Going from Zero to Commercial Pilot Somewhat ASAP

I will try to keep this as concise as possible, given that I tend to provide all available information just in case it’s relevant!

My name is Freddie and I’m currenly a flight attendant with United. I had the pleasure of flying with Chris last month and thanks to him I am a member of this blog and seek any useful advise based on members’ expertise.

It took me a while to finally begin a thread with some questions because I was trying to do some investigation on my own first and make sure I don’t ask you to repeat something you’ve probably answered a million times.

I am 39 years old and I know I should have a sense of urgency to hurry up if I am to return to a major airline as is my ambition. I have also overwhelmingly been advised as I’ve asked pilots along the way recently that if I am sure of this decision (which I am), the best advise is to go ahead and do it all as fast as possible. I like this approach anyway since I AM a workhorse and can put in long hours and limited break days are needed.

The only reason I don’t drop everything and start at ATP right NOW is for a couple of reasons:

  1. As mentioned, I am currently a flight attendant, I will be with the company for 5 years next month. Only after my 5 year mark am I vested with any retirement contributions I’ve made over 5 years so it makes perfect sense to wait out the 5 year anniversary.

  2. This is not a great excuse but I have two weddings to attend this year. These are close family members and I am almost expected to be there and family IS very important to me. One is in June which doesn’t provide a big problem, but the second is not until November. Being an employee with UAL gives me a great benefit of getting myself and my mother to the wedding destination, but this is just money and time is also money…especially for me as time is of the essence while trying to get back to a major airline and, being in the airline industry already, I know how important seniority also play a role. Even a few months makes a huge difference. In my research, however, I have considered certain compromises:

I have heard ATP as the place to go to most frequently than any other school as far as flight school. They are efficient. They’ll get you from zero to commercial pilot in the most quick and efficient way is what I’ve concluded. Here is my first question:

  ????  Is the program at ATP a start to finish, no break program??

I ask because if I can arrange a break for the November wedding, then I can commit to ATP very soon after my five years with my current position.

If a “break” is not possible, as I have investigated with other local flight schools, I could a head start and perhaps obtain my PPL locally while I complete this year’s “commitments” and begin at ATP in an advanced stage. Does ATP allow for that or are they strictly a beginning to end curriculum? If this is not a possibility with ATP, any other strong programs that you can recommend that you know would allow for this?

I have more questions but I should wait for responses on this so that I don’t put my entire flow chart diagram here depending on answers.

I will lastly only mention more of my own current resume. I do have a 4 year degree. I have a BA in electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics. I worked for 5 years in a NASA facility before getting my wanderlust and began traveling an changing addresses. I began in the airline industry on the ramp for DGS (Delta Global Services). I then became a Customer Service Agent with United in a small station where we worked the entire operation: Ramp, Ticket Counter, Boarding Gate, Baggage. Finally I became a Flight Attendant with United just under 5 years ago. I don’t know if any of this is relevant in any way. Perhaps when the time comes to be considered with a major airline? In any case, for what it’s worth, there it is.

I apologize for the length, I will try to keep the questions more concise in the future!

Thank you very much in advance.


Hi Freddie and welcome,

I actually know many FAs who’ve made the leap to the “front office” so you’re in good company. You provide a fair amount of information but you don’t say what length of break you’re talking about? If its a long weekend or even a week the answer is sure. If you’re talking longer then you’d need to coordinate it with your instructor so it falls between segments. Hopefully you’re not thinking too long?

As for getting your PPL you can absolutely start training with ATP with your PPL already completed but I generally advise against. Training at your local flight school can be inefficient, expensive and often frustrating. There’s also much to be said about being exposed to ATPs policies, procedures and methods at the beginning and getting started on the right foot. There’s a concept called “The Law of Primacy” which states what we learn first sticks with us the longest and molds the rest of our training. If you start with ATP your training will be seamless and that’s a good thing.

BTW, I’m JSing to EWR tomorrow on UA from HNL. If you know the crew ask them to be nice :slight_smile:


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Hi Freddie,

I can not answer all your questions like some of these guys can but I wanted to share what I know as a current student at ATP. We have at least 3 flight attendants attending at my location. I’m not sure how all of them are on being vested, but I do know that at least one took a leave of absence from her company instead of resigning. I believe the other two did the same but I can’t remember to be sure. This might be an option to look at as I believe it benefits them in multiple ways.

As for taking time off during your training, it can be done. It just needs to be well coordinated with your instructor so they can schedule accordingly. You may have to work some weekends and maybe double up on some days to keep up with the program. We actually have a student at our location that is in Europe right now on vacation for a couple weeks. Anyways, those are my two cents. Best of luck to you in your journey!


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Hi Freddie,

I’m also a current ATP student, and I’ve seen them work around time off with students already. They’re very accommodating providing you give advance notice and it’s not extreme. Hope that helps, and good luck!! It’s a blast!!!


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Gabe and Scott,

Thanks for adding your insights.


Good to see you on here, I hope all is well.



Thanks for everyone for replying. Unfortunately, I make good on my threats and I’ve got more questions based off of your answers.

Great, so I CAN take short leaves from the program. They wouldn’t be long, just long weekends, as you suggested. This gives me the motivation to get started sooner rather than later, but now I have my followup questions:

??? where does ATP have schools and which is the more recommended with respect to the factors that can help me finish the fastest…I assume weather and dependability of aircraft and instructors are the biggest factors here, correct???

Adam, thanks for the advise on sticking to one system from beginning to end. I agree with the advantages of streamlining. Also I hope we treated you well on your commute :slight_smile:

Next: I know all the good things about ATP and it’s definitely a front runner, but as I have read on this very site, it may be a good idea to shop around a little bit so I wanted to ask next:

??? What other aviation schools does anyone here know of that has a good reputation as does ATP that I may look into a little bit and ask the questions suggested on a post I read here I believe posted by Chris ??? (In conversations with colleagues I have spoken to, I have heard the following names thrown around: AMERIFLIGHT, IBCT, FALCON AVIATION, JETBLUE GATEWAY SELECT) Does anyone have any thoughts on these?

I also want to thank you for the ideas on the leaves so that I don’t have to resign immediately if possible. I actually have a list of questions to ask my HR department at UAL that include the questions you have suggested. If you think of anything else, please let me know, by all means!

Thanks for continuing to entertain my questions, everyone.


I’ll take a shot at one of your questions and tell you that weather plays a huge factor. I’ve been at ATP for 2 months in the Dallas area, and the weather has not been nice to us so far. This has kept me on the ground several days I was scheduled to fly. I have a friend at the phoenix location, and he’s saying the weather has been nothing short of great for flying. Maybe someone else can chime in, but I’d definitely look at a location that has good weather most of the year.


At any ATP location the dependability of the aircraft and the instructors should be exactly the same. Weather can of course be a factor, so if you really want to get this done quickly I would chose a location like Phoenix, Las Vegas, or anywhere in Florida.

I will be very honest with you, I have never heard of any of he schools that you mentioned. That doesn’t mean that they are not good schools, it just means that I am not familiar with them. Print up my list of questions and ask those various schools the exact same questions, then you can easily compare them.

Keep your questions coming!


ATP Phoenix at Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport (KIWA) is an excellent choice. It is our largest training center. The next largest is Daytona Beach, FL (KDAB), with Atlanta Lawrenceville (KLZU) and Dallas Arlington (KGKY) right behind. Jacksonville, FL (KCRG) is unique in that it’s close to HQ and a big training center for instructor standardization and our largest maintenance facility. (All of the aforementioned training centers have on-site dedicated maintenance.) All of these are great options, but if nothing else is a factor, I’d personally pick Phoenix.

ATP has training centers that range from 40+ aircraft (Phoenix) to 3 (Tulsa), and a corresponding number of instructors. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Some students prefer the more personalized and customized schedule of a small location. Some students prefer the resources and efficiency that comes with a large location.

Since you have access as a FA, I recommend visiting Phoenix and possibly a couple other locations to see what feels right.


I hope all is well! I will only touch up on the weather portion/location. I’m not familiar with the Midwest, but I heard they have amazing weather. I fly in Florida (not with ATP :frowning:) and we have thunderstorms EVERYDAY. As early as noon and as late as 5 pm. Personally, I would go out west, but if you choose Florida, fly in the morning. I’m at the airport by 7 am just so I can avoid the storms in the afternoon. Hope this helps!


Midwest weather in the summer is some beautiful flying weather, from October/November till around May can be pretty rough…

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Weather can be a factor ANYWHERE in the US depending on the time of year. I’d chose a location based on convenience to home or simply a desire to live in a certain location. As for the other flight school I always invite people to do their research but honestly when asked about ANY other school I say they don’t offer as much as ATP. Trust me when I was looking at flight schools I visited virtually every major school in the country and after doing some very extensive research I settled on ATP and have never regretted that decision. Do you’re homework and I’m confident you’ll come to the same conclusion.


Once again thanks to everyone for replying.

Adam, I will take advantage of your research and save myself research time and take your advise. I think ATP will be the school I will pursue. Additionally I think Phoenix will be the location as I AM in a hurry and it seems it would be the most efficient option.

Now it will be a matter of checking with United to see what options I have with respect to leaves to see when I can start. This actually brings me to another question:

??? As an aviation student with ATP are there any nonrev benefits, or jump seating or even ZED fares available?? How about once you have certain ratings? Is jumpseating an option then??

My next question is with respect to financing my education. I don’t have the approximately $70K in liquid assets so I will definitely have to get into debt which does not make me nervous at all. I am good with my money and I have excellent credit. In this topic:

??? What suggestions do you have for me with respect to how I can finance my entire flight education?? I have also heard something about certain regional carriers conditionally providing some of the financing contingent upon successful completion of the program and you also committing to flying for them. Additionally I have heard that certain carriers also offer accumulating seniority prior to actually begining working with them (again, with the same aforementioned contingencies if not also others). How about any other scholarship type of benefits out there ???

Thank you for your continued input, everyone!




Jumpseating and non-revving are specific to airline employees, so unless you are on leave with UAL and have privileges through them, you will not have any travel benefits until you begin flying for a regional.

ATP does offer the Tuition Assistance Program, take a look at it at www.atpflightschool.com. Basically this program enables you to chose a target regional around 500 hours of flight time, from that time on your targeted airline will contribute $5 per hour for each hour you fly as an instructor towards your loan payment. After you begin actually working for the airline they will continue to make similar payments for a full year. Check out the website for more info. It is important to remember that the airlines do not help with the financing (that is dependent on you and your lender), but they do help make the loan payments, which can be a huge stress reducer. I am not aware of any scholarships that are out there.

Good questions.

Thanks, Chris. I’ll look at that link and no doubt come back with more questions…most likely it will be which recommendations you have of the programs available. It may be a matter of, again, what works best for my particular preferences.

Stand by for more questions. and thanks!


Hi! You mention visiting locations? I spoke with an admissions rep that told me I am not able to visit or take a tour. Do you know anything about this?


Freddie! What did you find out? I am also a UAL FA looking to move behind the door!



Not sure who you spoke to but that’s not correct. What you can’t do is just pop in anytime you like. Most locations are staffed by instructors who are generally out instructing and don’t often have time to take from their students to so you around. I’d give them another call.