Real Answers from Real Pilots

Can a Captain get demoted back to an FO?

I saw in a news report by CBS follow an American pilot who took up a postion working for Tianjin Airlines for two main reasons: the pay and the Captain’s seat.

He explained that his former US regional airline based out of Chicago pushed him back from Captain to FO, which led to a much lower income for him; he described this lower salary as enough to qualify for food stamps on a family of 4.

I’m guessing this had to do with a poor economy and airline management. I’ll admit this is an older report posted on YouTube back in 2013, things have drastically changed for the regionals since then, but his story made me curious anyway: what exactly might cause an airline to demote a pilot?

Thomas,

Airlines operate on a very strict seniority system and as such the only way that a pilot can be forced out of his Captain’s seat is by the airline shrinking and the number of available Captain positions being reduced. When this happens an airline will typically ask for volunteers to go back to FO and some people will volunteer because they will be senior FOs and thus enjoy more days off, better control of their schedule, etc. If enough people do not volunteer then they will start from the bottom of the Captain list and go up the list until they have enough people.

Regional airlines are subject to the fortunes of the economy, but they are also subject to the decisions of their mainline counterparts. A regional airline could have their contract not renewed or have it reduced, even when the economy is doing well. This does not happen very often, but it is one of the many reasons that we recommend pilots put themselves in a position to move to the mainline carriers as soon as possible.

Chris

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Thomas,

Yea the pilot in that video is my friend Dave. We both worked together at ExpressJet years ago and we both were set to go to China together after getting downgraded. I ended up having an argument with the recruiter so I never went. But to answer your question the answer is yes (again I was downgraded myself due to economic reasons). While it doesn’t happen often it can and does from time to time. Also keep in mind the some airlines (not all) can and will downgrade a pilot if they suffer an incident based on some poor decisions. That’s obviously not a good thing for your future.

Adam

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Yup, we were downgraded but many pilots were furloughed (aka laidoff).

I think a downgrade may also happen during an airline merger, if the Captain falls enough on the seniority ranking by the airline that’s “swallowing up” his/hers. A friend of mine had to shift to the right seat for a year I believe after his airline got bought.

Sergey,

A downgrade in a merger is usually pretty rare as typically airlines merge so that they can have a larger operation, not a smaller one.

Chris

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