Real Answers from Real Pilots

Flying for the Majors

My dream is to be able to eventually fly for United Airlines. I was wondering how competitive is it to get a job with one of the big three US airlines after flying for a regional. I assume that most people would prefer to fly for American, Delta, or United as they are the biggest carriers and they offer the most money. I know that if you fly for one of American Airlines subsidiary regional airlines, they provide a pathway to bring you to American Airlines. Do you guys know how difficult/competitive it is to get hired by either United or Delta? Is it easier to get hired by the slightly smaller airlines such as JetBlue, Alaska, or Spirit?

Also, I plan on completing all of my certifications and my 1500 flight hours before I turn 23. If I have been told correctly, you can’t fly with most airlines until you have the ATP certificate, which you can’t get until you are 23. Are there any exceptions to this rule? I plan to finish all of my hours about 6-9 months before I turn 23 so would I just have to wait half a year to start applying to the regionals? This may also be a dumb question but would a regional be hesitant to hire someone as young as 23?

Thanks again for all of your answers here! It is greatly appreciated!

Hi Cameron,

Let’s talk about your flight time first. While your right you need to be 23 to get your FULL ATP, to help with the pilot shortage the FAA created something called the R-ATP (restricted ATP). The R-ATP still requires 1500hrs (with some exceptions) BUT allows you to fly as a FO at 21yo. While unlikely to happen in only 2yrs, you would not be able to upgrade until you’re 23 but again I wouldn’t worry about that. You would have no problem getting hired at a Regional before 23. That’s one of the main reason the R-ATP was created at their request.

Now, you say you aspire to fly for one of the big 3 Majors (although you’re mistaken that they pay the most. FedEx, UPS and Hawaiian are all comparable and in some cases pay higher). You don’t however mention your level of education? While you will have no problem getting hired without one at a Regional, you will need a 4yr degree to get hired at a Major. Assuming you have one how difficult it is can vary greatly and this is a question that’s hard to answer. While the Regionals are somewhat desperate and are basically hiring everyone with a license and a pulse the Majors are not. As you pointed out the Majors pay well, are the “Big Leagues” and are where most pilots aspire to be. I know pilots with min experience who have been picked up by one of the big 3 and others with much more experience and better resumes who have been passed over. These are the intangibles. There’s a common theme in airline interviews and it goes to the somewhat nebulas “would we want to spend 10hrs locked in a cockpit with this guy?”. All the hours and degrees in the world won’t help if the answer is no. Now a flow-thru can help but a few things to keep in mind. Flow-thrus can (and often are) be cancelled at any time and many flow-thru pilots actually wait longer to get picked up than pilots not in the pipeline. But let’s say you fly for airline ABC who has a Flow with Delta and after not getting picked up you then apply to United, based on your seniority there’s a good chance they’ll know you were in the pipeline, that United wasn’t your first choice and want to know why Delta didn’t take you. All questions I’d rather not have to answer.

Finally while I wouldn’t say it’s easy, it is generally easier to get picked up by one of the National carriers you list.

Adam