Air force to major airline transition?

I aspire to join the air force, however, I want to end my career at the airlines. I honestly don’t know how long I want to serve for but about 15 years seems right (could be more or less depending on my morale). If I do make this transition, is it possible to be hired as an FO for major airlines like aa, or would I need to enter a regional airline flow like envoy?
Thanks for the help!


A couple of things. First, I’ll answer your question, but there’s something else I need to bring to your attention.

Depending on your military flying experience, it is possible to get hired on at a major without flying for a regional. Major airlines publish their minimum hiring requirements online. It’s possible to meet those requirements via military flight operations, but who’s to say you will get the opportunity to fly a KC-135, C-5 or C-17? What if your only option is to fly a Huey or an Osprey? This leads me to the point I wanted to make.

The bigger question is, how do you know that you’ll be able to become a pilot through the Air Force? It’s not guaranteed. It’s a very difficult and competitive process with a minimum of a 10 year commitment (US). The reason I ask this is because of how you phrased your question. You asked presumptuously. The better approach would have been to say, “I want to serve my country. IF (big if) I can do that by flying, that would be my preference, but I understand that I may not get that opportunity. If I do get the opportunity to fly in the AF, would I be able to fly for a major without regional experience?”

Again, to answer your question, yes. It’s POSSIBLE, with a lot of contingencies. Just make sure you’re enlisting for the right reasons, and your “plans,” once in, may change depending on your performance.

Lastly, your IP address is Canadian. Are you a US Permanent Resident or US Citizen? Are you aware that US airlines only hire one or the other?


Thanks for the help, would you know how one would be assigned to an aircraft in the air force?

Don’t quote me on this, because I don’t know for sure, but another source (Google) says that aircraft assignments are based on aptitude, temperament, and military needs. I’ve also read that pilots get to submit bids for their preferred aircraft assignment. The pilots are ranked against each other to determine which pilots get first pick.

The more I read, the more I’m starting to understand that joining the military for the sole purpose to fly is a BAD idea, which is why I said that you should join for the right reasons. This dream of yours to fly for the majors would be a lot easier to achieve going through the civilian route. But if you are passionate about serving your country, that’s something entirely different.



Bear in mind that military retirement starts at 20 years, so it would be foolish to leave after 15 years when you are that close to a pension.

You need to speak to an Air Force recruiter about pilot and airplane selection, we are all civilians here, so what we know is not official. I have heard that an increasing number of pilots in the Air Force are being assigned to fly drones instead of airplanes. Drone flight time doe snot count for anything as far as the airlines are concerned.



I want to chime in on this since I went through a similar process with the Navy. In order to fly as a pilot in the Air Force, you have to a commissioned officer. You can become one by the Air Force ROTC scholarship, their academy, or by OTS. I will say the lion’s share of pilot slots go to academy grads, so good luck with admissions. Only by OTS are you guaranteed a pilot slot (when you pass OTS training), since the other two are only a commissioning source with a competitive process where a lot of people fight over not a lot of pilot slots.
After commissioning, expect to spend about 2 years training to be a pilot, only after which your 10 year contract starts. During this training period you’ll be assigned a platform based on performance, availability, and needs of Air Force, so don’t expect to get something you want. The Air Force nowadays have a bigger drone program than Navy, so there’s a good chance of you getting drones.
All in all, Air Force pilots have a good chance of transitioning directly to major airlines, but it would be a more direct route and probably easier for most laypeople to do a program like ATP if their goal is to fly for a major.

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Thanks for the insight, Jack.



To second Tory, if you’re intending to join because you want to fly, you may be very, very disappointed. If you’re intent is to serve as an end in itself, you may STILL be very disappointed, but not as disappointed as you would be if you joined intending to perform a SPECIFIC job in a SPECIFIC type of aircraft. Many don’t know this, but to make matters worse, you can be selected for aviation only to become a drone pilot flying Predators out of a base in Nevada (you don’t get any relevant certifications EXCEPT flying drones. Not that that is all bad - the DoD actually pays top dollar for drone pilots to fly as civilians in the alphabet agencies, Border Patrol, etc. But still - you won’t ever be an airline pilot). That’s at least how it goes in the AF.

You might also want to look into getting a flight contract in the Marine Corps. As long as you make it through OCS (10 weeks), you will be guaranteed a spot in flight school after TBS (6 more months following OCS). Assuming you make it through flight school (1-2 years depending on aircraft type), what you will fly depends entirely on your scores in flight school. It is VERY competitive - I’ve met more Ivy leaguers in the Marines than anywhere else. They’re smart and brutally competitive. Beyond that you can expect a very hard 3-4 years of little flight time and a ton of collateral duties that will take up the bulk of your days. I know a couple guys who have dropped their flight status because the workload was just too much. Seems like squadron life is pretty rough these days…

Don’t want to discourage you. Flying for the AF is a pretty sweet gig if you can land it. I know someone who flew F-16’s for 20 and moved relatively seamlessly to a right seat for Southwest, but I don’t know how common that is. Probably not common at all.


I’m brand new to this site but wanted to chime in on this topic real quick.

I’m active duty Air Force and just hit my 17 year mark. My sole intention, like yours, was to fly a military jet (any fighter frame - didn’t care). Didn’t have money for college, so I did what I could think of and joined while taking classes.

Someone already mentioned you have to be commissioned, which means you have to apply for that. If you’re trying to become a pilot, you’d have to apply for a ‘rated’ slot along with your commissioning request package. IF you’re selected, you’d go through the commissioning program, them begin UPT (undergraduate pilot training). I believe it’s 14 weeks? Can’t remember. Towards the end of it, you would be selected for an airframe to fly. How it was explained to me is that the fighter slots go to those who not only have a high class gpa, but good standing amongst their peers and recommendation from their instructor. Once that training is complete, then you begin your 10-year contract with the AF.

I applied through two programs somewhat recently to help me finish my degree then go through OTS, but was denied both times once those packaes reached a certain level in my chain of command. Competition is fierce and age/time in service works against you.

I don’t want to discourage you, but give you a realistic approach - the same that I wish someone would’ve given me when I was your age.

To the mods - I’ll make my intro post here in a bit. Just wanted to share some advice with someone who seems like he’s in the same boat I was in earlier in my life.


Thank you for the insight. All of the moderators are civilians, so it helps to have voices like yours on this website.


Thanks for the help everyone :slight_smile: