Real Answers from Real Pilots

First 6 months to a year

I talked to a person who use to hire for skywest. He said that the first 6 months when you start as 1st officer, then captain and really anytime you make a change you spend on call. I would like to know if that is true. Also once you get into a normal regular schedule how often do you go on call?



What you were told is a huge generalization and not really accurate. You see, everything depends on the hiring situation at the time and on your seniority when you make the change. For example, when I was hired at Continental a lot of pilots were hired on behind me, so I was only on reserve for for a month. About a year later hiring ground to a halt with the recession and the junior pilots were on reserve for several years until we started hiring again.

When you upgrade to Captain the time spent on reserve depends on your seniority. If you take the first possible Captain slot then you could be on reserve for years. Many pilots wait to upgrade until they can be line holders and thus never go on Captain reserve at all.

Once you have enough seniority to become a line holder you will generally not sit reserve again as long as you are in that seat on that piece of equipment.


Thank you for your reply! Does line holder mean you apply for a captain position but wait to get that position when a captain moves on?


There are line holders in both the Captain and First Officer ranks. Being a line holder simply means that you have enough seniority to have a preset schedule, as opposed to being on reserve, it really does not have anything to do with upgrading to Captain as that is based on your overall company seniority. Being a line holder or reserve is dependent upon your seniority within your position as First Officer or Captain. Clear as mud now?


Also keep in mind Reserve is not necessarily a bad thing. I could hold a line but because of my seniority the trips I can hold would be LAS and LAX redeyes which I don’t enjoy. By bidding reserve I usually end up with more days off and when I do get called I generally get better trips since senior guys call in sick more than junior ones.


Hey Adam,

Just curious, why would it be that the senior pilots call out more than junior ones?


Because James junior pilots for the most part are nervous about calling in sick for fear of getting in trouble. Senior ones have learned they won’t and do it often.


Thanks Adam, I thought that might be the reason.

I’m just curious… how can airlines guarantee a set number of flying hours a month for reserve guys? To my understanding, reserve guys only fly when someone calls out. What happens if you only fly 30 hours because not a lot of guys called out? Thanks guys!


Great question. First off reserves are not only used when there’s a sick call. They’re also used during weather events, crew rest issues and maintenance delays. But many pilots (myself included) often count on the fact that you will fly below your min guarantee but still get paid the guarantee. At Hawaiian min guarantee is 75hrs but I average about 50 when I’m on Reserve meaning I’m getting paid 25hrs for doing nothing. The down side is it is a gamble. They could fly you more, you never know where you’re going or who you’re flying with. But as for your question while you’re thinking “how can they pay all these guys for not flying?” (and yes as in your example I have had months where I’ve only flown 30hrs and still gotten my 75). What you’re missing is while it may seem like a lot of money to pay pilots for nothing, 1 or 2 cancellations would cost a whole lot more which would happen if they didn’t have the reserves. It’s kind of like insurance, it’s part of the cost of doing business and while no one likes paying for it you’re surely glad you did when you need it.


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That makes so much more sense!! Thanks for answering! I just want to make sure I understand you. I get hired at a regional airline where I’m guaranteed 75 hours a month. I fly 50, but still get paid as if I had flown 75? Guess the money part of it makes sense. A cancellation here and there are much more costly the. Paying pilots for hours that they should’ve flown, but didn’t (for those who didn’t reach the monthly mins, of course).


Correct. Hence the term “guarantee”.