“Will you be around next month?”
“Will you be at a convention in December?”
“Do you have any plans the first week of January?”
I get these questions a lot, and the answer, to all of them, is always “I have no idea.” It’s not simply being non-committal—I actually have no way to answer.
The schedule for an airline pilot is (generally) built around “trips.” Those trips might be locals, where you leave and return the same day, two-days, where you’re gone for one night, three-days, four-days, sometimes five-days. We also have special “trips” for recurrent training, where we go back to the simulator and get trained and tested.
With the exception of training, these trips are all worked out, logistically, just before the month prior to the month they start in—that is, trips in November are constructed just prior to, say, October 10th—and they’re all in a big pool with no crew assigned. When the bid period comes along, all the pilots and flight attendants bid for trips from that pool, or bid for specific types of trips, or overall schedule preferences.
It’s a complicated process.
When the bid period closes, the system goes through and sorts everything out, awarding trips based on seniority (how long you’ve been with the company) and legality, based on the preferences each pilot / flight attendant specifies.
At the end of the process, when everyone has a legal line and all flying is covered, we get our “line award” which tells us our schedule for next month.
Where I work, the bid period generally starts around the 10th and runs for about a week. When it’s done, it takes a few days to process… and then I get my line award, usually around the 20th-22nd.
What that means, then, is that I have absolutely no idea what my November schedule will look like until October 20th, at the earliest. So when I tell you that I have no idea if I’ll be able to make an event, or be at a certain place, I’m not just being vague, and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there.
It’s just the nature of the job. ^_^