A question was asked in another topic about how airlines determine who gets to be captain and on what aircraft types. Here's a somewhat long-winded explanation. I know there are other airline pilots in this forum so please feel free to add anything that I may have missed.
An airline pilot's career is based on what we call seniority; where we fall in line with all the other pilots. It's generally based on date of hire. A pilot will bid (request) what position or aircraft type he or she wants to fly. Then the bid will be awarded by the company based on seat availibility (Capt, FO, aircraft type).
Here's an example from where I am at SkyWest Airlines. On the Sept. 1 list I am 702 out of 1058 pilots. As an EMB120 FO I can do one of two things. I can bid transition to FO in the RJ or bid upgrade to Captain in the EMB120. If I bid transition to the RJ I would for sure be in the next class. I know this because pilots that were hired after me are going to the RJ. Or it's junior to me. The capt upgrade in the EMB is senior to me. I think the low man in the next upgrade class is somewhere around 640. I have my bid in for upgrade. So it looks like there are only 62 pilots between me and being captain in the Brasilia. It's probably closer than that because some of those pilots could be seat locked in the RJ (I'll get to seat locks below). Also if a pilot does not submit a bid, he or she won't go anywhere. For example the #1 FO in Portland (where I am) is not going to bid upgrade in the Brasilia. He's just going to wait until his number comes up for captain in the RJ. This will take quite a while, but he's happy where he is. One thing that could delay a pilot's upgrade or transition is a bid preference. If I bid to upgrade to captain as soon as my number comes up, the company will put me where ever there is an open slot, most likely Fresno in my case. I don't want to go to Fresno so I bid PDX only. The company will wait until they see a forecast opening in PDX and send me through upgrade. The way things are moving here it shouldn't delay my upgrade too long. It's the same at the majors also. A guy flying for United in a 737 out of SFO bids transition to 757 could get there sooner if he is willing to move to Chicago, but it might take longer if he just wants to stay in SFO. There is also a thing called a seat lock. Airlines will institute a seat lock to recoup some of the cost that it took to send a pilot through training. At SkyWest its 18 months. If I bid transition to the RJ I will be locked in for 18 months. The airline does not want to spend $20,000.00 to train a pilot in one aircraft only to have that pilot immediately go to another aircraft, thus more training. the seat lock and also the fact that I would have to move to Salt Lake City where all the RJs are is why I'm not bidding the jet.
It's all about seniority. Airlines don't promote or upgrade based on experience level, number of hours, or flying ability. Of course one would not be an airline pilot without flying skills or being a stable person: the interview process pretty much gaurantees that.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free and any of us airline pilots will be happy to explain any questions. Also, I am unfamiliar with how other airlines outside the US do things. Is this how it works at your airline?