Contemplating a career change

So I’ve been looking for the perfect place to ask my questions and I think I’ve finally found it. I was guided here today when I spoke with the ATP flight school because I had so many questions. I am a 25 year old currently working as a fireman who’s considering making the leap of faith to change my career. My reason for doing so is because in a few years my wife and I plan on moving back to our hometown, just outside Atlanta and I really don’t want to be a rookie fireman again scrubbing toilets for five plus years. So ready for all the questions??

First off my ultimate goal would be to become a pilot at a major airline where I’d predominately fly internationally (in a perfect world). I’m the type of person who when I want something I get up early and stay late to make it happen. I’ve read all the articles about progressing through school, being an instructor to build hours, working at a regional, and then finally making it to the show. What’s the shortest time you guys have seen anyone go from a civilian to a major airline? How many hours do majors typically require to be considered a serious candidate? I’ve seen where regionals require 1500 and some majors around 3000 but I’ve found nothing that’s really concrete.

Next! Since I already know where I’m planning on moving, how hard is it to find a job at your ideal airport? With Atlanta being the busiest I’d hope not too bad, but I’ve read where pilots have to take a flight to get to their home airport. Also if I were to live in Atlanta but get a job out of another airport such as Dallas, for example, how would that work for “on call” days?

Lastly, after years and years of hard work lets say I do finally become a captain on a major airline, how does it work as far as your routes? Are they ever-changing or do you basically fly the same stuff over and over? Like I mentioned, my ultimate goal would be to fly internationally so is that an even longer time frame? And what are the layovers like between your flights when you do fly somewhere overseas?

Thank you for taking the time with me. I know I ask a lot of questions but the only pilot I know (my grandpa) has passed away a long time ago so I don’t know anyone in the business that can answer all my questions.

Hello Billy and Welcome!

This might not be the perfect place, but it should be pretty good and hopefully we can help.

Time to a Major can vary considerably which is why you see minimum requirements and “competitive” requirements but no you don’t see anything “concrete” because it isn’t… Most pilots will spend a few years at a Regional as an FO and a few as a Capt before moving on. It’s not just hours. Connections and networking help ALOT. That’s why I always recommend to guys who want to move up fast to get out there and get noticed. Get into the training dept, volunteer with the union, don’t just be a number. Honestly the shortest time I’ve ever seen is probably Mentor Chris on this forum. I think he was at ExpressJet with me for less than a year? Thing is he had some great contacts (and I never let him forget that!). I’m here at Hawaiian and quite a few of our new FOs spent less than a year at the Regionals but their fathers were senior pilots with lots of juice. Now for a peasant like me I was at ExpressJet for 9yrs, but I’m not complaining. I actually could’ve left sooner but chose not to. I was an instructor for the airline making pretty good money and my seniority gave me a great schedule. The other thing I that made me stay was I wanted turbine PIC (jet Capt time) time in my logbook. See in a perfect world you’ll go to you Major, work up to Capt, make lots of money and retire with your flight attendant wife, BUT life isn’t always perfect. Bad things sometimes happen in this world which effect our industry (ie. 9/11). Also many airlines have turbine PIC requirements. Things are good now, but if things got ugly for some reason AND there were furloughs AND you were at the bottom of the list, you’re out there competing with all the other furloughed pilots and obviously want to be as competitive as possible. Kinda like insurance. Do you need it? Maybe, maybe not, but when you do you’re really happy you have it. Make sense? Probably more than you wanted but just sharing.

There’s no question commuting stinks but it’s a reality for many pilots. Being in ATL you’ve obviously have Delta as a Major and ExpressJet and Compass as Regionals. Right now things are good. Everyone’s hiring like mad and you should have no problems getting on with one of those (provided all your training goes well etc). That said this also goes along with you next question. EVERYTHING at the airlines revolves around SENIORITY. Where and when you fly AND where you’re based. If ATL is a senior base it might take you some time to get there and yes you may have to commute for a while. How long? Could be a month, could be a year? When you’re “on call” most pilots will get the always popular “crashpad”. A crashpad is a shared apt with several pilots where you can crash while waiting or before or after your trips.

What routes will you fly? Again SENIORITY. How senior you are will determine what aircraft you fly and where you get to go. I just transitioned to the Airbus A330. It’s our most senior aircraft and flies everywhere BUT I’m junior on it so if I bid a “line” (scheduled flts) I’d only get 12 days off and fly Vegas redeyes. So I bid reserve which gives me much more days off and a crack at better trips (since only the senior guys with the good trips call in sick). It’s a slight gamble but works for me.

Layovers are what you make them. Personally I love them. I love going out, getting lost and exploring. Some people don’t. They stay in their rooms watch movies and eat hotel food. Again layovers are as good or as bad as you make them.

Hope this helps? Great questions!


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How does exploring on a layover work, you need a car most likely. If you chose to leave the hotel does all the cost your incure away from the hotel coming out of your own pocket? Like if you were in Tokyo and had one rest day would your airline pay for a car rental for the day.


Pilots get paid “per diem” for every hour of their trip (whether they’re flying or not). While it’s not a ton of money (usually somewhere around $2-3hr) the clock is running until the trip is complete 24/7. Per diem is supposed to cover your meal and misc expenses while away from home (NOT for you to paint the town and see the world. Should they pick up your bar tab also?). While this is a pretty good deal, no, the airlines are not going to pay for you to rent a car. Why would they? Contractually they provide you with transportation to/from the hotel and they’re usually pretty nice hotels (depending on the airline) but beyond that it’s on you. What YOU chose to do on your overnights is what YOU chose to do. If you’re in NY and want to see Wicked then have dinner at Peter Luger’s no they’re not going to pick up the tab.

So let’s say it’s your first trip to Tokyo. Would you really want to get in a right hand drive car and drive on the left side of the road while trying to read the road signs in Japanese? Public transportation works very well in most cities as does Uber. And no, the airline won’t pay for those either.



There are plenty of ways to enjoy a layover without needing to rent a car. Most hotels will drive guests to destinations within a 5 mile radius. Some hotels have rental bikes. Walking or public transportation are always an option too.


All expenses beyond the hotel and transportation to and from will be on your dime. Keep in mind that we are paid per diem while on the road, which helps to offset extra expenses. I generally walk everywhere as I feel it is the best way to see a city, but mass transit is always a good option in big cities.

Thank you all for the responses! That definitely makes sense! I love mass transit/walking/biking aswell! What about when you’re still flying at a regional in the USA, are you flying into smaller cities where you might need a car to go hike a trail that you can’t take public transport to?

When you fly into an airport that is pretty far from the city (NRT) does the airline typically select a hotel near the airport or in the city?

Also, Is everything already arranged, ie you land have transportation to hotel waiting for you and hotel room is already booked, etc and then pickups waiting in the morning you leave for the airport?

Of the places I’ve been to thus far, the furthest commute between the airport and hotel is 20 minutes.

Transportation to/from the hotel varies. Each hotel operates a little differently. Some have a van waiting for us when we arrive. Others run a scheduled system and pick up every 30 minutes. Others require a phone call upon arrival…



Any extra expenses on an overnight other than the hotel and transportation to and from the hotel is your responsibility. So if you want to rent a car to go hike a trail, that expenses will be borne by you.

Hotel location depends on the union’s contract with the company, but typically long overnights are at downtown hotels while short ones are at airport hotels.

Yes, everything that you mentioned in regards to hotels is pre-arranged.



I don’t know what you’re currently doing but does your current employer pay for your entertainment? For you to go on adventures and see the local sites, go hiking and explore?(if they do you might want to consider staying there). As Chris said everything is arranged to get you to and from the hotel and provide you with a nice clean place to rest. EVERYTHING else is on you. During my time at the Regionals I visited almost every Major (and minor) city in the contiguous US. This is an amazing country with lots to see BUT if you want to enjoy it the airline is not going to pay. Think about it, why should you cost the company thousands while people who have no desire to venture wouldn’t?


Yes I understand, I didn’t think they would pay for your entertainment but didnt know if having a rental car was normal or not. I didnt think about hotel transport. Thanks for helping me with my question!