Airline Pilots - First Officer and Captain

Airline Seniority Explained

Seniority is everything as an airline pilot.

Airlines operate on a seniority-based system, where the pilot employed the longest is the most senior on the pilot seniority list and the most newly-hired pilot is lowest.

Once hired by an airline, you are given a seniority number. This number stays with you throughout your career at the airline, impacting your quality of life and career advancement. The sooner you are hired by an airline, the quicker you can start gaining seniority over pilots employed after you and move up on the airline's seniority list.

Your airline seniority as pilot determines:

  • Which monthly schedule you will have, the routes you will fly, and when you will take a vacation;
  • Which location you will be based and what aircraft you can fly;
  • How soon you upgrade from first officer to captain, affecting how much you will earn and when you can move up to a major airline.

Request More Info »

Discover Your Path to the Major Airlines Get There First with ATP

Learn More »

Two pilots walking towards American Eagle ERJ at ATP IWA Training Center

Airline Seniority & BiddingYour Schedule & Routes as an Airline Pilot

Your monthly flying schedule and annual vacation is determined by your seniority.

Airline Pilot Schedule

Each month, the scheduling department publishes all schedules and routes for the next month, called lines. Each pilot bids for the schedule they would like to fly, in order of preference. The most senior pilot is awarded their first choice of a schedule; the next most senior pilot will receive the second choice, and so on. When your seniority number comes up, you will be given the line that you bid for, as long as someone more senior than you hasn't already taken it.

Taking Vacation as an Airline Pilot

Your vacation time as a pilot works similar to choosing your monthly schedule and is based on seniority. While methods vary between airlines, typically each year the scheduling department will publish a bid for vacations, and you will be given a choice of two-week time slots in which you may take a vacation during the following year. The most popular slots are usually those around holidays or summer when children are out of school.

Once vacation bids are published, pilots bid for the times they want in order of preference. The most senior pilot will be awarded their first choices, then the next most senior pilot receive their selections, and so on down the seniority list.

Seniority is Everything. Get There First with ATP.

Getting to the airlines first and being more senior helps ensure you get the best schedules and with the days-off and flights you want.

Request More Info »

Seniority is Everything. Get to the Airlines First with ATP

Become an airline pilot with ATP's proven accelerated flight training and get to the airlines first.

Explore the Training Timeline »

Crew BasesYour Location as an Airline Pilot

Where you live or commute to as a pilot is determined by your seniority.

Each airline has different locations, or domiciles, across the country where pilots are based, called crew bases. Each pilot bids for the location they would like to be based, which is then awarded by seniority. The most desirable bases go to the most senior pilots, and the least desirable go to the most junior pilots.

As a pilot, you can live anywhere and commute to your crew base. Your seniority, however, determines if that commute is a short drive or a long transcontinental flight. A pilot who is not senior may end up with a base near a metro area with a high cost of living, an airport that is difficult to commute to, or a location that is a considerable distance from where they call home.

Seniority is Everything. Get There First with ATP.

Getting to the airlines first and being more senior helps you live where you want with a hassle-free commute.

Request More Info »

AircraftWhat You Fly as an Airline Pilot

What airplane you fly as a pilot is determined by your seniority.

The type of equipment a pilot is assigned to fly is based on their seniority. Pilots have the option to bid for a particular aircraft, just like they would their schedule or crew base. While all pilots have a specific plane they consider to be more desirable; larger aircraft come with increased responsibility and a corresponding increase in pay.

To fly a large wide-body aircraft, like the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350, you will typically need to be reasonably senior and ahead of a lot of other pilots on the list. Newly-hired pilots, with lower seniority, generally are found flying smaller narrow-body aircraft until they can gain enough seniority to move up to a different plane.

Seniority is Everything. Get There First with ATP.

Getting to the airlines first and being more senior helps you fly the aircraft you want and potentially earn a higher pay rate.

Request More Info »

Join the Discussion at AirlinePilot.Life Get Real Answers from Real Pilots

Get Answers »

American Eagle Pilots on Talking in a Cockpit

Upgrade TimeUpgrading from First Officer to Captain

The time it takes to upgrade to captain from first officer is determined by your seniority.

When you start flying for an airline, you start as a first officer. As you gain experience, flight time, and seniority you then upgrade to captain. Being a captain means you will earn more money (often 60% more) and will log pilot-in-command flight time, which you will need to move to a major airline.

Airline seniority determines when you can upgrade to captain. Getting to the airlines first puts you ahead of other first officers on the seniority list and makes you eligible to upgrade first and also allows you to move up to the major airlines first.

Not getting to the airlines before other pilots, puts you behind on the seniority list, delaying your upgrade to captain and advancement to the major airlines. This setback could end up costing you several hundred thousand dollars in lost airline pay toward the end of your career and could make it difficult to ever reach the top of the seniority list. Every year lost at the major airlines equates to nearly $300,000 in annual earnings at the tail-end of your career.

Seniority is Everything. Get There First with ATP.

Getting to the airlines first allows you to upgrade to captain sooner and reach the major airlines quicker, increasing your career earnings as a pilot.

Request More Info »