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For Flight Attendants and Pilots, Commuting is a Way of Life

Updated on November 16, 2013

What is "Commuting?"

Have you ever wondered why there are so many crewmembers flying as passengers these days? It is not uncommon on any given flight, to see three or four flight attendants (and pilots) traveling in coach, first class and even on flight attendant and cockpit jumpseats. Most of these people you see doing this are “commuting,” to or from work. For over 70% of airline crew members, this is a way of life.

How it Works

When a flight attendant or pilot is first hired, he or she fills out a “dream sheet” listing their choices for domiciles. A domicile is the home base where flights will originate and terminate. So let’s say for example that as a new-hire flight attendant, you were awarded Chicago O’Hare (ORD) as your domicile or home base. The problem is that you live in Los Angeles, your husband has a great job there and is not willing to move. Your option then is to “commute.” On the day of your trip (or the day before for early departures), you need to travel to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and travel space-available to Chicago so that you can originate your trip there. After the three or four day trip ending in Chicago, you would then board a flight from Chicago (ORD) to Los Angeles (LAX) and drive home. Commuting is a burden for all of those who endure it, especially for those who have commuted for an entire career. I don’t know anyone in the industry that likes commuting, but it does offer the advantage of living wherever you want. I have known people who have been based in New York (JFK), whose home was in London. Each week, they made the trip from London to New York and back so that they could fly their trip.

Commuting as a "New-Hire"

There are many problems associated with commuting. In the early years as a flight attendant or pilot, you will be assigned “reserve” duty. This means that you will be on call for up to 19 days a month to cover sick calls, out-of-position crews and the like. The unfortunate part of being a reserve is that you will be required to be within an hour or so driving distance from your domicile. Since hotels are cost-prohibitive, most new-hires opt for a living arrangement in a “crash pad,” where up to 12 or more flight attendants and/or pilots share an apartment. Since it is rare that all will be there at the same time, most will only have two or three other roommates on any given day. Commuting as a reserve is very difficult except during your non-duty days.

More Negative Aspects of Commuting

Another downside of commuting is the fact that you are usually travelling standby or space-available which in most cases is based on seniority. If the flight is full, there are usually flight attendant and cockpit jumpseats, but again they are typically based on seniority and can fill up fast. Another downside is the weather. For adverse weather conditions, full flights and/or early domicile departures, many commuters will attempt to get on earlier flights so that they may have a “backup” flight or two in the event that things don’t work out on their initial attempt to get to work. Sometimes it means starting out early in the morning in order to make a late night check-in at your domicile. This makes for an extremely long day. On the other side of the coin, when you have finished your flight and are trying to get home, sometimes your return home flight has been cancelled or delayed, again making for a long day before you finally get home.


In summary, commuting is not one of the better aspects of having a flight attendant or pilot job. Having done it myself for a number of years, I would highly recommend relocating within driving distance of your domicile. Your life will certainly be a lot easier!


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