by Jason Depew, TPN Staff Writer
Do you remember that person from high school who, after being in a relationship for only a few weeks, chose where to go to college based on the plans of his or her significant other? Maybe you knew the person in a military pilot training or airline indoc program who ranked his or her aircraft assignment preferences based on the plans of a significant other from a brand-new relationship. I once knew a couple who bought a house together after they’d been dating for a grand total of a few months.
How did any of that turn out for your friends? It rarely, if ever, worked for mine.
One of the questions I see asked most often on TPN is, “How long will it take me to get to Domicile X as a new-hire at Airline Y?” While this is a valid point to consider, I feel that you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you made this a major criteria in choosing an airline. Yes, you should definitely try to pick an airline with a base where you want to live. (See these two posts: https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/give-a-hoot-dont-commute-part-1, and https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/airline-comparison-part-1) However, it’s imperative that you look at the long-term.
I would love to write a series of posts comparing and contrasting specific timelines to get to any base on any fleet at any airline in the industry. The sad truth is that things are just too complex for that post to be useful. It’d be obsolete the moment it was published.
There was a point just a couple years ago where Delta pilots could hold MD88 Captain in NYC at 4 months with the company. Shortly thereafter, that category was closed. At the moment, the most junior Captain seats in the company are going at just over 3 years. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/emet-why-did-you-take-a-junior-captain-seat.) That change happened in less time than most people take to prepare their applications, do an interview, and start training.
TPN Co-Founder Matt Swee lives in Tampa and was told that there was no way he’d get to Southwest’s Orlando base for several years. He was based there at about 3 months with the company. Things change so quickly that you almost can’t trust any source of information that claims to predict future events.
It’s also tough to compare apples to apples here because every airline works differently. Some assign seniority (and therefore initial aircraft and base) at Indoc based on age, while others use random things like the last four of your social security number…from high to low. American Airlines has an Advanced Entitlement (seat, base, or aircraft change bid) every month. I think several other companies are like that. At Delta, we’re lucky to get 3-4 AEs a year right now.
If you don’t get an initial assignment to the base you want, you may be able to move over there on the next AE. That will generally go a lot quicker at a company that does frequent AEs, while it could take months at Delta. However, your company may not even offer seats on your aircraft in a given AE, meaning you can’t move anyway.
Worst-case, you get an initial assignment to an aircraft that isn’t even based in the place where you want to live. In this situation, you’ll not only have to wait for an AE, you’ll also have to wait until your seat lock expires before you can even bid. At my company, new hires are locked in their initial aircraft seats for two years, with some exceptions:
- Your first Captain upgrade exempts you from any seat lock.
- If the company opens a new category, anyone can bid for it, regardless of seat lock.
- If part or all of your category is closed, pushing you off the bottom of the category, you can bid for anything you can hold.
- If you want to move to another base that doesn’t have your current aircraft, you’re allowed to bid for it after only 1 year, instead of 2.
Other companies will have different time periods and rules associated with new-hire seat locks. Delta right now has roughly 14,500 pilots. For today, I can tell you that you can be senior enough to get to any base once your number drops to about 14,100. Most bases have even more junior pilots. This means that if you get an initial assignment to the right aircraft, you can probably move on the next AE. If you don’t get assigned one of those aircraft, it will be a solid year before you can bid to move. Sadly, that’s about the best general answer you’re likely to get.
Let’s get back to the big picture though. We’re talking about a maximum of about one year to get to any base in the company. How many years do you plan to be working at your airline? If you’re a military retiree I’m guessing that your airline career will be at least as long as your military one, if not slightly longer. I expect to have a total of 29 years at my company.
Why would you give up better pay, overall seniority progression, a better location, or better Quality of Life for your family just to make things easier for yourself for 1/20th to 1/30th of your career? For me that logic just doesn’t compute.
I feel like I can make anything work for a year. What are your alternatives to a year-long airline commute? Another military assignment to a terrible base? That would mean sticking your family somewhere it doesn’t want to be for 3 years. Maybe you’d be blessed with a 365-day deployment to Kabul if you stayed in the military. I promise that this would be worse than a 365-day commute to New York or Detroit. Worst case, you could move your family to your initial assignment airline base for a couple years. You would not be commuting, you’d make a whole lot more money (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/careful-what-you-ass-u-me,) and you’d be senior. You could treat it like one final PCS and then move your family when you’re able to bid to a new base.
While I don’t think that this question should weigh that heavily in your airline selection calculus, I won’t say that you should never ask it. Just don’t spend too much time on it because your information will start off suspect, and it’ll probably change before you start working anyway.
In my opinion, the best way for you to go after this information is through networking. When I use this word, I don’t mean the “ooh look at me I have 150,000 followers watching me work out in spandex” networking or “I have 8534 connections with random people on LinkedIn.” I’m talking about the kind of networking where you ask for help and have some one-on-one conversations with a person who actually works at the company you’re interested in. Ideally, you might even be able to offer something that can help the other person as well.
The Pilot Network is the perfect place for this type of networking. Chances are, someone you know already works at the company you’re interested in…or knows someone who does. If you post a request for help on TPN, I would expect nothing short of a dozen useful replies by the end of the day. It’s likely that some of them will come from people you know. Pick a couple responders, or all of them, and politely ask your questions. The TPN Community website has a built-in messaging feature (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/,) as does Facebook. Even better, call the person on the phone and have a conversation. If you live in the same area, you could meet in person and thank your source with a cold beverage.
I’ve used TPN for this type of networking repeatedly for the past few years, and I’ve helped friends do it as well.