Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 5:06 am

I was just wondering how exactly pilot seniority works? Are you normally first officer on a plane and then the captain of it a few years later, or are you the first officer of a plane, and then become first officer on a larger one. For example, with Delta, would you be First officer on an MD-80, and then captain of it a few years later, or First officer of an MD-80, and then First officer on a Boeing 737-800, or other larger plane a few years later.

Also, do some pilots not ever become captains because they are not good enough? I heard that some people just stay as first officers for their whole life.
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 5:36 am

Seniority in aviation is done strictly by the date of hire. The longer you have been there the faster you can move to being a Captain if you pass the training. Some of the more senior first officers choose to stay in the second seat rather than be a captain for better seniority and trips.

Safe Flying  Smile

But if your name shakes win again. All aviation people will have to worry about NO seniority. Just my little opinion.
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 5:48 am

Generally speaking, you start off as a second officer. Then you move your way up to first officer on usually a smaller aircraft and work your way up as first officer to a larger aircraft. Then you get promoted to captain of a smaller aircraft and move your way up to captain of a bigger aircraft.
But saying this, different airlines have different policies on seniority.
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 6:53 am

Flyguyclt--What a moronic addendum. Your comment about politics bears no resemblance to reality.

Now, back to our topic--B/C2004--You get a seniority number when you get hired or finish training and become line qualified. You may use your seniority to get better trips or move up to higher-paying equipment in the same "rank". Since no U.S. airlines have FE or SO positions anymore, you go in as an FO(First Officer). Unless things at the airline are moving EXTREMELY rapidly, you start on the lowest paying equipment at the worst base/domicile.

As the airline hires, you get more people behind you(but more important to your career climb, fewer people ahead of you). After anywhere from two(extremely short) years to 25(the standard in the 70's and '80's at the majors) years you can bid to upgrade to Captain. If you pass the training(which varies in difficulty from just getting your type and the requisite 25 hours of IOE to the hellish 150 hours of line experience at TWA) you get to be a captain. If your airline doesn't downsize, you start the trek up to higher paying, bigger equipment all over again.

Hope this helps. Now, please don't ask how you bid for schedules! Big grin TC
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 6:59 am

It really depends on you. Some guys will move from FO on a smaller plane to FO on a bigger plane then to Capt. Other guys will sit as an FO on the smaller plane till they can hold captain on that plane, then move over. A lot also depends on the base. Guys who don't want to commute will stay at their base and be senior on smaller equipment. Others who are willing to commute may go be an FO on a larger aircraft or even a captain on a small aircraft at a crappy base. But its really up to you.
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 8:37 am


Just one correction- NW still has the FE/SO position (whatever you may want to call it..and will continue to have it for at least the foreseeable future with the addition of more 747-200F's.

Good post though  Smile
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 9:17 am

Also the DC-10 is a crew of three which of course they still have.

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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 11:05 am

Okay AA717, why don't you explain how the bidding for schedules works? I'm curious now.

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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 11:46 am

Dont forget plenty of Cargo operators have SE or SO.
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 12:06 pm

Sorry, I had such a bad experience with being a FE, I blocked it out of my mind! Big grin

As for the bidding... NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Big grin TC
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 12:35 pm

I read that in PIA, you have to start as a FO for all Aircrafts then go back
and do time as a Capt for all Aircraft.

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RE: Pilot Seniority

Fri Oct 01, 2004 1:16 pm


That's a good question. Didn't really know the complete answer till I asked my CFI. It's all based on your hire date. The longer you've been with the company (regardless of aircraft flown or rank) your high up there. Currently, my CFI is an Intertional Captain-Check Airman on the 757 and 767 for AA. He graduated college in the late 70s early 80s and was immediately hired by AA as a 1st Officer. He's 48 yrs old now and is ranked top 1% of senority in pilots at AA. He has been captain on S80, 727, Dc-10, 737, 757, and 767. All the senior officers at any A/C co get the top draw on routes. My CFI only flys to ANC and HNL domestically and flys to GLA, FCO, and FRA in Europe. Hope this helps.


FYI...the only reason he's not flying the 777 as captain is he told me all the routes AA flys with the T7 are boring cities...LHR...etc. I'd love to fly the T7 for AA one day.
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RE: Pilot Seniority

Sun Oct 03, 2004 12:12 pm

I doubt there are many people at U.S. airlines who stay first officers because "they aren't good enough". If you weren't good enough to be a captain someday, you probably wouldn't have been hired in the first place. There is no "merit based" promotion system. In other words, you don't get ranked based on your performance on checkrides, etc. They assume if they hired you that you can fly to the standards they want you to fly to. The periodic checkrides are just there to ensure you can still fly to these standards.

Basically, each pilot at a given airline will have a seniority number based on their length of service. Each month the pilots will submit bids for the trips they'd like to fly, the aircraft/seat they want to upgrade to, their base, etc. The guy with seniority number "1" gets what he wants. Then individuals with higher seniority numbers get what's available after individuals with lower seniority numbers get what they want. Some bases are filled with more senior pilots than others, so bidding a junior base may possibly get you a better aircraft.

A pilot with a given seniority number may be able to hold, for example, 737 Captain, 757 Captain, or 777 FO. Then this pilot can basically choose what assignment he wants. He may choose 737 Captain because, in this hypothetical example, he'd be pretty senior on that airplane and could get a good base and a good schedule. Or he may want to go with the 757 assignment, because maybe he can make more money, but his trips would be whatever's "left over" after the more senior captains took the good trips. In fact, he may sit on reserve most of the time. Or he may opt for the 777 FO job because he wants to fly a big plane on international long hauls and doesn't really care if he's "in charge".

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