single day.

As such, it’s important to make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, and exercise regularly.

With this, it’s important for pilots to have enough time to recuperate.

Jacob Stern
Latest posts by Jacob Stern (see all)