Around the Pattern

Ramblings about flying for fun and profit.

Tag: airline career progression

Airline Pilot Seniority

You have probably heard that seniority is everything in the airline pilot business (or flight attendants, for that matter). Climbing the airline seniority ladder.An airline pilot’s date of hire with his company determines how he will live throughout his airline career. It’s probably one of the few professions where your ability to do your job has very little to do with your advancement.

You are given a seniority number based upon your date of hire and your age in relation to the other individuals in your new-hire class. The older you are the higher your seniority within the class.

Seniority begins to effect your progress immediately – the check rides during training will be scheduled by seniority unless there are circumstances that delay your training ( mx, sickness, etc.).

Once you finish training the seniority number really kicks in.  When position vacancies are announced they are filled by your recorded preferences – in company seniority order. Each month you bid for your monthly schedule – by your seniority in your airplane, seat and base. When you get your vacation days each year (and how many you get) is based on your seniority.

The seniority number you receive when you start training will be adjusted up a few times each year as pilots retire or otherwise leave the airline. The only time you will lose seniority is in a merger – depending upon the way that the merging of the two pilot groups is accomplished. Since seniority determines so much of a pilot’s life the merging of that list is a very big deal. There are lots of ill feeling lying just below the surface with the Delta and ex-Northwest pilots. I am aware of one set of brothers, one ex-Northwest the other hired at Delta 6-months after he started at Northwest. The Delta brother is now about 1000 numbers senior to the  ex-Northwest brother as a result of the way that the lists were merged. Yes, there are hard feelings there. I was competing for positions with pilots hired two years after me.

The only time that seniority takes a back seat is when a pilot seeks a position as something other than a line pilot. Positions such as simulator instructor or training management or a management pilot position such as chief pilot would be in this category. These positions often require personal interviews and a subjective evaluation by the interviewer of whether or not the individual will ‘fit in’ or follow the company line.

Seniority can be used to fly a lot or to not fly at all. If you are senior in your position you have the ability to bid virtually any trip that you want. If you live near your assigned base and don’t want to fly at all, you can bid a reserve schedule and sit at home on call. Some airlines allow senior pilots to ‘pass’ on a trip assignment as long as a more junior pilot is on call to take the trip. A commenter for a different article on this site mentioned a pilot he knew who did something like this – never flying a trip and maintaining landing currency by going to the simulator every 90 days.

Seniority certainly takes politics and favoritism out of the picture. Does it place the best pilots in the left seat? Not always. Oh, the pilots are all competent and qualified. Seniority won’t save you if you attempt to upgrade to a higher position and don’t possess the flying or management skills to run the aircraft and crew. Blood pressures go up and jobs are on the line when check rides are involved – especially the captain check.

Unless a merger is encountered you will be able to predict with almost certainty where you will be at any given point in your career. The marketing department (who really runs the airline) can screw up your plans by closing and opening pilot bases and moving aircraft bases around the country, but seniority is almost a constant.

I lived with the seniority system for 22 years and always felt that I was in control of my career until the past two years. Mergers do that to you.

Training is in My Future

As an airline pilot your life is ruled by seniority. Studying for an aircraft change to the Airbus A-330. The day that you are hired by an airline you are given a seniority number.  From that time forward, your seniority number determines how you live your life – everything from what equipment that you fly to your pilot base location to when you get to take your vacation time.

Everyone has their own reasons for bidding the way that they do. Some want to be as senior as possible in a given position so that they have more control over their monthly schedule, others bid the highest position that they can hold. Until now I have always bid the highest paying position that my seniority would allow.

There is a master seniority list for each airline that determines what options you have for bidding equipment, seat and base. After you have made your decision in those categories your monthly schedule and vacation bidding are determined by your seniority in that position.

For the past two years I have been bidding as a 747-400 copilot. Our airline only has one base for the 747, so that was predetermined. The bidding system we have is also set up so that your position can be as a schedule-holder, bidding for specific trips each month or as a reserve pilot, bidding for a set of days when you would be on call to fill in for a pilot who called in sick. Those are, or were,  two different positions you could bid as a 747 copilot.  Some people, usually those who lived close to their assigned base, were content to be on reserve. They could sit at home getting paid to be on call. The last time I checked there were 9 pilots senior to me who chose to bid a reserve position rather than bidding for specific trips each month.

We are now going through a merger with another airline, though from my vantage point I don’t see a whole lot of merging going on.  At any rate, the merging process has now changed how we bid our positions. There is now only one category of 747 copilot. The schedule-holder and reserve bid lists were merged into a single copilot list.That meant that I immediately dropped 9 positions since those senior guys on reserve were now on the single bid list with me. Each month the company decides how many people on the list of copilots that they want to be in a reserve status. I was really close to the bottom of the copilot seniority list when I was bidding as a schedule-holder.  Since the merging of the two bidding positions I have moved farther down the list.  the result is that I have found myself the past two months getting forced into a reserve position.

Another of the merger changes is a reserve status of  “long call.” Long Call means that you have to be available at your pilot base within 12 hours of being notified of a trip by the scheduler. Conversely, short call requires a 2-hour report time. The scheduler decides who is put on short call for the following day using some seemingly secret formula, all others on reserve duty that day are on long call status. Unfortunately the travel time from my home to my pilot base is at least 12 hours. The commute time forces me to sit at my base waiting for the call no matter what my report time status may be.

All this led me to the decision to bid off of the 747 and into a lesser paying position that would give me more seniority and allow me to bid specific trips rather than sit on call.   I was awarded a position as a copilot on the Airbus A-330. I tried to get a West Coast pilot base but ended up at the same base where I’m assigned now. Maybe on the next bid I can get a transfer to the easier commute, who knows.

According to the company website I am scheduled for training from November 1st through December 5th. That includes all the training necessary to be awarded a type certificate in the aircraft – ground school, simulator and operating experience. Guess I’d better brush up on my French…

Career Choices

I don’t normally rebut posts of others, but one of the statements I just read in a post didn’t sit right with me and I feel I have to provide another viewpoint. Sam, over at Blogging at FL250 posted about the current state of the airline business and how it might affect the pilots at the major airlines with all the cutbacks being announced and the possibility of more bankruptcies and almost certain layoffs. There are just so many ways I could go with this discussion.

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