Line vs Reserve differences and domicile questions

Hello all, I am a 49 yr old who is seriously considering a career as a pilot. I have read several topics her ranging from “Am I too old to start training” to numerous other topics. I realize that due to my age I will have a shorter career than most and probably stay with a regional carrier but I am fine with that.

I’ve started doing research on both flight training schools (99.99999% chance I’ll do my training at ATP) and regional airlines I might want to work at. My question is: What is the difference between Line hours and Reserve hours? Most of the airlines that I’ve looked at offer anywhere from 72 to 78 hrs of Line with the same, if not slightly different number of hours for Reserve.

I also have a question about domicile. I live in Indiana and have 5 airports within a 3 hour radius. Is it preferred to live near an airlines headquarters or is it alright to live where I do as long as the airline services one of the nearby airports??

Thanks and I look forward to your answers!! Good luck to all and happy flying!!


Hello Charles and Welcome,

Great questions. Ok hours first. When you work for an airline there are basically 2 types of schedules, Reserve or a Line (aka a bid line, a bid etc). On Reserve you’re just that, a reserve pilot and the airline will use you how, when and as much as they need you to. On a Line you get to chose when and where and with who you fly with (I’ll talk more about the pros and cons in a sec). Now I suspect the # 72-78hrs is the average Line value (amount you’ll fly and get paid for) at those airlines you’ve seen. The reality is most airlines offer “fat” and “min” lines depending on how much or little you want to fly. There’s usually a min line value (65-75hrs) which is the least you’ll get and the max is the legal limit of 100 (but most bids will keep you a little below that for contingencies). On Reserve you’ll have the same min and max but you won’t chose how much you fly, the airline will BUT you’ll be paid “min guarantee” which is that min amount of flight hours. Let’s say it’s 75hrs. On Reserve whether you fly 0 hrs - 75 you get paid for 75 hrs, if you fly over the 75 you’ll get paid that amount of hours. Thing is most airlines keep a pool of reserves and in a perfect world they’ll fly everyone the exact 75 hrs and the world’s a beautiful place but obviously things aren’t perfect. In my experience I’ve always made out money wise on reserve meaning I usually only fly 50-60hrs in the month but I get paid for 75 which is great.

There are pros and cons to both. Obviously holding a Line and being able to chose your schedule is advantageous BUT how much you actually get to chose is really a function of seniority. If you’re the very bottom line holder, you’re getting the leftovers and really won’t have that much say in it. Often it’s better to be a senior Reserve pilot because at least you can get the days off you want (which is what I do). Another positive to holding a Line is while you probably will get paid more than you fly on Reserve, you can’t get you pay up to 90-95 hrs if you need to. It’s a lot but hopefully that makes some sense?

As for domiciles I HATE commuting but most pilots do and make it work. I’d live where I like as long as you can get to work it’s fine. Btw it’s not headquarters but pilot bases you need to look at.



Thank you!! Great information and I really appreciate the explanation you gave. Luckily, all 5 of the airports that are within 3 hours of me (2 within an hour) are crew bases for various airlines. Guess I’ll just have to choose wisely!!

Thanks again!



Welcome to the forums!

The primary difference between being on reserve and being a line holder is that a line holder knows there schedule weeks in advance. Right now I know everywhere I am flying in October and when I am doing it. A reserve pilot knows what days they will be on call, but sometimes doesn’t know the destinations, or if they will even be used at all, until a few hours before the trip starts.

Pay is the same, we are all paid an hourly rate and every airline has a basic guarantee number of hours per month, generally around 75 hours. This is to protect the reserve pilot who for whatever reason doesn’t get used much, the pilot can always count on being paid the reserve guarantee. Now most line holders will fly more than 75 hours, some as much as 100 hours. So, the main advantages to being a line holder pilot are a more predictable schedule and the ability to earn more income.

Choosing where to live as a pilot can be a big decision. It doesn’t matter where the airline is headquartered, it matters where they have pilot bases (domiciles). Many pilots chose to move to their domicile, they typically enjoy the ability to pickup extra trips last minute, drive to and from work and not worry about the stress of commuting. that being said, many pilots chose to “commute” from their residence to their domicile. This allows a pilot to live just about anywhere they want, which is a hufe benefit of the job. The downside to this is that commuting takes time and can be stressful. The airline will not guarantee you a seat on an airplane, so you have to find one that has seats available. There is always an extra seat in the cockpit, but there can be competition for that as well.

Both commuting and living in base have advantages to them, it just depends on what is important to you.

Where do you live in Indiana? My family is from South Bend.



Thanks for the information!! Very informative and helps a lot!!

I’m in New Castle, approx. 30 miles east of Indianapolis, for now. My fiance and I are planning to move down to the Jeffersonville area just north of Louisville sometime next year so I can start my training with ATP.

I grew up in Mishawaka area most of my life, lived in SB for a short period and still have 2 brothers and a grandmother in that area.



My grandmother graduated from Mishawaka High and my grandfather from Riley. I still have my family summer home on Birch Lake, near Cassopolis. Small world :slight_smile:

Let us know what other questions you have. We are always happy to help.


Wow, really small world!!! I attended Riley my freshman year then transferred over to Penn High School!!

I appreciate your time in answering everyone’s questions, you guys do a great job from what I’ve been reading!!

Thanks again and fly safe!!


Anytime, that is what we are here for :slight_smile:

Hey guys!

Quick question of line and reserve flying. Can pilots switch back and forth easily from line and reserve, or are they stuck flying for one or the other when they’re hired? If they can switch back and forth, what does that look like?



Again the answer to this question is based on seniority. In the beginning of your career you may find yourself with no choice and that often means reserve. But after you gain some seniority you bid for what you want and that could mean reserve or it could be a line. Most pilots prefer a line because they want to know where they’re going, who they’re flying with and when. Personally I don’t care I’m all about days off when I want them. I can hold a line but I get better days off and often better trips on reserve so I usually bid that. You can go back and forth from month to month but you cannot within the month itself. Make sense?



At United it is common for junior line holding pilots to bid reserve during the holiday months to help ensure that they have Christmas off. The switch can be made on a monthly basis.


Hello Chris, Adam, Charles and Brandon,

Your questions and answers have helped me a lot, thank you for your openness and candor on this forum.

I am at a similar point to several contributors on here. I am 46 years old, live in NW Indiana and was recently laid off (with severance) and contemplating a career change. I enjoyed many aspects of my financial services career but not all and always felt something was missing. I have loved flying since I was 5 years old and got a short taste of it in the military in my 20’s but no flying in the past 16 years. I feel I need flying in my life again in some form, either as my career or my hobby. I paid for my FAA PPL in 1998 but haven’t kept it up since emigrating to the US in 2001.

My current challenges are:-

(A) Wife and children concerned about the financial impact and not seeing me much
(B) Prospects for hiring as a 48 year old ATP graduate

My questions are:-

Chris and Adam. 1 of my 3 questions is quite personal in nature so I will understand if you prefer not to get into details but it is where I am mentally right now.

(1) Were your wives and children supportive as you entered ATP flight school and if not, did they change as they saw you doing something you loved or did they discover the schedule wasn’t as bad as they thought and there were actually hidden perks to having a husband/father who is a pilot, with a pilots schedule?

(2) Have you known any ATP trainees who had wives and families and if so, how did they manage the cost of the course And the need to still provide income at home? Loans? Jobs?

(3) What is the percentage of ATP Graduates who secure a position within 6-12 months of completing their 1,500 hours? Does age seem to have any bearing with the airlines?

Yours truly,


Hi Jason and welcome.

Great questions so here goes:

  1. No my wife was not supportive at all (my kids were but they were young at the time so really weren’t that aware). Honestly my wife thought I had lost my mind and basically threw me out for a time. It was a challenging time but as I’ve said in the past, flying for me was more than a change of career, it was something I needed to do to save my sanity. I wasn’t a happy guy and needed a MAJOR change in lifestyle. That’s changed considerably over the years. Schedules do improve, the money returns (and then some) the travel benefits are awesome and apparently when it comes to the “well my husband is…” competition, airline pilot is a pretty strong hand :slight_smile:

  2. I’ve known many ATP students with families including of course myself and I won’t lie, the financial aspects are tough and take some planning. As for just getting through the training you’re obviously not getting paid so some preparation is in order. I needed to save some cash and tighten my belt considerably. Fortunately for you things have changed ALOT since I went through the process and it appears to be less painful. ATP’s instructor pay is double what it was when I did my training, the Regionals are offering Tuition Reimbursement and first year Regional pay is almost triple what it was. It will require some sacrifice but considerably less than it had been.

  3. I couldn’t tell you the % that get hired but what I can tell you is the Regionals are desperate for qualified pilots. They’re actively recruiting ATP students at 500hrs which is a year before you’ll even be eligible to take the job (I’ve been out for 14yrs and I get recruitment emails). While there are no guarantees, if you do well in training and have a clean record (arrests, DUIs, etc) you will get hired. As for your age it will not effect you at all getting hired at a Regional. In fact it may help you since all the 20 and 30 somethings will be trying to get to a Major ASAP and you may or may not be (which is another conversation).

Hope that helps.



  1. I was 22 when I signed up for ATP, so I didnrt have a wife and certainly didn’t have children. I did get married later and my wife was not very thrilled with the job, but that was because she also refused to move to a base. I was commuting from ORF to EWR and spending quite a bit of time doing it, which took a large amount of time away from my family. We ended up separating, but not because of that reason. If I were you I would commit to either working for an airline with an ORD base or moving to wherever you end up being based.

  2. I have known people to go through the course while having families. They either saved up money in advance, or their wives continued to work and they tightened their belts. I would not recommend taking out loans for living expenses.

  3. I am not sure of a percentage, but I can tell you that it is very high. As Adam said, make sure your record is clean and you do well in the program and as an instructor and you should be fine. At the upper age limit age can of course become a factor, but you are nowhere near that.

Where in Indiana are you from? My family is all from Mishawaka and South Bend.


Hi Chris,

Thank you for your quick and candid response, I appreciate your thoughtful answers.

I live near to Valparaiso so I have the sand dunes, the beaches, Valparaiso airport and Chicago all within easy reach.

Wow, Norfolk to Newark is a hike - my former commute to Naperville seems easy by contrast.

I think I am going to put my severance in the bank and save until I have enough money to do this without discomfort. In the meantime, I intend to refresh my FAA PPL…for years I didn’t do it because people in my life felt strongly about the risks but after driving Chicago freeways for 5 years it puts the relative risk into perspective!

Where could I go to research what airlines have a base at O’Hare or Midway? Does South Bend airport have any carriers?



Hi Jason,

Two places:


Doesn’t look like anyone really has anything at SBN.



Go to, there is a pilot domicile tool on there that will help you find the various bases that different airlines offer. No airline has a base in SBN, but obviously many do at ORD.

Let me know that other questions you have.


Adam, did your marriage survive the transition? I’m 44 with 2 kids under 4 and make reasonably good money (it would take probably 7 years at a regional to catch up to where I am now), and don’t know that I could ask my family to sacrifice what it would take to make the career change (my wife right now is a SAHM), but have always dreamt of flying for an airline. How old were your kids at the time? I’d love to hear the story from your wife’s perspective.


When I sold my business and decided to take the plunge my kids were 10, 12, and 14. Initially my wife thought I was “insane” and we split for a few years (subsequently getting back together). I won’t lie, it was a HUGE sacrifice and I missed a lot of holidays, baseball games, dances etc. But here’s the thing. Before I started flying while I was financially supporting my family that was the full extent of my support. I was a very unhappy person and while I was “there” in body, I was not in spirit. While I was physically present at the games and events I really wasn’t there at all (which I personally feel was worse). Truth is my wife should’ve kicked me out before my decision to fly because in reality I was a lousy husband except for paying the bills.

It’s many years later and I have a very good relationship with my entire family. While I readily confess when I decided to become a pilot the decision was completely selfish on my part (as it was something I felt I needed to do for my own sanity), I know for a fact if I hadn’t my marriage wouldn’t have survived much longer and I’m reasonably confident my relationship with my children would have suffered as well. It was again a HUGE sacrifice for all concerned but I believe it was worth it when all’s said and done.



Thank you Adam for being so transparent about your story. And thank you to all the pilot mentors here, I love that this is a place that really paints an unbiased picture of the pros and cons of the process of becoming a pilot and the lifestyle of it. I almost pursued this career path about 20 years ago and heard horror stories about the lifestyle and that it was nearly impossible to become an airline pilot without coming from the military … and even today you can go on Quora and see lots of pilots who hate their job discouraging others from taking that career path. A big part of me wishes that this forum existed back then (I guess it would have been an AOL keyword or old school bulletin board) - it may have given me the info I would have needed to pull the trigger when the sacrifice would have been more appropriate for my stage of life.

Thanks again, if I do nothing more than vicariously live a pilot life through you guys I will be forever grateful for finding this forum.