Where do LCCs (other than SWA) fit in a typical career progression? What qualification does one need to have to qualify to LCCs and do people normally use it just to get more experience before getting to legacy airlines or would most pilots consider LCCs as their final career stop?
I am curious because pilots normally talk about typical regional to major airline career progression, but LCCs are rarely mentioned.
Good question and let me start by saying opinions on the subject may obviously vary but this is mine. While I have a number of friends flying for LCCs (Spirit, JetBlue, Allegiant) and they’re all fine airlines, I think it’s safe to say no one grows up thinking “one day I’m going to fly for Spirit”! The goal for most pilots are the Majors. For some it’s the equipment, others the destinations and many it’s simply for the big bucks. The truth is the LCCs offer none of the above. The Regionals will grab you with your 1500 hrs, stick you in a jet and help you’ll gain some valuable time and experience. Kind of a no brainer there for an entry level gig. In a perfect world you’ll spend 5-7 yrs at a Regional, apply to the Major of your dreams, get the call and live happily ever after moving up the food chain, gaining seniority, upgrading, moving on to bigger planes, marry a flight attendant, have a few kids, get divorced, marry a different flight attendant (who understands you better) have a few more kids, etc etc. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world. So let’s say you’ve been at your Regional for 5+ years and you’ve applied to the Big 3 but no joy. Maybe you didn’t get called for and interview or worse maybe you have and got the “thanks but no thanks”. Your friends are starting to move on and all of a sudden your the SENIOR guy surrounded by all the newbies. Sadly this is more common than you think. At this point you’ll probably know a pilot or 2 that bailed for an LCC. They’re getting paid better, flying an Airbus and they know a pilot or 2 who made the leap to a Major from there so you say ok let’s give this a shot and go that way. Thing is most of the LCC guys I know are and have been there for a while. You see I believe the Majors don’t see much difference between a senior RJ Capt and a junior LCC FO.
Personally I agree and never saw much point in the move. Now if for some reason you see things are stalling EARLY on at your Regional and want to sidestep to an LCC EARLY make more money and fly bigger equipment that’s fine but again I don’t think you’re getting to the big show any sooner. I was fortunate, I wanted Hawaiian and got it so it wasn’t a conversation I needed to have with myself. If I hadn’t (particularly at my age) I probably would’ve went to Atlas to grow old and die.
Not sure I answered your question but I dont think you hear many pilots talking about LCCs out of fear. It’s like saying Beetlejuice 3 times
Thank you for your prompt and detailed response!
You mentioned that majors don’t have a preference when it comes to regional CA vs. LCC FO. What is the reason why PIC time in a regional jet is not more valuable to majors than a FO time in A320 or similar at a LCC? Is it because the bigger plane or because LCCs are more reputable than regional airlines?
It’s neither. LCCs are not more reputable than Regionals and the only one impressed with the size of your jet are student pilots and your non flying friends. If you’re an LCC FO chances are you’ve already gotten your turbine PIC at the Regionals so you can check that box so it really comes down to building hours and experience. Like I said it’s really a wash.
Thank you. That makes sense. Basically, at that point one chooses between QOL as a regional CA vs. potential to make more money at an LCC, but as far as getting to majors, both paths are equally good?
In my humble opinion yes.
LCCs like Spirit or JetBlue are increasingly being used as stepping stones to the majors. I am flying with a fair number of pilots recently that worked at LCCs in between the regionals and the majors.
I will disagree with Adam on this. At my airline I am increasingly seeing pilots come from the LCCs, it seems like United really values the larger jet time and the experience that comes with it.
One point not mentioned is it seems as if making an extra stop at an LCC can be beneficial in terms of being desirable to the majors, is that the LCC’s are competitors to the majors, where as the regionals provide feed to the majors, and therefore by hiring you, are leaving a void in their own feed.
I could be wrong, but it seems to make sense.
Additionally, a new type rating, will often trigger a review of your application for the majors, so you could be called quickly once you pass another training event, either initial on a new type, or upgrade on same type.
While I agree that the Majors may be reluctant to cannibalize their feed, I’ve never heard of anyone getting hired for getting a new type or passing a training event.
Thanks Adam for the insight. I really wasn’t totally sure about what I stated as it’s more 2nd and 3rd hand info.