ATP Program vs. Major Airlines' Own Program

My son wants to fly for an airline and skip college, going from high school right into his training.

I am trying to discern the pros/cons of him going to ATP’s program as opposed to applying to one of the major airlines’ own programs (United Aviate, American Cadet, Southwest 225, etc.).

Looks like pretty much all the programs cost $100K (+/-) for him to complete.

So what are the factors that separate ATP from the major airlines’ own programs? Flexibility of training locations, career path, etc.?

Do the airlines’ programs get you to flying for their own brand faster? For example, the Envoy Cadet Program gets you flying for Envoy/American Eagle, and offers a flow-through to American in just over 5 years. Whereas, going with American’s Cadet Program, do you get to working for AA any faster? American’s Cadet program on the website says after completion of their program, they offer a guaranteed interview with one of their wholly owned carriers (Envoy, Piedmont, PSA) and then if you’re hired by one of them you start there, and would later have opportunity to transfer to American. Anyway, when I read through all that, it sounds like you don’t get a real advantage from using the airlines’ direct program.

Appreciate any insight on this as to potential pros/cons to consider with ATP versus those programs.



Welcome to the forum. You ask a very good question, let’s get to it.

In my opinion, these dedicated programs like AA Cadet, Aviate, 225, etc, actually slow the student down and can take longer for them to get to the major airline. It starts with the flight schools that they are running/using. None of them are particularly efficient and to my knowledge, none of them can produce a professional pilot as quickly as ATP can. That is not just me saying that, it is simply the facts. In addition to taking longer, these programs effectively lock the student into someday working for a particular airline. I have always been mystified by the brand new pilots that before they even have their private license, want to work for a certain airline. They know so little about the industry, it really seems very premature to me. When I started my flight training, I had no idea that I would someday end up working for Continental and then United, but the market changed and they ended up being the best fit for me. I think that being a free agent is by far the best way to go and is often the fastest path to the major that will be most appropriate at the time.

As an aside, your son is welcome to join the forum as well.


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Thanks so much, Chris. Very helpful insight!


Chris answered your question well, I just want to add or expand a point or 2.

The airlines have started programs for one reason and one reason only. They need pilots. Chris talked about your son being a “free agent”, the airlines don’t want that. They want to lock him in as early as possible specifically so he doesn’t have a choice. Thing is (as you may have seen over your life) the airline industry is tough. The airline that on top can easily fall and visa versa. Things can and do change and the best choice for your son today might not be tomorrow. The goal is to make it to the Majors and you mention AAs 5yr promise. That’s based entirely on AAs need TODAY. Trust me there’s alot of fine print which says if they don’t need pilots they’re not going to hire any. If AA stalls and Delta is booming your son would have no option to change direction. Conversely if you visit ATP Airline partner page (something ATP pioneered). You’ll see he’ll have the ability to participate in EVERY program there is including their industry first Direct Entry to Spirit and Frontier which would allow him to bypass the Regionals entirely.

Next, I don’t care how bad the shortage is, while hiring is through the roof, so are washouts and failures. Getting hired is easy, being successful in training is not. Virtually ALL the airline programs you mention have only be in operation a few years at best. ATP has been training pilots for the airlines for almost 40yrs and ATP grads were getting preferential hiring long before there was a shortage. Over 1,000 ATP grads were hired in the last 12mos alone. That’s more than ALL the airline programs have produced EVER.

Just some food for thought.


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The guys have all added great points. We all agree that tying your son down to one airline early on is not advised.

ATP will not only best prepare him for the rigors of initial new hire training, but provide a pathway to any airline he chooses.

The flow programs are great for those that don’t have a degree, a record or accidents/incidents since no second interview is required. It’s a safe assurance that you will flow to a major eventually. But the key word is, EVENTUALLY. Flows often pause and have even reversed pilots back to the seats of regional airlines. Even when things are good, the flow takes way longer than interviewing on his own when he meets the requirements. The flow is in the company’s time leaving very little control to the pilot.


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I’d like to focus on this first part. If you dig around in the forum, you’ll see that the pilot mentors never recommend this course. It will be harder to be admitted to a flight school (ATP doesn’t admit a lot of young people without flying experience or degree), and all major airlines prefer a college degree. There’s also a maturity aspect involved with having a degree that can’t be underestimated. Finally, the age requirement for an ATP license is 23, so starting at 18 doesn’t do a whole lot for hiring prospects.


The airline industry is one that someone should remain open-minded to all avenues, including training and career paths. As everyone already mentioned, tying down to one airline that early in the process can hinder career growth and progression of your son’s future. Flows are a great tool in the back pocket, but regional airlines are seeing an attrition of pilots leaving before the flow to LCCs like Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country, etc. spending a year or two and then jumping back to a Legacy airline like American, Delta, and United.

I would consider your son to attend a program like ATP (no this isn’t a sponsored reply, even looking in the upper left of the forum and seeing the ATP tag below “” logo) because no other flight school has been able to ‘produce’ the quality and number of professional pilots that ATP has. All mentors and graduates here on the forum have attended ATP, successfully completed the program, and now flying at either the airlines or a corporate gig. I love facts, statistics, and data; ATP is coming up on their 40-year anniversary, growing to more than 80 locations, owning all their fleets, I can’t find another flight school like that.

The other benefit of ATP is ALL the SPONSORED airline programs, that allow students (individuals like your son) to have a pathway to their dream job. Tuition reimbursement is a big thing today. Airlines are offering top-notch sign-on bonuses to draw pilots to their company and fly for them.

I recommend trying for ATP, though it’s competitiveness is tough, and giving it a shot. I wouldn’t be where I am today (at this present moment) if I didn’t take the leap of faith. And the question gets asked, “what would you do different,” my answer is - I SHOULD have started sooner, I love the job I get to do.


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