“What route do you fly?” is the number one question asked of airline pilots and is also probably one of the top reasons we generally avoid being in uniform if at all possible so as to not be asked this question.
It is not the fault of the passenger sitting next to us while we have to travel on company business. Most people have known someone at some point in life who probably did fly from LAX to Tokyo every other Tuesday, but I personally have never met a pilot who was able to have a schedule that predictable.
I am not quite sure why pilots have such an aversion to this question just like I am not quite sure why a “normal” person has the idea that we all fly from one city to one other city and that’s it. Back in the extremely early days of aviation (I’m talking transporting the mail before commercial passenger flights took place) the pilots were assigned to a “route”. For example, Route A went from Buffalo, NY to Detroit to Louisville and then back up to Buffalo. Route B would go from Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Columbus, OH and back up to Buffalo. You get the idea. So yes, there definitely used to be “Routes”. Then the glory days of passenger airlines came upon us, especially when the planes started flying overseas to Europe and beyond. A pilot just might be able to go from LAX to Tokyo every other Tuesday. But those days are long gone. We’re talking decades gone. Now, it is all about efficiency.
At my airline, most of the scheduled trips take me across the nation a couple of times as well as up and down one or both of the coasts. Every trip is different and for me personally, because I am at the bottom of the seniority totem pole, I never know where I’m going until I get to my base where I begin every trip. Each trip is always a new adventure with different cities and different crews to fly with. Just flying one route all the time could get quite tedious.
I would absolutely love to know where the idea became ingrained in society that pilots have only one route, but in the meantime I will do my best to answer this one question with grace and kindness.