Flying for British Airways as a Pilot

In our newest series of blogs, the theme is “what it’s like to fly for” a particular airline.

The AirlinePrep team have accumulated thousands of hours working for major UK and international airlines and we are well connected through our previous clients to other airlines.

In this blog, we talk about ‘what it’s like to fly for British Airways’ and provide some basic recruitment info.

The Airline

British Airways is seen by many as the ultimate airline to fly for within the UK. The choice of aircraft to fly, short haul and long haul lifestyle options, and career progression are often the reasons people give when joining. 

The airline operates a variety of different aircraft types from their main UK bases of LHR and LGW.  At the time of writing BA operate the A318/319/320/321 alongside the Boeing 747, 767,777-200, 777-300, 787-8, 787-9 and A380.  Further aircraft are due to arrive over the coming years including more 787’s, A320 & A321 NEO and A350.  

Here’s a link to some information about the types that BA fly https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/about-ba/fleet-facts   BA operate approximately 300 aircraft and employ approximately 4500 pilots, flying to literally hundreds of destinations all across the world.  

Being a largely legacy airline, the aircraft types are variable in age with some extremely modern aircraft within the fleet, alongside aircraft that are seeing out their final days before retirement.  As a new joiner you are likely to join on to the short haul fleet, but it’s not uncommon if you’ve got previous experience to join directly onto a long haul.  Here’s where you start to have quite a lot of choice, and is one of the biggest things that sets BA apart as an employer of pilots.  Every few years you can put a ‘bid’ in as to what aircraft you would like to fly, and indeed you bid for your command in the same way as well.  This, alongside just about everything else in BA is seniority driven - if there’s a vacancy at your seniority number then you’ll get the choice you put down.  As you can imagine, each aircraft type generates a very different work/life balance so the pro’s and con’s need to balanced accordingly.  We explain the differences in brief below.

Aircraft, Routes and Flying 

Short Haul - BA operates the Airbus narrow body across Europe from both LHR and LGW.  There are around 95 aircraft based at LHR and around 25 at LGW.  At LGW, the majority of flights operate as a ‘there and back’ with very few nightstops planned.  This tends to work well if you are living close to the airport.  At LHR, there is quite a mix between there and back operations, nightstops (often known as tours where you will spend a few days away), and mid haul operations to placed such as Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut and Amman.  The style of roster varies from pilot to pilot, as some enjoy spending periods of time away in various European destinations and others prefer to create rosters that get them home each night.  Where you live is probably the largest factor which drives this choice.  

Due to the restrictive nature of LHR, reports prior to 0600L are rare, and you are normally on the ground at LHR by 2200L.  This is slightly different down route, where reports can be a little earlier, and finish times a little later.  Having said that, it’s rare to be ‘flying through the night’ which sets BA apart from other airlines within the UK.  Most short haul pilots would state that this style of operation is better for them in terms of the heath benefits.

Long haul - BA operates a variety of long haul types from both LHR and LGW.  At the time of writing only the 777 does LGW and whilst there are no long haul pilots based at LGW, you can bid to operate from this airport if that is convenient for you.   Like short haul, your home location will often drive which aircraft type best suits you. For example, many pilots live outside of the UK and commute to LHR which can be easier if you are on a long haul fleet which operates longer trips (reducing the amount of commutes you have to make).   Each long haul fleet generates a very different roster with some flying relatively short 2 crew trips to the east coast of the USA, and others operating 4 crew trips to further afield destinations such as Singapore, Santiago and Kuala Lumpur.  The effect of each style of flying needs to be well thought through, as we are all different and react very differently to the effects of time zone changes, sleeping on the aircraft (in the bunk), and being awake at strange times.  
You must also give thought to the fact that if you operate long haul, you won’t actually be spending a lot of time physically operating the aircraft.  Some routes demand 4 pilots due to their length, and of course this limits the amount of take off and landing opportunities.  You should also consider how you might feel sleeping at odd times throughout the world, and how this might impact on your home life. 

BA is unique within the UK at LHR in so much as virtually all of the resourcing around the aircraft is delivered in house, by the company.  This is very powerful for the customer as there is a BA presence at each stage of the customer journey.  BA’s operational performance is extremely strong despite operating from the most constrained airport in the world, and BA generally out performs it’s rivals on flights out of London.  The airline is investing heavily in the customer proposition, with improvements coming regularly.  Such initiatives include biometric automated boarding gates at LHR, self service baggage drops and improved service standards on board the aircraft.  From a pilots perspective, the operation is friendly, pragmatic and for an FO you are expected to ‘manage’ the operation when you are operating the sector.  This can include briefing the cabin crew, doing all PA’s. taxiing the aircraft and liaising with ground agencies.  For First Officers, this is often seen as a more rewarding way of performing the role. 

Opportunities and Training

BA is a friendly and professional place to work.  However, it’s a large company!  It’s common for you to be operating with other pilots and crew you’ve never met before, even after working for the airline for a number of years.  This is rarely a problem but is a major difference should you arrive from a smaller airline.  As mentioned before, because all departments are internal to BA, you are welcome to visit other workgroups, talk to those that work in ops etc.  

There are many opportunities for pilots to get involved in various projects, although this is more limited than perhaps it has been in recent times. Training opportunities are the most common amongst the pilot workforce and both TRE/TRI positions are available to both Captains and First Officers, on all fleets.  

Terms of Employment

When people discuss terms and conditions within BA, this is perhaps the most complex area.  There is an extremely large scheduling agreement that pilots have with BA.  With this, comes an exceptionally large amount of roster/lifestyle protections in comparison to other UK airlines.   Rosters rarely change, and it’s rare to not be at home when you expect to be.  Of course there are exceptions to this, due to the nature of airline work, but stability is one of the main benefits to working for BA.  

Recruitment

If you wish to join BA, it’s worth trying to make contact with current pilots with the airline to discuss how they manage their work/life balance.  

British Airways has in the past run a cadet scheme in association with L3 CTS, CAE Oxford Aviation Academy and FTE Jerez.  They have also recruited many direct entry and ex-military pilots through their own recruitment channels.  Pilots rarely leave BA, and join for their entire career.  As a result there is no charge or bond arrangement in place for your type rating, which again, is quite unique.  

For more detailed information about the British Airways recruitment process, try AirlinePrep The App which is available directly from here . The App contains information and interactive questions to prepare you for interview, group exercises, planning exercises and numerical, verbal, scientific & ATPL reasoning tests.

Our courses are perfect preparation for your forthcoming Airline Pilot interview and assessment. Courses include:

  • 1 to 1 competency based interview
  • Group exercises
  • Numerical reasoning
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Maths refresher training
  • Interview training
  • Group Exercise training
  • Career development and Pilot skills seminar
If you would like to know more about how we can support and help you with your Airline or Cadet Pilot interview, then please feel free to contact us.
ARTICLES IN THIS CAREER GUIDE SECTION:
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  • Joining an Airline as a First Officer
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  • Life as a Short-Haul Pilot
    In this article, the AirlinePrep team describe how life might be for you as a short-haul pilot.
  • Living and Working in the Middle East
    In this article, the AirlinePrep team offer thoughts and considerations for those thinking of a flying career with a Middle Eastern airline.
  • Living and Working in China
    In this article, the AirlinePrep team offer thoughts and considerations for those thinking of a flying career with a Chines airline.
  • Professionalism
    A mini-blog article from the AirlinePrep team describing the pilot attribute of professionalism.
  • Leadership v Management
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  • Emotional Intelligence

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  • Joining the RAF
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  • Making the Transition from Military to Commercial Aviation
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  • What it's like to fly for Qatar Airways as a Pilot
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  • What it's like to fly for British Airways as a Pilot
    A mini-blog article from one of our instructors who flies for British Airways.  The blog includes some details about Pilot recruitment and sources of information for your preparation.
  • What it's like to fly for Ryanair as a Pilot
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