Aviation jobs: How Hawaiian Airlines schedules its flight attendants and pilots

How does Hawaiian Airline schedule its flight attendants and pilots? Photo: Wikimedia commons/Dylan Ashe.

How does Hawaiian Airline schedule its flight attendants and pilots? Photo: Wikimedia commons/Dylan Ashe.

How do airlines schedule which flight attendants and pilots work on what flights?

If you think a computer might handle the bulk of this work, you might be right — at least at most airlines. But at Hawaiian Airlines, this process is mostly done by humans. And with so many employees living in so many places, as well as federal regulations governing how much flight crews can work, it’s a complicated process.



Luckily we have Brad O’Handley, senior director of crew planning and scheduling for Hawaiian, who was kind enough to explain to L.A. Airspace how it all works. Below is our interview, which we conducted via email. ( If you’d like to read my other chats with airline employees, check out earlier Q&As with Southwest Airlines flight dispatcher Mark Johnson and low-cost carrier flight attendant Kara Mulder.)

Brian Sumers: How might you explain your job to someone who does not know much about the airline industry?

Brad O’Handley: Crew schedulers are responsible for staffing all flights in accordance with the Federal Air Regulations (FARs), applicable collective bargaining agreements and company policy.  In general, these rules limit the amount of time a crewmember can remain on duty and set minimum requirements for rest to ensure that crew members are not fatigued when operating their flights. We are also responsible for confirming that hotels and ground transportation to and from the hotels have been secured for crewmembers who will be laying over at an out-of-state destination.

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What’s it like to be a flight attendant? One answers our questions.

What is your flight attendant really thinking about you?Kara

Kara Mulder is a flight attendant at a major low cost carrier, and the brains behind The Flight Attendant Life website. Popular posts include “Best Outfit To Wear On An Airplane” and “Dating And The Flight Attendant Life.”  I asked her to answer some questions about her job. She was kind enough to oblige.

What’s your job? Where are you based? How long have you had the job?

I am flight attendant, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I’ve been flying for 4.5 years.

2. What’s your least favorite part of your job?

My least favorite part of going to work is encountering the aircraft lavatory. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the beginning of a flight, or five hours into flight time, airplane lavs are disgustingly fowl! They just smell terrible! I hate smelling like airplane when I get back from working a trip.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

There are multiple reasons why I like being a flight attendant, but the main reasons are that I love the people that I work with, every day is different, and I have tons of days off to do fun things like travel to foreign countries, and learn to kite board.

What’s one thing people think they know about your job that’s actually incorrect?

I don’t get a lot of dates because I’m a flight attendant, and when a flight is delayed, I’m not getting paid for sitting around the airport.

What personality traits does one need to be a flight attendant?

I think the main personality trait that makes a happy flight attendant is learning to accept unexpected inconveniences, and enjoying the surprises that the job brings. Also, professionalism, punctuality, assertiveness, and a friendly attitude go a long way in the airline industry.

From the looks of your website, you try to have fun on layovers. What’s your favorite layover pastime?

Honestly, not a lot of fun happens on overnights, because layovers are built at minimum rest, which barely gives the crew enough time to get grab a bite to eat, and then go to sleep. But, the most fun that I have had on a layover was once, when my flight cancelled in Maui, I had a whole day to do whatever I wanted. So, I went kite boarding.

What’s the most common question you get from passengers?

Is this your normal route? What do you have? Do these seats recline? Where are we? (To this one I always wonder, ‘Why does it matter?’)

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Aviation jobs: A Southwest Airlines flight dispatcher explains his role


We’re starting an occasional feature here at L.A. Airspace in which we ask airline employees about their jobs. We generally won’t profile flight attendants or pilots, but instead, we’ll focus on the people behind the scenes.

Mark Johnson (1) (619x1024)Here’s our first installment, in which we learn about flight dispatch — or the folks who, with airline captains, make your flight plans.

Mark Johnson
Southwest Airlines
Manager of Dispatch Standards

Tell me about your job. What are your duties?

My role at Southwest Airlines is to provide support to the Operations Coordination Center, including our Dispatch group. I am responsible for developing and establishing policy and procedures, while interacting and communicating with other departments inside and outside of Southwest Airlines.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

The Dispatch profession gives you the opportunity to be involved in nearly every facet of the airline. Each day brings a new challenge from managing disruptive weather to assisting network planning with future schedule development. I enjoy knowing that every time I come to the office I will be faced with a new challenge. As a Dispatcher, I feel as though I have the best job in the Company and love the work that I do.

How long have you been doing? How did you get started?

I am a licensed Dispatcher and have worked at regional, medium, and major airlines. I have been in the airline business since 1994, and I have worked in the Operational Control/Dispatch environment since 1998. As an Operations Agent for Southwest, I was exposed to the complexity that Dispatchers are exposed to on a daily basis. Those interactions inspired me to get my Dispatch license and make a career out of being a Dispatcher.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about your job?

The biggest misconception is that we work for ATC or do traffic separation. Typically we have to clarify that we represent the safety of each flight under our watch but work for the individual airline. We are a vital cog in the daily airline routine.

What skills does one need to be a flight dispatcher?

You have to be a great multi-tasker and can’t get rattled easily. As a Dispatcher you are expected to handle a multitude of situations, from the mundane to emergency situations. You have to be able to juggle those situations by prioritizing the most critical and time sensitive issues first. In addition, the Dispatch environment can be very stressful at times. So, you need patience and a good sense of humor to get through those difficult days. Every Dispatcher can recount some of their worst days on the job, but we keep coming back for more. We love our job and are some of the most passionate employees (and avgeeks!) in the business.

I believe in the United States, a dispatcher and a captain have equal control over the flight. In practice, how does that work?

This is true, the Dispatcher and Captain are equally responsible for the safe conduct of the flight. These same regulations are also in place in Canada and a few other Countries. The concept is trained at all airlines that are required to use a Dispatcher. The Dispatcher and Captain each have to sign the Dispatch Release stating that it will be conducted safely. And, if something changes where there is a chance the flight might not be operated safely (weather en route, etc.), they will take appropriate steps to get the flight safely on the ground. The concept is called “operational control.” The flight will not be conducted unless the Dispatcher AND the Captain agree that it can be conducted safely. This rule is stated in the Federal Regulations and is a required part of the business. I believe Flight Crews have come to rely on Dispatch for the vast amount of information and resources we are able to provide.

What else should we know about you or your job?

Every commercial flight operated in the United States that requires a Dispatcher has a person on the ground watching over them. We communicate constantly with flights to alert them to changing airport conditions as well as changing weather conditions. Our goal is to ensure every customer, Crew Member, or piece of cargo gets to where it is going safely and efficiently.Our livelihood is dependent on providing the highest level of safety and customer service to every flight and customer under our watch. I’m an avid aviation person (AVGEEK) and love having a job that is also my hobby.

Interested in learning more about flight dispatchers? Check out my interview from June with Lufthansa’s Marcus Pabst, as he explained to me how he plans a flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles. 

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