"Lower tier"

Sorry to bother with my second question in about an hour, but I was wondering, since Adam mentions this a good amount. What makes an airline “lower tier?” I’ve heard mentions that jetBlue is lower-tier but SouthWest isn’t for example (aren’t they both LCCs anyway?). Is it prestige of the airline? Or quality of contract that makes them so? Maybe when comparing United for example to Spirit, you could make a comparison since United goes international? Also, are all regionals “lower tier” or is there a hierarchy of those airlines as well?


When we mention “lower tier” it’s generally just a way to differentiate and we don’t mean to disparage or say one airline is better than another but yes in most cases we’re talking pay and equipment WITHIN the category (Regional, Major, Legacy etc). As far as the Regionals go back in the day there were some big gaps between many of the airlines but since the shortage all the airlines have been forced to come up to the bar. I think your SWA/JB comparison is probably the best example (or Atlas and FedEx/UPS). Both fly similar sized aircraft and similar routes but SWA’s has had one of the highest pay structures in the industry (including international Legacies). That creates a greater competition for pilot slots which allows the airline to become much more selective and therefore raises the “prestige” of the airline.

Much of this really is very subjective and each individual may hold a particular airline (airlines) in a better (higher) position than others based solely on their own criteria. Some pilots it’s all about pay, others it’s flying international, others it’s a particular aircraft. If you grew up in Boston and flew JetBlue your whole life you may have that seed planted that you want to fly for them. If that’s your dream there’s nothing wrong with it. No one can tell anyone else which airline is best (although many pilots will and do look down their noses at others). I had a friend who was at SWA making a ton of money. He took a very significant pay cut and loss of seniority (and therefore quality of life) because he wanted to fly for Continental. He had gotten hired at SWA (which is no easy thing) because he had many friends there (former military) who all told him how great it was there, and it was. Problem was he grew up in Jersey and been watching that Continental globe takeoff and land since he was a kid and had always dreamed off flying one of their heavies to Europe and Asia. The money and great work rules SWA provided couldn’t scratch that itch and he finally gave in to it. Everyone said he was crazy. His life, his choice and his perspective of which airline is “better” than which. That said most pilots will tell you the best airline is the one that hires you :slight_smile:



I just want to fly and have a good quality of life. I’m sure everything else will come sooner or later​:grinning::flight_departure::flight_arrival:



Keep that attitude and you will have a great career.


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Thanks Adam! Makes sense.


There is no official definition of the airline tiers, but I would say that the regionals are all third tier as they roughly have the same compensation packages. Then there are Airlines like Spirit, and JetBlue that are certainly a step up, but in no way have the same pay and benefits as the legacy carriers.

Then there are the real Yankees and Mets of the Airlines, the legacy carriers such as United and American. These airlines have the best compensation and benefits, making them the most desirable places to work and thus first tier airlines.


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Thanks Chris!