Airline Pilot Seniority

Commercial Airline Pilot Seniority

Within the world of commercial airlines, seniority matters. There are many good reasons to stay with one airline during your pilot career. Airline pilot seniority is the main reason. The longer you are with the airline, the greater your salary and benefits.

Your seniority ranking also determines your monthly schedule, the location of your base, and when you upgrade from first officer to captain. Perhaps most importantly, should you ever face a furlough, those highest in seniority are the last to be laid off.

How to Build Airline Pilot Seniority

Although this might seem obvious, there is a strategy. For example, no new pilot will be hired upon completion of flight training as a Captain at United or Delta. However, many Captains at Delta Air Lines were first hired by a regional airlines, such as Endeavor Air. Endeavor operates as Delta Connections for Delta. Another example would be Envoy Air, a regional airline for American Airlines.

These regional airlines act as feeders to the legacy airlines. If you begin flying as a First Officer at Envoy, you’ll eventually become Captain. After that, you are on track to become a First Officer at American.

Finally, all that’s left is becoming a Captain at American Airlines. So, although you may initially be employed as a flight instructor or some other position while you build hours, choosing a company and staying with it is literally the definition of building seniority.

How Seniority Affects Salary

The most important aspect to think about is the FAA’s mandatory retirement age of 65. If you start at 65 and work backwards to your current age, you’ll realize why you should choose your employer as early as possible. The greater your seniority, the greater your salary.

There are Captains nearing retirement age who earn $350,000 to $400,000. Therefore, imagine earning such a generous salary at that stage in your career can add millions of dollars to your retirement account. You should be strategic in your quest to achieve seniority. Yes, your paycheck provides for you and your family while you’re employed. However, earning top pay allows you to save more generously for your retirement.

How Seniority Provides Additional Benefits

Seniority offers flexibility and choice. Consider this list of perks tied directly to seniority:

  • SCHEDULE: Airlines operate on monthly schedules. You bid for your choice of schedule and route (known as lines). Pilots with the highest seniority get first crack at their lines of choice. The higher the seniority, the likelier you are to get the schedule you choose.
  • VACATIONS: The same thing happens here. When you request time off, senior pilots will get first choice. Holidays and summer are popular vacation choices. As you build seniority, you’ll be more likely to get the vacation of your choosing.
  • HOME BASE: Pilots also get to choose where they are based and even what aircraft they fly. Again, the chances of you getting exactly what you want are based on your seniority.
  • FURLOUGHS: There have been times when airlines were forced to furlough pilots, such as during the 2020 pandemic. Airlines furlough senior pilots last. Therefore, the longer you are with an airline, the greater job security you have.

We wish you blue skies in your career and encourage you to familiarize yourself with each airline’s hiring requirements.

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