What Does A British Airways Pilot Roster Look Like?

The Pilot Roster

I often get asked about a pilot roster. Your roster, or schedule, is your life. A roster determines your working days and days off. Including the flights, you’ll be operating, layovers, and standby duties. In today’s post, we’ll look at a typical roster at British Airways, specifically at London Heathrow (LHR).

Your roster will be subject to legal rules on flying hours and also any union agreements for your specific airline, in British Airways’ case this would be BALPA (British Airline Pilot’s Association).

Understanding the Roster

The roster is the monthly plan that schedules pilots’ duties. It outlines the number of flight hours, destinations, aircraft registrations, hotel information, days off, and standby duties. Understanding your roster is a key component of an airline pilot’s work-life balance, enabling them to plan personal activities and downtime around their work schedule. Though don’t expect any of those capabilities whilst you’re junior (new to the airline)!

At British Airways, rosters typically come out around the beginning of the previous month, giving pilots approximately one month to prepare for their duties in the upcoming month. For instance, the roster for July would be released around the first week of June.

Bidding: Bidding Matters

British Airways, like many other airlines, employs a bidding system. This means pilots can express preferences for when they’d like to work and which destinations they’d prefer to fly to. At British Airways, each pilot must complete a certain number of hours work per month. How each pilot achieves that number is down to them.

In British Airways’ case, pilots can bid for day trips (home the same night), short tours (2 days away from home) or longer tours (3 or more days away from home). Each pilot will have a preference depending on their family circumstance and where they live! The system will take into account each pilot’s request in seniority order. In essence, when you’re senior, you can write your own roster, and when you’re junior, expect to get nothing you bid for.

The system doesn’t accommodate all requests, but it does aim to be fair and take pilots’ wishes into account. Everyone was once junior at British Airways, hence the coined phrase “You’re only junior once!’.

Seniority: Moving Up the Ladder

Seniority is a crucial factor that influences a pilot’s roster, in BA, seniority dictates everything. Your roster bids, leave, when you get your command, everything, absolutely everything is dictated by seniority. The faster you join a seniority based airline, the better as with time you will slowly gain seniority. As of 2023, British Airways is hiring lots of new pilots, those who joined in only February 2023 are already at 70% seniority, on their fleet (meaning 30% of pilots are junior to them), unprecedented! You can prepare for your interview here.

New pilots, or ‘junior’ pilots, will have less control over their schedule, particularly in the early days of their careers. Everyone starts somewhere, and with time, junior pilots will accumulate seniority and have more influence over their rosters. 

A Peek Into A British Airways’ Pilot’s Roster

Below is a sample of two random junior British Airways pilots on the A320 fleet during the summer schedule, of course anonymised. This is the kind of roster that you can expect when you are new to the company and during the summer or busy months (from April to October).

To simply explain, each green block is a trip. When a green block is only one day, or a day trip, the green block will extend over one day. When the green block extends over 2 or more days, it’s a tour (nights away from home). On each trip you will see a three letter code and a red number. The red number means the number of flights on that day.

For example, pilot 1 on the 4th has OTP and a red 3. They will fly 3 flights ending in OTP (Bucharest). They will stay the night in OTP, have a day off in OTP (as the day is blank) and return to LHR (Heathrow) on the 6th with only 1 flight back.

Pilot 2 has a day trip on the 5th with a red 2, meaning they will fly to Lisbon then return to Heathrow. The next day, on the 6th, they have another day trip to IBZ (Ibiza) and return to Heathrow.

Days that are blank (white) are days off at home base. Days that are blank (green) are days off down route at the destination.

LB – Type of leave so pilot 2 has some leave during the month.

TS, WR, Blue numbers – Unimportant until you join the company and will not be explained here.

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