How late is too late to begin?

I am 34 years old and embarking on a career transition, and I am looking into ATP for the potential of becoming an airline pilot. The training seems achievable, although costly, but my main concern is if I am too late to the game for making this a career that would generate considerable pay based on the importance of seniority? I would be starting from the bottom with no experience (I do have a bachelors degree).

Also, I have a family that is settled in San Diego, how limited I would be by staying in my hometown?

So far this forum has been a wonderful trove of information, and I look forward to hearing back from you. Thanks!

Hello Ben,

I asked myself this same question 2 years ago and went for it. I’m 41, went through ATP and am now in training at a regional airline. ATP is the way to go for sure because as you mention seniority is everything and they will get you through fast if you’re willing to put in the work.

I’m not familiar with what ATP has on the west coast but if you can drive to an ATP location you shouldn’t be limited. Keep in mind they only do CFI training at certain locations so a small portion of your training may need to be elsewhere.

Hope that helps - and Good Luck!

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I’m glad you’ve found this forum helpful. With that in mind I’m surprised you haven’t come across one of the many threads on this subject as this is one of the top questions asked.

Long short the average age when most airline pilots begin their flight training is 32-33yo. That puts you a mere year or 2 off the mark so you’re nowhere near being too late. Factor in the pilot shortage which has accelerated the average times for upgrade and transition to the Majors and you could find yourself well ahead of others who started younger but did so years ago.

As an example starting pay at most Regionals is now $80-90k. Just a few years ago that was senior Regional Capt pay after approx 10yrs which was how long it took for many to get to a Major (the average was about 7-10). Now many are transitioning at 3-5yrs (or less) and some Majors have upgrades in under 2yrs when it often took decades in the past. What’s happening right now is literally unheard-of in this industry. Factor in the fact the Regionals are offering hiring bonuses in the 6 figures which would allow you to pay off your training debt almost immediately and it’s really a no-brainer.

As for San Diego one of the perks of being a pilot is you can live virtually anywhere and commute. While there aren’t many (I believe its only SkyWest) airlines with San Diego bases, there are with bases in LAX and other SoCal airports.


Thank you Adam, I HS. Or come across the average age statistic you mentioned, so that was very helpful.

One of my goals in my second career is to be home more compared to my previous job in sports which kept me on the road for 8 months straight. Of course being a pilot requires travel, and it might be more than I am looking for, but is there anything I may be overlooking that would allow for me to be home more often than not? Would flying for a shipping company, or private allow for more time at home compared to a major? Or maybe just sticking to regional?



Good to hear, Jeremy! Glad to hear my research with ATP is on the right track. And I will definitely look into CFI training programs around me now that you mentioned it, thanks!


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Pilots travel. That is by definition the job. As you gain seniority you’ll have more control over your schedule which will allow you more days off but that will come in time. Even with seniority the average pilot is away 15 days a month and junior pilots as much as 18. Cargo flying can have you away even longer. You could build seniority faster and stay at a Regional but you’d be sacrificing significant money (which you said was a goal?). Factor in days lost commuting and it gets worse but that’s really the price is admission.

As I said airline pilots travel. If you want to be home more you might want to simply flight instruct part time or just fly recreationally?



Flying for the airlines you bid for your schedule. When you’re super junior, you have little control over your schedule flying weekends and holidays and minimum days off. Typically though you’re on shorter trips, 1, 2, 3 or 4 days and then home 2 or 3. If you’re looking at charter schedules, that’s block scheduling so you’re on a rotation based on the calendar either 7 on 7 off, 8 on 6 off, of 15 on 13 off. Cargo schedules are bid on but end up being longer trips from home like 7-8 days sometimes more.

Generally speaking with all these types of flying you’ll need to be okay with 12-13 days off a month. You could find that needle in the haystack part 135 job for a local company or wealthy family in your hometown and be home most nights, but those are VERY hard to find and get hired for. Plus job security is not something you’ll find in these flying jobs. You’re out of a job as soon as the owner sells the plane, moves, etc.

Just some things to think about…


All very good information, thank you Hannah!