Real Answers from Real Pilots

Flying a Wide body

How exactly does somebody become a first officer for a wide body aircraft? Also, to become a pilot for an aircraft like the 787, 777, a330, a350, etc , does one first have to become a captain for a narrow body plane like the 757 or 737. I believe that it all depends on your seniority and flying skills. I know that nothing can be guaranteed but my dream was always to become ether a captain for the 757 and/or the 737 as well as a first officer for the Boeing 777, so regardless of what I must become first it will still be a dream to live.

Alex,

There are many factors number one usually is seniority. Now obviously you need to fly for an airline that has widebody aircraft. If you fly for SouthWest or JetBlue you never will. I’m at Hawaiian and many of our newhires are placed directly into the A330 due to the rapid movement and expansion we’re experiencing. At the Legacy’s it’s definitely seniority and working your way up the food chain. While many people believe (as you mention) it’s flying skills that has nothing to do with it whatsoever. The fact is the widebodies are often easier to fly due to the high levels of automation. You also need to understand when it comes to the airlines there’s a fairly high skill level ALL the pilots must possess (an airline couldn’t really say well that guy’s not that good so we’ll stick him in the 737 so he can only kill 130 people vs 300 right?).

Flying a heavy is most pilot’s dream but if you notice both Chris and I were flying heavies and bid back to smaller aircraft (Chris was on the 767 and returned to the 737, I was on the A330 and now I’m on the 717). What many of us find is while it’s definitely cool flying the heavies there are more important things like quality of life.

Adam

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Hey Adam when you say “more important things like quality of life” what exactly do you mean?

Hey Lorri,

Quality of life means exactly what it sounds like. In simple terms it’s things that improve the quality of one’s life. Thing is that can mean different things to different people. As I said for most people flying a heavy is the ultimate goal for most airline pilots. The big planes are the airline’s flagships and are featured in the commercials. They have the most range and usually fly to foreign and “exotic” locales and generally pay the most money. When I had the opportunity to bid the A330 (Hawaiian’s largest aircraft) I jumped on it and it was cool. My family and friends finally believed I was a “REAL” airline pilot. When people asked what I flew and I said the A330 I could see they were impressed and I got to go to places I always dreamed of visiting (Japan, Asia, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, etc) AND had the opportunity to actually fly MYSELF in there. All good stuff… for a while. Thing is I found myself gone from home often and living out of a suitcase which I don’t really enjoy. The things I enjoy doing most in life, spending time with my friends and family, bike riding, paddling, playing on the beach etc I wasn’t able to do as often. I was spending HOURS and HOURS on an airplane eating lousy food and was fatigued all the time. I’d make all kinds of grand plans for when I got home but needed at least a day or 2 to recoup and when I finally felt like myself it was time to fly again. In short my “quality of life” was diminishing rapidly and needed to change so I changed it. I bid back to the 717. It’s a third of the size, only goes interisland to 5 airports, definitely not as sexy and doesn’t pay as well. So why do it? Because I’m home and sleep in my own bed EVERY night. Since it’s a more junior airplane I can hold a better schedule, I can make plans with friends and family, ride my bike, paddle my canoe and I don’t even have to wear a tie! In the month I’ve been off the Bus I’ve already lost a few pounds, my rotator cuff that was acting up has stopped, I’m well rested, eating healthy and I have a big stupid smile that I can’t seem to get rid of. Life is good.

Now I apologize if you read the above and it sounds like I hated my job and had a horrible life. Far from it. I was still getting paid very well to do something I love and I’m glad I had the experience. It just wasn’t for me. Many many pilots love flying the heavies. They have friends around the world and ski in Northern Japan, surf in Australia etc. Maybe if I had started younger and had gotten acclimated to that type of flying and life I’d feel different but I didn’t and I don’t. As I said quality of life means different things to different people and no one can tell you what that means to you. What I can say is that I am beyond fortunate that I have a career that allows me to adjust and modify my job to suit what makes me happy. One of the most fantastic aspects of the job!

Adam

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Thanks again Adam! , this really helped me. My favorite aircraft was always the 757 but from what I heard before I thought flying the heavies was maybe a pretty glamorous job and whether it is or not, what you told me is 100% true, quality of life is more important.

Alex,

As I said, there are many pilots who love the widebodies and wouldn’t fly anything else. It comes down to what’s important to YOU and that is what determines your quality of life.

Adam

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Thanks Adam :100: