Real Answers from Real Pilots

Seniority and Raise

I have a question about seniority.

So when you first get hired by a major, you start as a first year FO (for a 737). After five years say you decide you want to become a captain on the 737. Once accepted, does your seniority fall back down to a year one Captain, or do you get to retain the years that you flew for the 737 as a FO (now 6 years of seniority, but now a Captain). I assume that you go back down to a year one, and have to struggle through the little seniority.

Is it also the same if you are transitioning between aircraft? Say I’m going from the 737 to 777. If I have been the Captain on the 737 for 8 years, do I go back down to a year one FO for the 777 again at the bottom of the list?

Is there any way to go from Captain of one aircraft straight to Captain of another aircraft without spending some years as a FO on the new aircraft first?

I ask this to get a better idea not only about scheduling, buy pay as well.

One more side question.

I saw the United Airlines Pilot Union worked to approve pay raises of around 3-4% through 2019. Is that something that is going to consistently happen in the future. And is the raise usually just to account for inflation?

THANKS SO MUCH!!!

Cameron,

Captain upgrade time at the majors is usually much longer than five years, I have been here for ten and cannot hold a captain position. To answer your question, when you upgrade your seniority comes with you for pay purposes, but for bidding schedules you fall wherever your seniority falls. For example, if after five years you upgrade you will still be on fifth year captain pay, but you would likely be a very junior captain for bidding purposes and would have to slowly work your way back up again.

Generally once a pilot is a Captain they do not ever go back to first officer, so it is common for a 737 Captain to transition straight to 757 or 777 Captain. There is no requirement to have been a first officer on an airplane before being a Captain on it. Again though, somebody who is a very senior 737 Captain might be a rather junior 777 Captain as that airplane is a much more “senior” airplane.

This year’s pay raise was basically a cost of living increase. Some years we get larger ones, some years none at all. It really just depends on the economic environment of the time and what our contract dictates. I am hoping that the raises continue as right now the industry is in great financial shape.

Chris

Cameron,

Just to chime in, first off you can “decide” you want to upgrade all you want, until your seniority will hold it, you’re not upgrading. As Chris said your years at the company accrue from day one so after 10 years at the airline you may be a 10 year 737 FO or a 10yr 737 FO or a 10 yr whatever as far as pay goes, that’s longevity. Seniority is a very relative thing at any company. There are plenty of pilots at my company who are 767 FO’s who could make more money as 717 Capt but prefer the lifestyle. They of course would rather be 767 Capts but can’t hold it. Conversely I’m hoping for a 717 Capt slot soon but I could probably make more as an A330 FO. How senior you are on any aircraft is dependent on how senior that aircraft is within the pilot group.

Adam

I guess I was being a little dumb by saying an upgrade would happen in five years haha! Ok that was some great info!

Also I was wondering about Per Diem. Do you guys feel like the amount you get sufficiently covers the costs that you need to pay for? And do people often just pocket a lot of that money instead of spending it?

Cameron,

There are no dumb questions here, this website is all about edu cating people about flight training and how the industry works.

Per diem at United is roughly $50 per day. I almost never spend anywhere near that amount of money on food, so I usually end up pocketing a significant percentage of my per diem. I would say that is standard for most pilots.

Chris

Cameron,

I usually pack the food for my trips, both to avoid spending large sums of money on airport food and also to stick to healthier foods. So essentially I don’t even touch the per diem that I get and it’s all pocketed.

Honestly, I just see the per diem as a free bonus to my paycheck. I always get a nice $300-400 surprise when I get payed.

Yarden

Cameron,

With me it depends on the overnight. Most places I’m fine but Vegas I can go through a few months per diem in an hour! :slight_smile:

Adam

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I was wondering how airlines handle pilots when they retire an aircraft. Since United will be retiring all of their 747’s at the end of this year, what happens to those pilots? Unless the pilots choose to retire, they will have to go pick another aircraft to Captain. For seniority purposes, how do airlines handle this? Do all of these pilots have to go to the bottom of the seniority lists on other aircrafts? Since the airlines are forcing these people to change, do they get special benefits when changing aircraft (keep their current seniority for bidding purposes)? Since the retirement of aircraft is out of pilot control, how do airlines handle this? Or is this just an assumed risk that if your aircraft is retired you kind of get screwed (once again for bidding seniority reasons on the next aircraft you fly).
I know the wording is a little weird, but I hope you get my question.

Cameron,

The current 747 pilots (both CAs and FOs) will be “displaced”. Based on the contract (which can vary) they generally will be able to choose any aircraft their seniority will hold. Now I don’t know where the 747 falls in UAs seniority (Chris can help on this one) but I’m assuming it’s pretty high based on the pay scale. Now normally even if you’re seniority can hold an aircraft you have to wait for an open slot but again since these pilots will be displaced, they should be able go to any aircraft they choose.

Adam

Cameron,

Your seniority is an absolute thing that goes with you throughout your entire career, no m. For example, right now I am number 9305, I am 9305 whether I am a 737 First Officer or a 777 First Officer, if I change airplanes or upgrade to Captain that number goes with me. Now that number will get me different things depending on where I am on each airplane. 9305 puts me at the top of the list on the 737 FO side and midway down the list on the 757 side as it is a more desirable airplane to fly. My seniority can go down as other pilots retire, but it will never go up.

Now to answer your question, the #1 senior pilot at United is a 747 Captain, when that base closes he will have to bid into another airplane and will of course then be the #1 pilot on that airplane. There is no risk at all to the pilots on this, the only negative is having to go to training on a new airplane.

Chris

Chris is right except that the correct terminology is that the pilots on the 747 will “bump” into any fleet and seat that their seniority will hold, F/O or Captain. In other words they will look at the fleet and seat they want to bump into and if they are more senior than the most junior pilot on that seat and fleet they will get the bump. Joe R, retired 747 Captain

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My guess is it has a lot to do with fuel efficiency, but why exactly are United and some of the other U.S carriers getting rid of their 747’s?

Thomas,

You are exactly right, it is largely, but not exclusively driven by fuel costs. A 747 also has double the engines to purchase and maintain than more modern jetliners. The 747, A340, DC-10 and L-1011 were all designed at a time when the FAA would not allow two engine airplanes to fly long distances over water or from a “suitable airport”. As engine reliability increased the FAA began a program called “Extended Operations” which allows two engine airplanes that are subject to a more rigorous maintenance program to fly increasingly greater distances over water, thus eliminating the need for additional engines.

Chris

Gee whiz fun fact on the 747. It was originally designed to be a cargo plane. When BAC introduced Concorde Boeing thought that was the future of passenger transport and decided to make the ultimate cargo plane. Well Concorde didn’t and Boeing filled the 747 with seats and the rest is history BUT that is why while the 747 is disappearing from passenger service worldwide they’re still being built and used for cargo. I always wanted to fly one but at this point that’s not gonna happen.

Adam

It’s really a sad thing especially for me, because I remember as a little kid when I wanted to do nothing but become an airline pilot specifically drawing 747’s in class as well as collecting a bunch of 747 toy planes you can still find in gift shops. Air Force One was an icon of mine and that’s also a 747, when you’re young you have big dreams and want to go for nothing but the best, which I thought back then was becoming a Captain for a 747. That dream/ambition is now long gone :cry:

You could always fly for Atlas, UPS or FedEx. They’ll be keeping their 747s for a while. While FedEx and UPS are really tough to get into Atlas is always hiring.

Adam

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So I assume the third gen 747-8 is only being produced for cargo? Something about more efficient engines and wing design from the 787 making it viable again. I had heard somewhere (can’t remember) that a couple of the majors were looking at them for their busiest routes across the Pacific and Atlantic since nobody likes the A380, but that could have obviously been myth…

I think that was wishful thinking from a lot of pilots. There is really very little need for a four engine airplane anymore, the two engines handle the job really well.

Korean Air and Lufthansa have a few each but there aren’t anymore pax versions pending. Despite being a hideous beast the A380 is more efficient and has a greater capacity so I believe it won that battle. Cargo is where the 747 shines and where you’ll find it in the future.

Adam

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The L-1011 Tristar was the airplane that I always wanted to fly, but there are only two left flying in the world so I don’t think it is going to happen.

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