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So you want to be an Airline Pilot

Old 11-16-2021, 09:52 AM
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Default So you want to be an Airline Pilot

Iíve spent a lot of time thinking about the mil to airline transition the past few years. Based on my experience and the experience of a number of peers who have also made the transition, Iíve come up with a rough framework/checklist of things to think about as you prepare to make the transition.

1. Know what you want
Lots of people get hung up on QOL but fail to define what that is for your family. Number of days off matters, so does nights gone, weekends vs weekdays, size of paycheck, retirement benefits, travel benefits, etc. You need to sit down and rack/stack these and other factors to determine how to weigh QOL for your family. Coming out of the military, you are suddenly faced with a plethora of previously unexplored options. It takes time and communication to think through these things and avoid AIDS.

2. Know what you need
These are the non-negotiables. The things your career must at a minimum provide. You can suck up a year of 1st year pay, but doing a six-twelve month stop in the regionals only to roll into 1st year pay at a major maybe a bridge too far. Income to cover your min acceptable lifestyle. Enough time at home to meet family obligations. This is something that may require some uncomfortable conversations, but will ensure you donít go down a path that leads to having to bail on the industry. A surprisingly large number of military guys retiring from the military donít fully understand the importance of getting their ducks in a row before retirement to make that transition doable.

3. Know the consequences of living one place vs another
This isnít just the standard commute vs in domicile conversation. Additionally, you need to factor in the wide disparity in veterans benefits between states. In some states, veteransí kids can go to college for free or at greatly reduced cost. This can be a substantial effective income boost. Tax rates vary dramatically and so does cost of living. Finally, you want to live somewhere you actually will enjoy being for a good chunk of your life. This takes a lot of research and Iíd recommend narrowing it down to your top ten or less before diving into the research.

4. Ensure your family is onboard
Some guys canít stand the military life and bailing has been a foregone conclusion for years. Others have spent twenty plus years in and will miss it enormously. Most are somewhere in between. Leaving the military is a huge transition for your family as well. Make sure that you and they have open lines of communication on what expectations are and how this will affect everyone. There is no point in landing your dream job if you lose the family it was supposed to benefit in the process. As a military pilot you have a number of lucrative opportunities available to you besides the airline industry. Donít be afraid to explore those as well. The airlines arenít for every family.

5. Technicalities or are you actually competitive for a job.
Ensure you take advantage of the numerous interview and application prep companies to maximize your odds and get feedback on how you compare to those getting hired right now. A 1500 hour tanker pilot isnít as competitive as a 1500 hour F35 guy. A 1000 hour F35 guy isnít even getting his foot in the door at a legacy. (Most of this fluctuates with pilot demand) Some guys donít want to drop the $3-500 on prep services. This is a small investment in maximizing your odds at your first choice company and minimizing the odds you wind up at a company lower on your priority list.

6. Focus your energy on your top tier airlines first (application reviews, job fairs, etc) and as you have time work your way down. Have a plan B, C, and D for if this airline thing doesnít work out. There are many opportunities out there, donít shoehorn yourself in a crappy airline you hate over a non flying gig youíd love.

Finally, good luck the hiring floodgates are opening. Seniority does matter(itís not everything). The sooner you get that class date, the sooner you can relax and deal with everything else involved in leaving Uncle Sam.
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Old 11-20-2021, 11:17 AM
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Awesome post tnkrdrvr. I didn't come from the AD so my viewpoint is just slightly different, but I'll throw down a few minor additions to your post. There are a few posts buried in here by AlbieF15 who gave a great timeline for AD guys separating. I'll see if I can dig it up.


As a military pilot you have a number of lucrative opportunities available to you besides the airline industry. Donít be afraid to explore those as well. The airlines arenít for every family.

Keep stoking those opportunities even if you do go to the airlines. You may be surprised how much free time you'll have available after you get a little seniority. At the very least, you still have contacts just in case we have another big down turn or you have medical issues...or you just don't like the airline life.


Seniority does matter(itís not everything). The sooner you get that class date, the sooner you can relax and deal with everything else involved in leaving Uncle Sam.

I'll start this off with saying, I understand that there is a caveat to this IF you're getting close to being within 5 years of an AGR retirement...that's a BIG factor.

I really wanted to hit on the above bolded. I've dealt with this in my Guard squadron and it's worse amongst the guys that recently came off AD, as they truly don't grasp what seniority means. As you say, it's not everything, but it's a HUGE factor. I tell these guys all the time, that if you're even considering going to the airlines, do it NOW. Every year you delay is costing you hundreds, if not thousands of seniority numbers, which is costing you LOTS of QOL and money. They can always quit later if they decide it's not for them, but they can't get those seniority numbers back. I had some buddies who were way more qualified than I, that kept delaying before finally deciding to apply. They're now 2k+ numbers junior and our QOL/pay are significantly different. My SQ/CC (not an airline guy at the time) when I was hired at DAL didn't understand me cancelling an IPUG class date to take the first available indoc class. Fast forward 5ish years and he's now at an airline...chatting over a few drinks recently, he said he now fully understands it. I've flown with a set of twins at DAL who separated from AD 3 months apart and were hired at NWA and DAL...they're now over 2000 numbers apart on the list. One spent and entire decade as a WB Capt while the other was stuck as a NB Capt. Extreme example due to a merger, but we have no idea what the future holds.
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Old 11-20-2021, 03:08 PM
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Two weeks seniority can have repercussions which last for years. Ask me how I know.
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Old 11-20-2021, 03:39 PM
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I used Albie's services and couldn't have been happier with what he and his staff provide. And amazingly, he's provided TONS of good info for free on this (and other) forums.

Originally Posted by crewdawg View Post
Awesome post tnkrdrvr. I didn't come from the AD so my viewpoint is just slightly different, but I'll throw down a few minor additions to your post. There are a few posts buried in here by AlbieF15 who gave a great timeline for AD guys separating. I'll see if I can dig it up
Timing your exit...2011 update

I thought there was the original "Timing your exit" before the 2011 update but can't seem to find it.

As well as other useful ones;

Avoiding Square Corners
​​​​​​Getting Back into the Game
​​​​​​Loyalty and the Divert Option
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Old 11-20-2021, 09:51 PM
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Originally Posted by rickair7777 View Post
Two weeks seniority can have repercussions which last for years. Ask me how I know.
Especially when there is lots of hiring going on.

If it is during a time when only a handful each month are hired, two weeks only means part of a handful in seniority number.
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Old 11-24-2021, 07:37 PM
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Many military pilots fail to prepare for the transition and/or they start way too late. If you or your family are in debt, barely getting by, a year on first year pay wipes you out. It also means you might have to go with another airline that is paying more the first year rather than your first choice. And an airline like UPS/FDX will require you to sit Reserve Days in domicile unlike some legacy carriers where you can sit reserve at home. This requires you to pay for hotels and/or crashpads.

I tell people to start working on applications, resumes and networking at least a year from the date you "think" you can get out. If you wait you will be dealing with ending a military career, transitioning and conducting a family move all at the same time. Then worrying whether an airline is going to call you .... you don't need that stress. That's a nightmare! And even if you do get called, until you get a seniority number there's no guarantees. Get the stuff done early. Get those relationships solid. You can always change your availability date on the application. HR folks are very accommodating to military and when they can separate.
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Old 11-25-2021, 05:36 AM
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Originally Posted by John Carr View Post
I used Albie's services and couldn't have been happier with what he and his staff provide. And amazingly, he's provided TONS of good info for free on this (and other) forums.



Timing your exit...2011 update

I thought there was the original "Timing your exit" before the 2011 update but can't seem to find it.

As well as other useful ones;

Avoiding Square Corners
​​​​​​Getting Back into the Game
​​​​​​Loyalty and the Divert Option

Awesome, thanks for finding those. These posts should be required reading for any mil guys looking to get out soon.
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Old 11-26-2021, 07:20 PM
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Default Get Out At 17 Years Active Time??

I'm considering jumping ship at 17 years and finishing out in the reserves in order to make a run at the majors.
-Obtaining a AD retirement in the reserves is most likely not an option for me.
-I'm a helo guy with 1000hrs of FW multiengine turbine. I may or may not be able to pick up another FW flying tour to finish out my 20 but would likely fly less than 500 hours during that tour.
-I'm way over active duty for the same reasons everyone is and should have gotten out earlier.
-Financially I have a low 7 figures in the bank and have young kids with a wife who works.
My concern with staying in:
-My main concern is putting up with 3 more years of crappy active duty QOL to then transition to the airlines on the backside of the wave in 2025 and then have crappy airline QOL due to low seniority.
My concerns with getting out:
-It ends up taking me 3 years to get to a major anyway with my current low FW hours
-COVID or another event disrupts hiring again.
Interested in hearing any and all perspectives. Thank you
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Old 11-26-2021, 10:41 PM
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Originally Posted by lancejohnson View Post
I'm considering jumping ship at 17 years and finishing out in the reserves in order to make a run at the majors.
-Obtaining a AD retirement in the reserves is most likely not an option for me.
-I'm a helo guy with 1000hrs of FW multiengine turbine. I may or may not be able to pick up another FW flying tour to finish out my 20 but would likely fly less than 500 hours during that tour.
-I'm way over active duty for the same reasons everyone is and should have gotten out earlier.
-Financially I have a low 7 figures in the bank and have young kids with a wife who works.
My concern with staying in:
-My main concern is putting up with 3 more years of crappy active duty QOL to then transition to the airlines on the backside of the wave in 2025 and then have crappy airline QOL due to low seniority.
My concerns with getting out:
-It ends up taking me 3 years to get to a major anyway with my current low FW hours
-COVID or another event disrupts hiring again.
Interested in hearing any and all perspectives. Thank you
Before things wound down in Afghanistan I would have recommended you join a guard or reserve tanker unit and fly your butt off (I.e. deploy a bunch) for a year to build heavy multi engine time. Unfortunately, Covid caused airline guys to flood back to their guard and reserve safety blanket and the demand for volunteers to fly has also likely dropped. If you can snag a UPT IP or PIT slot on active duty, I would do that. It sounds like you have your finances well in hand. That means that even as a junior airline guy you wonít feel the pressure to maximize compensation. Unless you really want to be an airline guy, just relax, invest your 7 figure savings wisely and you will retire very comfortably.
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Old 11-27-2021, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by tnkrdrvr View Post
Before things wound down in Afghanistan I would have recommended you join a guard or reserve tanker unit and fly your butt off (I.e. deploy a bunch) for a year to build heavy multi engine time. Unfortunately, Covid caused airline guys to flood back to their guard and reserve safety blanket and the demand for volunteers to fly has also likely dropped. If you can snag a UPT IP or PIT slot on active duty, I would do that. It sounds like you have your finances well in hand. That means that even as a junior airline guy you wonít feel the pressure to maximize compensation. Unless you really want to be an airline guy, just relax, invest your 7 figure savings wisely and you will retire very comfortably.
Thank you for the response and insight.
One last question. Would your analysis change if I had a legacy CJO upon separating at 17?
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