Choosing Airlines

I am in flight school and before applying for certain airlines I am curious about a few things. Looking at American specifically, the 777 captain and FO pay is much higher than the other aircraft. What is the likelihood of being able to fly the 777? If the chances aren’t too great, wouldn’t a career at Southwest be much more monetarily beneficial with every captain getting 241 per hour? When you take into consideration how long it takes to get through regionals to then become FO for American and potentially not even get the 777 vs going straight to Southwest after getting your hours and being paid 84 as FO up to 250 as captain after 6 or so years.



The are many reasons any pilot chooses any airline based on their personal priorities. It could be to fly a specific airplane, destinations, base location, the color of the tail or simply the desire to fly for an airline due to affection from childhood. What airplane you fly within that airline is a matter of seniority. There are junior airplanes and senior planes which is generally based on pay.

That all said the flaw in your thinking seems to be the idea that you can go straight to SouthWest without going to a Regional and building time first. While SWA did announce the 225° Cadet Program, there’s no guarantee you’ll be accepted and even if you are there’s no guarantee they’ll hire you. SWA while not a Legacy is a Major airline and earning a position with them is just as challenging as getting hired with any Major.

Finally if you do the math the upgrade times at both airlines are comparable as are the 737 pay rates. While SWA has a great contract and their pilots are well paid a senior Capt at SWA will never have the opportunity to make the widebody rates available to those at a Legacy carrier.

If I were you I’d focus on getting through flight school and then see what opportunities present themselves.



It really is much more complicated than that. To begin with, flying for a major airline is the pinnacle of the profession, there is no guarantee that any one airline will hire you.

When looking at the pay rates, nobody starts out as a first year captain at Southwest. From my information, the most junior captain at Southwest has been there 13 years, meaning they were an FO for most of that time and probably upgraded to captain at the 12 year mark, so that first year captain pay is irrelevant because nobody earns that. Their top pay is comparable to other major airlines, in some cases it is more, in some less.

Now Southwest seems like a great place to work. I for one really like the advantages of working for a legacy airline as it is nice to be able to chose between domestic, international and long haul international flying. There are benefits to that kind of flying, one of them being monetary.

However, if Southwest had called me for a job when I was a regional pilot, I would have jumped all over it. The best airline is the one that hires you.


Thank you for the amazing responses! Seems like the best course of action for me is to apply for the Envoy cadet program and there’s no reason I can’t apply to Southwest after accruing my PIC hours or continue on with the flow through to AA.

I’d say the best course is to apply to any regional / program that you qualify for and would be willing to work for. When they interview and hire you, work hard and build hours, experience and add other attributes to your resume that will make you more attractive to major airlines. Most pilots would apply to all airlines, even majors that they have the minimums for and keep updating as you add quals. Ultimately, if hired by more than one airline you’d consider a final destination of your career, ideally it would have a base in a place you intend to live or else a very short commute. Keep in mind though that if you have a long enough career your likely to see airlines close and open bases and even possibly go out of business so until you see retirement in your windshield and not over the horizon, never stop improving and updating your resume. Airline pay rates fluctuate depending on negotiating cycles, so judging an airline to work for based purely on the hourly rate is not accounting for a myriad of factors that would go into your actual W2 at the end of the year.

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That’s an interesting perspective to take on deciding which airline you want to fly for. First of all, you’re making a big assumption that you’ll even have the luxury to have a choice. Like Chris said, along with every other pilot I’ve met, the best airline is the one that hires you. That’s a saying we all believe for a reason.

While we all agree that it’s important to consider potential earnings, I think that it’s really important to be open minded about which aircraft you will be flying instead of fixating on the one plane you want to fly the most. The reality is that you may never get to fly your dream aircraft. If that happens what then? A lot more goes into choosing an airline to work for than just potential earnings and aircraft type(s).


I’ve heard people say that once a pilot joins a major, they very rarely leave. I’m sure there are numerous reasons (seniority, pay, obligations, etc).

That said, I enjoy trying new companies and pay/seniority is pretty low on my list of priorities. I’m only concerned about making enough money to meet my obligations, invest, and in the future provide for my family. With my current and predicted lifestyle, as long as I make between 25k-50k/year im happy.

Therefore, once I have the experience, I’d like to try working at various airlines, especially those that offer long-distance international flights to destinations I never knew existed

How does job-hopping between airlines affect your employment in this industry? I’m a young guy (25), and have job hopped usually every year to try something new. I’ve concluded that my career is that I don’t want one, and as long as I’m attending to my obligations and setting aside at-least $500/month for retirement, then I have my own permission to do whatever I want. I would like to continue this when I work as a pilot.


I recommend you visit our FAQ section and browse this forum for more info on the subject but frankly your “job-hopping” won’t work well for you in this industry.

The first issue is whether you need the money or not, seniority affects every aspect of a pilots life. You say you want to hop to carriers that offer long distance international. Well guess what? So does everyone else. Junior pilots get junior domestic trips,senior pilots get to fly the larger airplanes that do the international trips. No seniority, no international.

A bigger issue is while you don’t care about money, the airlines do and it costs a whole lot to train a pilot. The airlines want a return on their investment. Someone who wants to hop is VERY undesirable. Pretty much after your second hop the question is going to be why? If your answer is “because I like to hop” theirs will be “thanks but no thanks”. If it’s anything else they most likely won’t believe you.

If that’s really your goal you’re probably better off becoming a Flight Attendant. They still won’t like it but you might get an extra hop or 2 out of it?




That makes a lot of sense, thanks for the input. Up till now, I’ve not worked for companies that offer me a good enough reason to remain there long term. I also assumed people would want to be home with their families, so flights that take them away from that for long periods of time would be less desirable (At-least, if I had a family, I think that would be my mindset).

As for hopping, if one or two is all I get before I’m undesirable, then I’ll really have to think it through. I’ll keep that in mind the next few years as I consider my satisfaction levels in this industry. At this point in time, Im confident that I won’t be here until retirement, but that could change as I get older and more doors start closing up.


Flights that go further away tend to lead to more days off per month, so it all kind of balances out. Bottom line is that as a pilot, you will spend significant time on the road.

As for airline hopping, this will not look good for you and is not recommended. What many pilots do is change fleets within their company. I have done this many times. I fly international for a few years, then go back to domestic. When I get tired of that, I go back to international. This allows a lot of variety of flying, without changing airlines.



Changing fleets seems to be more of what I had in mind. Just switching things up now and again when I’m feeling stagnant was the idea here. Thanks for the clarification.


Anytime. Let us know how else we can help you.



In addition to the obvious comments above regarding “job hoping”, there is the straight human capital/ human resources angle of it. That strategy might lead to be labeled as unstable, immature, and non-commital. That would not be good at all. Any industry, including aviation, would not like to hire a candidate with such traits.

I am glad that will re-examine that strategy. Following the advise from those above is a very smart decision.

Good luck,