How much time it takes to prepare a flight, to control the aircraft, before departures?

How much spare time takes the pilots, to reach a foreign airport? I never experienced a delay because of missing pilots because of road traffic (or road accidents), but I assume this is accounted in working time, so airlines will not push pilots to arrive too early.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You'd be surprised how poorly some airlines treat their staff. Not sure about pilots but cabin crew shifts at many U.K. airlines aren't considered to have started until chocks off yet they have to be at the airport crew room an hour before takeoff. $\endgroup$ – Notts90 supports Monica Jan 4 '17 at 13:04
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ "When do airline pilots arrive at airport?" At the same time as the airplane. :) $\endgroup$ – abelenky Jan 4 '17 at 14:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Most airline agents aren't going to announce that the flight is delayed because the crew got stuck in traffic, even if that's what happened. I have had flights delayed "due to crew availability," but that generally happens during bad weather and crews may have exceeded their duty times due to earlier delays. $\endgroup$ – Zach Lipton Jan 4 '17 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Notts90, most, if not all, airlines pay their crews by flight hours. But it can't really be considered a bad treatment—you are paid to do job and the flight hours are just used as proxy for measuring how much work you've done each month when you can take shifts irregularly. It does mean you won't get paid overtime for delays, but that's clearly intentional as it makes it everybody's best interest to be ready on time. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 5 '17 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Notts90, also, the duty definitely does start at the moment when you are required to arrive at the airport and this is important for determining when it must end for the day. It just does not affect the calculation of your salary for that day. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 5 '17 at 21:42

Airline pilots generally arrive at the airport 2 hours before departure.

Typically, a pilot will gather in a meeting with other pilots flying the same flight (who he/she may have never met before; but that is not a problem as there are Standard Operational Procedures which every pilot follow). They will discuss the flight plan (including expected delays, departure / arrival routes and procedures), weather, review the loading sheet & fuel etc.

After the pilots' meeting, they will also meet the flight crew and have a brief discussion about the flight. Matters such as expected delays, transport of patient (sick passengers) needing medical attention etc. will also be brought out.

Around 30~45 minutes before departure, the pilots will board the plane. One pilot will program the Flight Management Computer in the cockpit while the other will conduct a walk-around.

There are "stand-by" pilots ready to takeover whoever is unable to report to duty at the airport. They can be anywhere and doing anything while on call, however they must be able to arrive at the airport typically 1~2 hours after receiving a call. Also, they must not consume alcohol while on call as this will invalidate their flying status.

  • $\begingroup$ I once heard that pilots aren't allowed to drink anything 12(?) hours before the flight, I guess this is also true for the pilots on call? Also, do pilots do a walk around the plane? Or is this done by somebody else? $\endgroup$ – ROIMaison Jan 4 '17 at 18:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ROIMaison Pilots always do their own walk-around. Each of them will do it separately. Back when there were flight engineers all three of them would do it. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jan 4 '17 at 19:18

It probably depends on the airline. My girlfriend was a cook on Turkish Airlines flights, so I asked her about it to have a first data point.

Pilots (note: she never asked a pilot about the times, but they were always there when she arrived, so these are her best guesses):

  • 2 hours on narrowbody
  • 2 hours on widebody

Cabin crew:

  • 1 hour on narrowbody
  • 1.5 hours on widebody


  • 1 hour on narrowbody
  • 2 hours on widebody

She (and the cabin crew) also had stand-by duties, where she had to be at the airport for a long time, just as a back up when somebody did not show up. A similar system was also present for pilots, but then from their home. I imagine that someone being there to fly the plane is much much much more important than a couple of pilot hours worth of fees.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ No no, she was an actual cook on the airplane, it was an initiative of Turkish Airlines to provide a better service, I'll change it to cook. $\endgroup$ – ROIMaison Jan 4 '17 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, interesting! I hadn’t heard of in-flight cooking before. $\endgroup$ – chirlu Jan 4 '17 at 15:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ From my experience (back in the 90's) the pilots arrived in pecking order. The flight engineer was always there way ahead of the other two. Then the F/O about 30 min before pushback. Sometimes the captain arrived with the F/O and sometimes the captain would show up 15 min before pushback, do a walk around, briefing, then go. I believe now the F/O is usually responsible for completing all the paperwork and setting the FMS. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jan 4 '17 at 19:23
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Btw, this was for cargo flights. Plus the F/O was responsible for briefing us jumpseaters. About the only time the captain and F/O spoke to non-pilot jumpseaters was when you brought out the cookies or the goldfish crackers you brought - it took me several trips before I realized that was pretty much expected When you're hitchhiking it pays to be nice :) $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jan 4 '17 at 19:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.