I would like to know what decision do the commercial airline carriers take when there is emergency case of a pilot who cannot fly the plane because of personal emergency conditions?

Emergency conditions could be the pilot falling sick with a medical emergency, family member, close relative death etc.

The event has happened just a few hours before the final plane departure.

Does the co-pilot fly the plane in that case? Do the specific airline carriers always have pilots in reserve?

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    $\begingroup$ Not really an answer, hence written in a comment. I remember about a year or so ago there was an incident all over the news in the UK (I believe it was RyanAir) where the first officer didn't show up for the flight in the morning and couldn't be reached. As it turned out, one of the passengers was an off-duty pilot from the same airline - and upon learning of the reasons for flight delay, offered to serve as the second pilot for the flight. He did end up being the first officer for that flight. This was a UK to Spain flight. $\endgroup$
    – Aleks G
    Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 16:06

3 Answers 3


The airplanes can't depart without the minimum crew, which means 2 pilots, or 3 if there is a Flight Engineer.

The airlines have "Reserve" and "Ready Reserve" types of duty to cater to this, and pilots will be scheduled for one or the other at different times (depending on seniority and what they bid for).

Reserve is on-call at home, with the ability to show up at the airport within, say, 1 or 2 hours of being called. This is for pilots who call in sick etc, a number of hours before departure.

Ready Reserve is you show up in uniform and with your gear at the operations dept of the airline and hang around in the crew lounge in case they need a crew right now. If they don't, you go home at the end of your shift without flying.

A pilot who is incapacitated just before a flight will be replaced with someone who is on Ready Reserve, and if none are available, then the flight takes a delay until a Reserve pilot can show up.

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    $\begingroup$ These may also be known as “long call” and “short call” reserve, in reference to how quickly pilots have to show up after receiving the call from Crew Scheduling. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, airlines don't have reserve pilots available at each and every airport, only in major locations (usually their "bases", from which pilots depart), so if a pilot becomes incapacitated somewhere else (after having flown a segment from their base to another airport), then the flight is either delayed until a pilot can get to that airport or cancelled. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ Most airlines have a pay structure based on hours flown, with a minimum guarantee, which you could think of as a base salary. Typically, 75 or 80 hours per month is your minimum base pay. On a reserve duty period you would get paid no less than your guarantee minimum, so even if you don't fly at all you still get that. Some pilots who can afford to live on the minimum and who don't want to fly all the time, may bid for as many reserve duty periods as possible so they can hang out at home as much as they can, but at a really busy airline, especially regionals, you still end up flying a lot. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ This base pay is particularly relevant for pilots right now, as nearly all of them are on base pay right now - few are getting more hours than the base, but they haven't laid anyone off yet from the major carriers (though that'll undoubtedly change soon). A pilot I know usually is out for 4 days a week home 3, making about 100 hours/month; now he is out on a couple day trip once every few weeks, for maybe 40 hours a month a most (and usually even less). $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah that's what I'm seeing too. The regionals have laid a lot of pilots off however. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 17:23

The co-pilot cannot fly the plane alone, as invariably the sort of aircraft you refer to are multi-crew - they must be flown by more than one pilot.

Airlines have an on-call list which is a bank of pilots who are not rostered to fly, but are on standby for the exact sort of situation you describe.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Sep 22, 2020 at 12:32

Each month on your flying roster, you have a couple of days of standby. For those who do not know what standby is,it is basically a set of crew on standby( hence the name) to operate a particular flight just in case anyone call sick or unable to fly due to any unforseen circumstances.

more details see here


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