How to become a commercial pilot

So, I’m thinking about becoming a pilot and I’m just curious as to the process and how long it takes. (1) can I earn all my requirements at a university with a flight school such as embry riddle? (2) do I start out as a f/o when I join an airline such as united? (3) how long does it take to become a captain or become a f/o on a widebody? And lastly, (4) are the schedules of pilots very stressful and does the pilot have time to be with their family? Thank you


Please take a look at the FAQ section of this website, as well as spending some time on ATP’s main website as there is a ton of information on both websites. Answers to many of your questions canoe found with a bit of research.



First I strongly recommend for spend some QT browsing this forum as many of your questions are discussed in greater detail. To get you going here’s a few answers:

  1. Embry Riddle is a great university and sure you could earn your licenses and rating there. Thing is it’s ridiculously expensive and you’ll graduate with a degree in aviation which the airlines neither require nor desire. If you need a degree you’d be far better served saving your money going to a community or local school and doing your flight training separately at a professional flight school like ATP.

  2. Actually you’ll start at a Regional airline as an FO, then upgrade to Capt, then it’s back to FO if/when you go to a Major.

  3. Typically you’ll spend 3-5yrs at a Regional before being hired at a Major. You could get hired onto a widebody day one at a Major (it depends on their needs). Widebody Capt can vary greatly but the average is 10yrs+.

  4. All airline schedules are based on seniority. While I don’t think I’ve ever considered my schedule “stressful”, as a junior pilot it’s less than great. As you gain seniority you’ll have more control over your schedule which will allow you to spend more time with your family.



Do most pilots start at regional or is it possible to go straight to major on a narrowbody? Also, what’s the hiring process at major airlines?


The vast majority of pilots start at Regionals. In fact until very recently going straight to a Major was unheard-of. That was until ATP established their Direct Track programs with Spirit and Frontier which could enable someone to go straight to the right seat of a Boeing or Airbus. Of course these slots are highly coveted and are very competitive to obtain.

As for getting hired at a Major, that simply requires you to apply, meet their minimums and then convince them you’re someone they’d like to hire.



As you’ll see all over the forum, we do not recommend college aviation programs. They are costly and typically not very efficient. Plus when you graduate, you don’t have a backup degree for employment outside of the aviation industry in case of future furloughs. Right now there’s a pilot shortage and hiring is at an all time high, but you better believe that a downturn, or a few, can still be anticipated in the future.

Timing is everything when it comes to hiring opportunities. If you asked 10 years ago, people would laugh at the prospect of going to a major at 1500 hours. Now, some lucky few are doing it. By the time you’re there, a lot can change. I’d anticipate time at a regional and see what opportunities are available when the time comes.