Most pilots will start their careers carrying out some form of regional or short haul flying. Whilst many pilots desire to fly long haul, short haul is a fantastic way to build knowledge and get plenty of hands on experience, all whilst avoiding that dreaded jet lag!
Short haul flying in itself will vary considerably from airline to airline, each offering different lifestyles, routes and working patterns. Short haul is well suited to those with young families, as more often than not you will find yourself returning home at the end of your day. There is also no jet lag and less night flying, so you will be more refreshed on your days off. Many short haul airlines have regional bases, giving the added benefit of living where you like, provided there is a base close by! The way in which your roster is built will vary, but most airlines run either a fixed roster pattern e.g. 5:4:5:4 or use a preference system, whereby the pilot inputs what work and/or days off he would like and the system attempts to provide the pilot with his preferences.
If you fly for a scheduled airline you will fly into major hubs as well as business and leisure destinations. When you go to work you will normally fly between two and four sectors a day. Most of this flying will be conducted between 0600 and 2300 which is great for the body-clock. Of course, you may have to get up at 0500 for five days in a row! Most low cost carriers operate a point to point service so rarely have the need to night stop. Legacy network carriers on the other hand, have a different business model that will often result in you staying down route for the night, giving you a chance to explore some cities closer to home.
Leisure and holiday airlines have a very different set up to scheduled carriers. The vast majority of your passengers will be off on their holidays and as a result you will do a good deal of your flying in the summer season – including the dreaded night charters! Don’t worry though you can put your feet up during the quiet winter months. The route network of most charter airlines tends to be smaller. Despite this, charter flying is more interesting and will often take you to remote and challenging destinations. This will get you flying procedural and visual approaches often with little help from air traffic control – a great way to keep on top of your flying skills.
As you can see the flying and lifestyles within short haul vary considerably and there are many factors to consider beyond the roster before joining an airline. Do you want to transfer to long haul? Could you do just long/short haul forever? Some airlines are able to offer you both with the ability to transfer back and forth giving you the best of both worlds.