Real Answers from Real Pilots

Life as a FO for a regional airline

For those who are currently working for a regional airline or those who have worked for a regional. Can you describe briefly your experience of how it was the first couple years working for a regional airline as a FO? Even the first year or two as a captain for a regional airline. I really would like to know everyone’s experiences and thoughts. Now I know from airline to airline it will vary. How many nights out roughly? For your first few months are you generally on stand by and then get on schedule flights as you build seniority? And roughly how far out in advance do you typically know your flight schedule. I believe it’s month to month bidding on flights?

Thanks everyone in advance!

Chris

Chris,

What you’re asking requires a novel. There are simply so many variables based on so many factors I honestly don’t know where to begin?

As you’re aware you’ll be starting at the bottom and simply get whatever is leftover as far as schedules go. That said depending on base, equipment and individual preference your life could be pretty bad or not bad at all. I’ll give you an example. When I was hired at Xjt I was awarded EWR as a base. EWR was Xjts most junior base. People were either scared of the NY area, couldn’t afford or simply wanted to be closer to their homes. I lived 30min from EWR so I was happy. Next EWR was well staffed and Reserve pilots didn’t fly much. That meant people bid Reserve and I got a line right off the bat. Then I came to learn the EWR pilots didn’t like to fly alot and hated Mexico trips. I wanted to fly, loved Mexico and got to go there every week. That was my experience and it was great. That said if you were commuting from the West Coast, didn’t want to fly and hated Mexico life was pretty lousy.

All airlines you bid the beginning of the month and by the 15th you’ll know what you’re doing for the following month.

Take a look at Tory’s schedule and you can see how it involved but in short again I thought life was great but many thought it was one step away from digging ditches in the desert.

Adam

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Chris,

The first few years at an airline are really dedicated to learning. You will have experiences that you never had in general aviation, which is a great thing. Be sure to approach those experiences with a mind for learning. Pay attention to your Captains, most will be great, some not so great, but there is something to be learned from all of them.

You might be on reserve for a few months, but it could be a few years, it depends on how many people are hired behind you. As you do get seniority, you will become a line holder.

At the airlines I have worked for, you generally know your schedule on the fifteenth of the month for the ensuing month.

Chris

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  • I bid for next months schedule around the 16th and know my schedule around the 20th.

  • I fly the CRJ and was only on Reserve 2months. My girlfriend is on the ERJ and has only had a line 3months in 2yrs. (Timeline Changes all the time depending on many factors).

  • Reserve is on call 18days, how often you get called depends on alot of factors. With Covid, might not get called the whole month. Pre-Covid called for atleast 1/2 those days.

  • Lineholder - 14-22 days per month. I worked 22days / month by picking up over-time. I would say 17days flying is the average for new guys.

Captain life depends on when you upgrade and if you have a choice. I’m bidding to take first upgrade, so my life will be very JR and likely on a Reserve for a year. If I delay my upgrade I could do it when more senior and maybe not be reserve at all. A lot of people choose to wait awhile to upgrade so they avoid reserve or atleast can bid for the days off they want on reserve. More JR = Less choice

Chris F

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Chris,

Feel free to look at my schedule (
https://airlinepilot.life/c/schedules/torys-schedule/11) but keep in mind that my schedules do not reflect a typical schedule for most pilots with low seniority.

I was hired at the same time that Horizon began training pilots in the E175. The timing of me hitting 1500 hours just so happened to line up with Horizon’s second class of E175 pilots.

As I approached the upgrade minimums, the E175 was still junior enough for me to upgrade directly into it without delay. That again, put me in an irregular position. I never saw a month of reserve except for the one month I bid for reserve intentionally (not a good idea in hindsight).

Tory

Thank you to everyone that answered. I appreciate the insight. And Tory I have look at you schedule, when Chris or Adam suggested that. Thanks for posting it! Just helps someone realize what to expect after school. Thanks again everyone. I can not thank you guys and girls enough. This is one great forum!!!

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Hi Adam,

Can you clarify this a bit? Some people intentionally bid reserve in order to not fly? Seems baffling to me at this stage but I guess everyone has their priorities.

Alex

Alex,

Depending on the staffing and the situation at any particular airline, MANY pilots intentionally bid Reserve, myself included.

First off I know you’re eager and anxious to get your hands on a jet, and don’t misunderstand, after 15yrs I still LOVE my job. BUT, in time you may come to realize the only thing better than getting paid to fly an airplane is getting paid to NOT fly an airplane. Think about it, if the airline is properly staffed and they know all the flights they have every day, all they have to do is build schedules and cover all the trips. Easy and done. The reason for Reserves is exactly that. To be in reserve. Reserve pilots are extra pilots to be used in the event of abnormalities (someone calls in sick, a plane and crew gets stuck somewhere for weather or maintenance, etc). If you’re airline has good maintenance (which most do) and your pilots are healthy (which most are) there really isn’t generally a great need for extra pilots. Now regardless of whether you’re a lineholder or reserve all pilots get paid a minimum monthly guarantee (usually around 75hrs). You get paid that 75hrs whether you fly 0hrs or 75hrs, doesn’t make a difference. So the question becomes would you rather get paid 75hrs to fly a regular schedule OR 75hrs to stay home with the family and friends?

Now of course there are a few caveats. First of all Reserve stinks if you commute. Nothing worse than having to fly 2 legs to get to work only to sit there waiting for a call that never comes and having to pay for a hotel or crashpad. I don’t commute. In fact I’ve never lived more than 30 min from the airport. All airlines have Reserve call min notification times (there’s usually long and short call. Long is 12hrs notice, short 2 or 3). 12hrs is easy but even if it’s only 2, I keep a shirt ironed and a bag packed and I go about my business.

Next there are times when the airline isn’t properly staffed (bad weather for days causing rolling delays and cancelations, new destinations or added segments, etc). As a Reserve you’ll get called first and possibly often, get your days off canceled, get your duty times pushed to the legal limit. Getting paid to do nothing sometimes comes at a price. There are generally far less protections as to how you can be used and sometimes it stings.

Finally if you really want to fly, either because you just like or want to make more money, Reserve pilots have less ability to pick up trips or enhance their schedules. Also many pilots simply want to know where they’re going when and with who. Like anything else it’s a choice (unless you’re junior and get assigned it). For me it works out really well. I usually fly about 30-40hrs a month and if one of those trips comes on a day I had off that gets added on top so I’ll be getting paid 80-85hrs for only flying 40 (its like double-time) and end up with many more days off in a month. For me it’s a great deal.

Adam

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Alex,

I am intentionally bidding reserve right now. I have been flying for 16 years, while I still very much enjoy the job, sometimes a bit of a break is nice. Reserve pays 72 hours, while flying a full schedule would pay me about 80 hours. I worked six days all of last month and still made full pay.

Chris

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How does the airline decide who to call in from reserve? Is it based on seniority or number of hours already flown for that month? In other words, is it possible for one very senior reserve pilot to fly 0 hours and a junior reserve pilot to fly the full minimum guarantee for one month at the same base? Or, would both reserve pilots fly about the same number of hours that month?

Thank you for your time.

Mathew

Matt,

It depends on each airlines rules defined by the contract. It also depends on the company’s interpretation of those rules.

At my airline, reserve pilots are given an equal amount of flying, though our contract doesn’t explicitly say that that’s how it is supposed to work.

Tory

Matt,

As Tory said it can vary from company to company but my airline tries to keep it fair. They do what’s called “leveling” in the contract. So once you’ve flown you basically go to the bottom of the list. The idea is for every pilot to fly approximately the same amount of hours each month. Obviously it can never be exact.

Adam

Hi Chris,

This makes sense. After all, it’s a job. If the choice is getting paid to work vs getting paid to not work, I guess it’s no hard to see why you might choose not to work :slight_smile:

Alex

Matt,

Each airline has a slightly different methodology to who they call on reserve. At my airline we use a “first in, first out” method that to be honest, I do not fully understand. It does seem to spread the flying around pretty equally though. Of course on reserve days, you can also volunteer to go first, or to pick up a certain trip.

Chris