Real Answers from Real Pilots

AA Flight Attendant interested in becoming a pilot

Hello everyone. I’m currently a Flight Attendant for AA and I’m considering becoming a pilot. The plan so far is to pay my way through my private pilot’s license and then taking a leave to do the ATP program then continue as a flight attendant while accruing my flight time. I’m hesitant, as many people in the forum are, because of the huge loan I would have to take on. Also because of the pay cut I would take as a new pilot for a regional airline. I know from speaking to pilots that in the long run it’s worth it, but my concern is will the salary as a new regional pilot be enough to live on and pay my loan? Also, are there any suggestions or any other avenues i can take? Is there even an option to just pay as i go for my certs even if it takes longer? Sorry for all of the questions, just want to get as much info as i can. Thanks in advance!


A few things here. If you’ve been getting your info from the pilots your flying with they may be providing outdated info. Regional salaries have come up significantly the last few years. When I started first year pay was under $20k, now it’s double and with hiring bonuses first year can be around $60k. While not great it’s definitely a living wage (depending upon your personal finances).

As for training ATP does offer a Flex-track option which does take longer (Flex Track Airline Career Pilot Program / ATP Flight School) but would allow you to still work. I am curious why you want to get your Private first and separately? If it’s because you’re not certain flying is for you and aren’t ready to commit that’s fine. If however you believe you’ll save money that simply isn’t the case. Most people who go to their local flight school aren’t successful and those who are often pay considerably more and take a ridiculous amount of time to finish.


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I have heard of many flight attendants using their leave to get their flight training completed. The most efficient way would be to do ATP’s fast track program and get your ratings done from credit private through to MEI in 6 months and then instruct to get to your 1500 all within your leave. CFI pay is not great but there are options to stretch that income short term (cheap housing, tuition reimbursement programs when those start back up, etc.) If you plan to continue working while getting your ratings, you could look in to the flex track
Program. It allows more flexibility in scheduling however it takes much longer to achieve and is more expensive.
We don’t recommend paying as you go for your ratings at mom and pop flight school because you’ll end up taking even longer, paying more and not getting the same caliber training ATP would provide. Those places are meant for weekend fliers or enthusiasts but not meant to train commercial


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There is a detailed post in the FAQ section that explains pilot pay rather in depth. I can assure you that as a pilot you will most likely make significantly more than would ever be possible as a FA.

As for being a FA while building your flight time, I have seen this desire in FAs before. Sometimes it is money, other times it is job security, but there often seems to be a desire to hold onto the FA position until the last possible moment… At some point you have to take a leap of faith and change careers. It will be hard to build your flight time while also working another job. Students want full time instructors, I would never agree to have a part-time instructor. Also, it quite frankly does not look good to be working as an FA while also building flight time. Airlines want to see that somebody is all in as a pilot, not straddling two different worlds. While your experience as a FA is something to put on a resume, it quite frankly will do nothing to improve your hiring prospects at an airline.

I once knew a FA that took a leave, went to flight school and was building her time. She somehow managed to mess up her leave and was fired from Continental. Well guess what? She was banned from ever being hired at Continental or United because she had been fired by the same.

Take the leap of faith and put all of your energy into being a pilot.


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I am sensitive to the fact that not everyone has the luxury to quit their jobs completely to pursue aviation. Most of the time it does not have to do with a lack of will power, but a lack of funding or a lack of people willing to co-sign which is still a lack of funding. I know how intimidating the loan seems when you are standing on the side you’re on.

I stood where you stand seven years ago. I was 24 with a full-time job that I didn’t like with a desire to become a pilot and the thought of taking on a (then) $70k loan terrified me. Up until that point I had never made more than $40k/yr and I had never taken out a loan for anything. Having my first loan be the size of something I couldn’t honestly comprehend at the time intimidated me.

Then I realized that if I forgot about the money briefly, not just the loan, but also the potential first five years’ worth of earnings, was there anything else stopping me? The answer was a resounding, “No.” So, I did whatever it took.

Now, obviously you are a totally different person in a totally different position. I don’t know the full extent of your situation and what options are available to you, but you do. So, you need to figure out how you will make it work.

If you do have the means to commit to flight training full-time with minimal distractions, that is definitely preferred. Even if you are worried about living expenses you are able to build those expenses into the loan.

If there is no way possible for you to commit to flight training full-time, ATP has a Flex Track Program. It will take significantly longer to finish, but it is an option.

Now, once you finish training, if you haven’t put your flight attendant job behind you, you will have to at this point. Building time while working as a flight attendant will not get the job done. You need to be fully submersed into building time. That will be your new priority.

But right now, it sounds like you still need to decide how badly you want to become a pilot. Are you infatuated with the idea? Or do you have a genuine burning desire (sorry for the cheesy analogy)? If you’ll stop at nothing to make this dream come true, you will find a way.

You can’t use entry level pay as an excuse to not pursue this if you REALLY want it. The pay is what the pay is. You have to be the one to accept the pay and adjust your life accordingly.

I made it work with less than $5k in savings and two credit cards, but I also had help. I had a support system. I always had a place to live and to eat for free if I needed to. If you don’t have that kind of support system then you need to look at your own situation and figure out what it is that you need to make this happen.




I was concerned about the info i was getting from Pilots might be a little outdated, so thank you for going over that information with me. I can live off of 60k for my first year, that wouldn’t be an issue. Although that is without considering how much my student loan payments would be monthly in that first year.

I wasn’t aware of the Flex-track option, thank you for that. I’m definitely going to study up a bit more on it. Yes, I want to get my privates pilots license first just to make sure flying is really something I like before making such a huge financial commitment. I didn’t know that it wasn’t a cheaper option, that is definitely something to consider. Thank you very much for all of the great information Adam.



Is it really doable in 6 months? I was reading up on it and it stated that it was a 9 month program, but the quicker I could get done with it the better! I wasn’t aware about the Flex track program, it’s definitely good to know, but it’s a shame that it is more expensive. I’ll still definitely look in to it. Do you happen to know if there is an average time it takes to complete the 1500 hrs. as a CFI?

Ok, that’s great info on not going through a mom and pop flight school. Thank you very much for all of the info.



I am very curious about finding more in depth pilot pay structure, so I will definitely look for that in the FAQ section. I will definitely make more as a Pilot that a would as an FA.

It’s not so much a desire of holding on to the FA position, as much as weighing options to make sure I can financially get buy while I accrue my hours. I’ve heard that CFI pilot pay is extremely low, so I’m not sure I could get by on that. I think you are correct, at some point I would have to make the leap and completely immerse myself in to being a pilot if I decide to take this path. I still have a lot to figure out in terms of finances.

That’s a shame about that FA, but definitely good to know. Thank you for the info and your response.



Thank you for the response. It’s always great to hear how other people went about making this happen for themselves. I am not so much concerned about the loan amount (I know it will pay for itself). I am more concerned about figuring out my finances during the time it takes to complete the ATP program and get my hours completed. You are right though, at some point you really have to just go for it. I still have a lot to figure out, and I’ll be doing a test flight later this month to make sure I really enjoy it first. I’m totally fine with entry level pay at a regional at first, because I know what it’s building towards. Thanks again for the response and great advice.

There are two fast track programs, one from private to MEI in 9 months, or coming in credit private which means you start at your instrument rating and that takes 6 months. So if you do complete your private outside atp and then start, that’s the program you’ll be on. It is absolutely doable. Most students finish on time, some even faster. The flex track is more expensive because you have access to the training facilities, instructors, airplanes for longer. Unless it’s your only option financially, I don’t recommend this path. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to take longer and pay more unless it’s your only way to make it happen.
Typically it takes about a year to a year and a half after completing the ATP program to get your 1500
Hours. So in your case 6 months as a student then 1-1.5 as an instructor building time.