Questions before the big journey!

Hello! This is my first time reporting to this wonderful community! First of all, I want to thank all the mentors and former/current students for providing all the answers and information so kindly and patiently. This is such an invaluable support for prospective pilots, and I’m truly thankful and motivated. I think the very existence of this forum was one of the major deciding factors in choosing ATP for me.

Sorry I have so many questions! My head is all over the place, but my mind is already flying into the clear blue sky! :slight_smile:

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last 4.5yrs. Before I became a mom, I had a couple of major career changes due to my husband’s relocation. The last position I held before our little girl arrived was what led me to my dream of becoming a pilot. I was a red coat agent for Delta’s regional airline. As I saw those amazing machines soaring off into the sunrise every morning, my dream to be in the cockpit grew and grew. After having lived my dream life of raising my children at home, I’m finally ready to take the next step to make my new career goal come true. So here I go!

(I’m aware some of these topics have been covered in the forum before, but also noticed that they’re slightly outdated. In this fast changing world, I want to make sure I have up-to-date info/perspectives. Thank you!)

1. Is my life going to be manageable during the ATP fast track training? Should I consider the Flex track?
I’m a mother of 2 young children, 4yrs old and 20mos old. They’re now both in daycare from 9-5. While my husband and I are both determined to do what it takes, I would appreciate some clear and realistic advice on how my life with young kids may look. I do not want to jeopardize my family’s well being and my mental health in any dramatic way. Would it be worth considering Flex track, which is more expensive? If you had a family with young children during your training and/or first few years of your pilot career, please share your experience. Any advice/encouragement are greatly appreciated!

2. 1-hour commuting!
Has anyone dealt with a long commute between the training center and home? The closest training center is LGB and it is about 30mi (roughly 1-hr drive) away from where I live. I wonder if anyone has done a similar (or worse?!) commuting and if there is a way to make that time more productive.

3. What does your schedule/life look like for the first couple of years as a regional airline pilot? How long does it take to reach seniority where you feel more comfortable and satisfied?
I totally understand I’ll be picking up less desirable lines for a long time and will be away from home a couple days in a row, but I want to really understand what my family and I should expect, aka “the worst case scenario.” What is newbie pilots’ life like? I’m already dreaming of the day when I look back and say, “wow I’ve come a long way, and now I’m pretty happy with my lines and schedule!”

4. How are the written tests conducted?
I’ll have to be out of the country for a couple of months while I get ready to start my full-time training. Are any of the tests conducted online where I could take them while I’m abroad? How flexible are the availability of these 6 tests? You can pick any day/time of the year?

5. Can you please see if my plan sounds reasonable?
My plan is to make an FAA medical appointment ASAP, complete my introductory training flight (very excited about this!), student loan secured, and pay my deposit so I can have access to all the studying materials for the written tests. I will need some time to wrap up my situation and be ready to fully dedicate myself to ATP training, so I’ll probably set my start date to be sometime in the September-October of this year. So the goal is to knock out all the written tests before that time. Please share your thoughts on how feasible it sounds! Am I missing anything?

Your time and thoughtfulness to answer my questions are genuinely appreciated! I’m very excited to be a part of the aspiring pilots community where we all support each other.

Have a wonderful day, everyone!

Welcome Hyeon,

  1. The Fast-Track program is a full-time commitment and then some. To be successful it really requires your full undivided attention. There will be late nights, and some phases of the program will be away from home for 2-4 weeks at a time. Unless you have arrangements for your kids to be taken care of 24/7, then I think the Flex Track program would might be a better fit.

While I am exaggerating a bit about needing around the clock care for your kids if you were in the Fast-Track program, I am just trying to emphasize that your program needs to come first. We don’t even recommend that students work part-time while in the program. Being a parent is a full-time job in it of itself. You would need a rock solid support system so that you could dedicate 100% of your time to your studies whenever necessary.

  1. A 1 hour commute is probably the longest commute that I would like to see. That said, I lived in LA for 5 years. There’s no such thing as a commute less than an hour :smiley:

Productivity just comes down to time management. There’s an article in the FAQ section about how to be successful in the program. While it doesn’t specifically address the challenges of commuting, it does provide a good general baseline.

  1. I post my schedule every month. You can see them in the Schedules section. Go back to the beginning from when I was a new hire at Horizon and you can get an idea.

Generally speaking, a new hire can expect to work weekends and holidays. Most new hires also start on reserve. The length of time on reserve varies from person to person and airline to airline. The problem is by the time you are ready to upgrade to captain at a regional, that’s about when your schedule is starting to get better, but once you upgrade, your relative seniority among captains drops down to the bottom again and you have to build your seniority up again.

And then when you get hired at a major airline, guess what? You’re the newbie again.

  1. There is info on the written tests on ATP’s website and on this forum. The tests are conducted in person at designated testing facilities. Some are co-located with ATP’s training centers. The tests cannot be taken online.

Scheduling is handled by ATP. They will do their best to work with your schedule.

One important note about the written tests is that they are by no means required to be completed before enrolling in the program. Depending on your age, it may actually be more beneficial for you to start the program ASAP and just do your best to complete as many of the written tests as you can. Even if you don’t complete any of them, there is still time during the program to take them. The point is, you shouldn’t postpone your start date just because you are trying to complete all of the written tests. If the timing just so happens to work out that way, then by all means. But it shouldn’t be a priority. Starting the program should be your priority so you can start building that seniority at the airlines.

  1. I like your plan except for what I said about the written tests above. Otherwise, it sounds like a good plan.

You also need to think about which program would be the best fit for you given your situation. ATP structures their program to be modeled after the airline training environment. I am currently training at Alaska Airlines and my wife and I only have one kid and I still need her support on most training days just so I have enough time to review the next lesson.

Tory

Hyeon,

Lots of questions and as you say most are answered in our FAQ and in other threads but I get the sense you’re looking for some encouragement even though you already know what we’re going to say.

  1. No not at all. The Fast Track compresses years with of training into months and requires a 100% commitment of your time and attention. Failure to do so will result in you being unsuccessful which will impact your entire career. I’m not in a position to judge or tell anyone what to do but I cannot imagine doing the program with a an infant and a 4yo at home. To be successful you need the support of your family and small children need their parents and won’t understand when you’re not there for them. If you are there then you won’t be focusing on your training. Factor in a 2hr commute and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Id look at the Flex Track or wait until your children are older

  2. 1hr isn’t ideal but that is the most Id consider doable IF it’s really a 1hr commute. If it’s 1hr on a Sunday morning and 2-3 during the week it won’t work.

  3. You’ll be on Reserve and gone at least half the month. You’ll have the days off the company needs you, not those you want. Forget birthdays, ball games, recitals, holidays. After a year or maybe more things will improve but as pilots again we travel and even with a great schedule you will be gone more than you’re home.

  4. None of the tests are conducted online as they all must be proctored. Depending on where you’ll be you may be able to find a testing center.

  5. Id do the intro flight before the medical unless you have some concerns. If not it’s more important you experience what its like to sit up front in a small training aircraft. Watching RJs depart or sitting in the back of an Airbus has nothing to do with actual flying and while you may love it you may not. As for the rest it sounds reasonable other than your family situation.

You say “After having lived my dream life of raising my children at home” and frankly I’m confused. Again this is your decision and your life but Id hardly call a 2 and 4yo “raised”. Ultimately this is a decision for your and your husband and if you both can make it work that’s great but understand this is a huge commitment and not something to be taken lightly.

Adam

Thank you so much for taking your time to answer my questions, Tory!

  1. Thank you for your inputs! The main reasons why I wanted to explore the Full Track option are because the children will be at daycare and my husband has a more flexible schedule and is committed to supporting me. I’m definitely nervous and worried. I understand this is going to be very hard, but I’m also encouraged that I cannot be the only or the first one to accomplish the program with a family.

  2. True that there’s no such thing as a short commute! lol. If I can wait out the morning rush hour, it will take me about 40min (it’s about 9:25am now) Is this something that ATP instructors and I can work out for scheduling?

  3. I can see a long, looooong time of not being able to call my weekend a weekend or holiday a holiday. Thank you for the outlook!

I really appreciate your honest advice. I’ve been overlooking the fact that ATP training is modeled after airline training, and that is something I’ll keep in mind and be prepared for in the long term.

Thank you!

Thank you so much for taking your time to answer my questions, Adam! You’re absolutely right in that I needed some encouragement.

  1. I read that you also did your training in your 30s with a family, so your advice is so valuable! To clarify the “After having lived my dream life of raising my children at home” part, what I meant was that I dreamed of being home when they were little babies (because my parents worked when I was little.) Now that the kids are in daycare and school, I wanted to start focusing on my career again.

The main reasons why I want to explore the Fast Track option are:
a) I’m not the income source the family is depending on.
b) The kids will be in daycare from 9-5 with my husband’s job allowing flexibility to respond to emergencies related to the children. He is also committed to supporting me for this.

I really need to be realistic in planning this out though. Thank you for following my thought process.

  1. As far as the commute, it should be more like 40min if I can wait out until the morning traffic dies down at 9am. Is this something I can work out with my ATP instructors?

  2. How do I go about getting the intro flight before the FAA medical? Are there some places you can direct me to?

Thank you again for your honest thoughts and suggestions!

Hyeon,

Welcome to the forum. I in no way mean to dissuade you from your dreams, but if you hang around this forum long enough, you will realize that we give real, unvarnished advice. I do not see a way possible for you to attend ATP’s program, or really any flight school’s program, and be both a successful parent and student pilot. You can probably do one or the other, but not both.

The only way you could possibly do this is with the Flex Track program, that would give you some time to parent and also study. Keep in mind that when you are not at the training center, you will need to be home studying, there is not much free time in the Fast Track program.

I think a one hour commute would be the max I would suggest doing, but it is significant.

As for your schedule as a new hire pilot, it will be tough and some of it depends on you. Do you plan on commuting to your base, or moving to your base? The answer to that question will have a significant impact on how much you are home. Either way though, plan no more than twelve days off for many years to come.

On paper, your goal sounds okay, but I think it leaves off the part where you might want to spend some time with your children. Again, I think the Flex Track is the only option that would work, but it is of course your choice. Keep in mind that there are no “Flex Tracks” when it comes to being an airline pilot, it is a full time job, all the time.

Chris

You mean like actual planned days off for events you “must” go to? Like we’ll still have several days off a month but they are just whatever our airline decides they are correct? Just trying to completely understand this. Appreciate it!

I’ll chime in a bit here about going through with a young family.

I’m just over halfway through the full time program, I have three kids, 5, 2.5, and 2mo. My youngest was born while in the program obviously.

There’s been times where I haven’t seen my kids for a couple days in a row. I commute by train to the training center 2 hours each way. I’d have to leave at 5am before they wake up, and I’d get home at 9pm after they’d gone to bed. Then there’s the time building part during crew where I was gone for a week straight. Based in LGB this may not be an issue for you though, but you’d still be gone for about three days at a time during crew.

Then I’ll have CFI Academy where I’ll be away from home for another week and a half or so.

My wife is a stay at home mom, and we’re currently living with my in-laws so she has TONS of support, which may be the only reason my wife doesn’t hate me right now :wink:.

If your husband is ok being a single parent for a couple days or a week at a time every once in a while through training, and then even more often when you’re at an airline, you could probably make it work.

Hyeon,

Let’s clear a couple of things. First I started my training at 39 and my youngest was 9. That’s a far cry from 2 and 4 and my wife was a stay at home mom.

You can to some degree set up a schedule with your instructor but there will be weekends, days you’ll need to start before 9 and there will be might flights as well. When you crew and go to CFI school you will be away for a few weeks as well. ATP is not a Mon-Fri 9-5 situation.

ATP has a great Intro Flight program:

Adam

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That is impressive! 4 hours commuting everyday. You should get an award and when you are finally making that pilot money you better get your wife something nice!! :wink:

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She deserves more than I can give her :laughing:.
She loves traveling so we’ll be doing lots of that, however we can make it work with that pilot schedule.

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Raffaele,

Yes, that is essentially correct.

Chris

Your commute is your responsibility. As you can see Galen commutes two hours each way by train and he makes it work with his schedule. Not the other way around.

More likely than not your instructor will have a similar commute to yours. The instructor will schedule events based on weather and aircraft availability.

You will know what your schedule will be the night before, but if you are concerned about your commute the safest thing to do is to just get to the training center first thing in the morning.

Going back to what I said about ATP modeling their program after the airlines, the same is true for pilots that commute from out of state. Each pilot is responsible for reporting for duty on-time, even if that means that the pilot has to rent a crash pad near the airport and commute into their base the night before. This is a common practice among commuters.

As the others have said as long as your husband is willing to take on the responsibility of being a single parent while you are in the program then the fast track program could be an option for you.

Tory

Thank you so much Galen for your reply and sharing your story!

What we have in common is our partners’ full support and understanding. Pilot training sounds impossible without that. What I don’t have is the kind of extended family support you have, which really would’ve given us more room to breathe.

I supported my husband throughout his higher education and post-doc training. We have a solid foundation of trust and dedication. This will be my key to success. My only concern is how much I will miss my children, but I know how kids are more resilient than they look and will adjust faster than I do.

I’ll be honest that I feel slightly discouraged to have heard from 3 mentors that they do not recommend the Fast Track option for my situation. I truly appreciate the honest opinions, and I will give more thoughts about the Flex Track option.

What you said about how much my husband is willing to support is where I got the encouragement I needed. And your 4hr commute everyday makes my 2hr commute seem more manageable! haha

What I wanted to gain from asking about the family situation was to know that I’m not alone. Some emotional support from the fellow aspiring pilots and active pilots who have gone through it.

So please, can you provide me with some details of what your day to day / monthly life looks like during training? How much do you really get to spend time with your family each week? (Should I expect 1 day at the most, or none?) How much time is dedicated to flight/ground training/sim each day plus any personal studying needed? (For example, do you spend appx. 3hrs on each everday?)

Thank you again for your time! I know your time is gold, and I really really appreciate it so much!

Hi Tory,

Thank you for more info and advice! I’m really amazed by how dedicated all the mentors are!

If I do choose the Flex Track, of course I’ll still try my best to finish the program as early as possible, hopefully in less than 18mos. I see that one of the major differences between Fast and Flex is who the student flies with for the Crew-Style Cross-Country Stage. While the Fast Track students fly with another instrument rated pilot, the Flex students fly with an instructor. Can you please explain what this is, and what difference this makes?

Also, the website states that transportation for CFI Academy is provided by the ATP for the Fast Track students whereas it is not for the Flex Track students. What does this really mean?

Thank you again for taking time out of your busy day!

Hi @Chris,

I’ll definitely give deep thoughts about the Flex Track program. Thank you for your honest and unvarnished advice! It may just be what works better for me and my family.

Your question about my plan to commute to my base brings up another question! So, how does this “your base” work? Does your airline initially offer some bases to choose from upon employment, or is it simply assigned to you?

I plan to complete my training while we’re in California where we currently live, but we have a plan to move to Houston, TX in about 2 years. Does ATP allow for a transfer of school to a different location in case my training is not 100% completed by that time? Of course transfer won’t be ideal and is certainly not my plan, but I’m curious if a transfer is even allowed?

I understand my situation is not ideal all around, but that’s life, right? I believe in that I can accomplish it with my dedication and hard working.

Thank you again for taking precious time out of your busy day!

It’s really quite variable day to day. The key is to be flexible. Instructors are willing to work schedules around a little bit, but they also have two or three other students.
You should expect to have at least one event every day. A sim or flight usually lasts about 2 hours. You should be there about an hour before your flight to do weight and balance, performance calculations, and preflight the aircraft.
I usually study on the train or at the training center, I don’t do well at home with that. And it’s a lot that you have to do. Videos to watch, things to read, configurations and flows for maneuvers to memorize and commit to muscle. There’s online classes that you need to go to during private and instrument twice a week, three hours each day.
My weekends have generally been free, maybe once a month I’ve had to go in if we had to cancel due to weather.
I feel I get enough time with the family, but everyone’s needs are different, both in family matters and study needs.

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Hyeon,

It’s my pleasure.

To be clear, initially it may have sounded like I was not recommending the Fast Track program, but that was not my intention. I specifically said, “unless you have arrangements for your kids to be taken care of 24/7, then I think the Flex Track program would might be a better fit.”

The reason I lead with that was because you said,

I was just being realistic while also being sensitive to how I perceived your comment about your family’s well-being and mental health. I took that as you are someone that cares deeply about being a primary care-giver to your family. I was only stating that the Flex-Track program would allow you to find a work-life balance that is right for you.

But, if you have realistic expectations about the Fast-Track program, then of course that is still an option for you. People with families can absolutely be successful in the Fast-Track program, but like Galen said, your husband will need to step up and basically adopt a single-parent mindset.

To answer your questions about Crew Cross Country, that is about a two week phase of the program where two instrument-rated students pair up and fly, crew style, to and from multiple ATP locations. This serves several purposes. It exposes the students to crew style of flying (working together as a team), it builds hours towards their commercial certificate minimums, and ATP often uses crews to ferry airplanes to and from the locations that are co-located with a maintenance facility. It’s a win-win for the students and ATP.

Since the pool of Flex-Track students is smaller, and the frequency that a Flex-Track student flies is less than a Fast-Track, a Flex-Track student will conduct the Crew Cross Country phase of the program with an Instructor. Flex-Track students will still receive the same crew-style experience.

CFI school is conducted at designated CFI school locations. LGB is not one of them. So students are flown to where CFI school is conducted. Fast-Track students’ airfare is covered by ATP. Flex-Track students’ are responsible for their own transportation.

Tory

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Hyeon,
Joining this conversation, I can see that you are very passionate about embarking on this aviation journey. We don’t want to dissuade you from choosing one program or the other. We just want to give you honest feedback on the rigors and realities of each program and let you decide which one you’re ready for. They are obviously very different in timeline and finances. I’m the person that likes to “rip the bandaid off”, meaning, get through something tough as quickly as possible. I wanted to put my head down, and charge through the fast track program knowing, it was only temporary. With that comes, incredibly long days. From the day you start to the day you graduate you will be on a treadmill that won’t stop. Some days it will slow down, some days it will speed up but never stops. You just have to ask yourself, are you that kind of person? Can you dedicate all your time to this for the next 7 months knowing it was worth it…
To get a realistic idea, imagine this:
You’re assigned the first flight of the day that launches around 7-8am. You’d need to leave your house early enough to get there about 45 mins in advance of your flight to preflight the airplane, pre flight brief with your instructor and get out there. You fly for two hours, come back and post flight and debrief. Now it’s about 11am. You’ll have few free hours to get some self study modules done and get a bite to eat. You have a ground scheduled with your instructor at 1pm and a weekly elevate seminar to watch at 2pm. All of this finishes about 4pm. Tomorrow you have your first maneuvers flight so tonight’s studying includes not only reviewing what you learned today but memorizing all the flows for the maneuvers. Also your written exam deadline is coming up, a week from tomorrow so you need to add that to your list of study items this week. Based on the time, you decide to stay at the training center and study while the rush hour traffic dies down… you get home, eat dinner, finish up what’s left to study and go to bed.

You see how this goes. It’s just a common day as an early private pilot. There’s flights, grounds, seminars, online self study and test prep that all needs to be accomplished at the same time. When you get to instrument, there are sims to be completed as well.

Once you get established, you can ask your instructor to work with your schedule and not have the first flight of the day. Just in keep mind, they are under no obligation to schedule around you. It’s up to you to be available.

With that upcoming move, it would be best for you to be done with your training by then. Doing the fast track, that can absolutely be done. If you decide the flex, you’ll need to get going soon. Gaps in your training is not advised.

Hope this helped!
-Hannah

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Hyeon,

I know you didn’t respond to my answer (which is fine) but I’m going to chime in again. I don’t know if people think we’re joking or trying to scare them (for no good reason) when we talk about how challenging this program is, but in more cases than not, this will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. People post everyday asking about working during the program, taking time off for events or spending QT with their families. When I read those posts my thought is they really don’t understand the concept here. When we say it’s really not advised, we’re not saying that to dissuade or discourage or be mean. We want you to be successful as we all were. We know the challenges and we’ve witnessed the failures. While the program is incredibly successful at preparing students for the airlines, it also does a pretty good job of thinning the herd. Not everyone can or should be an airline pilot. Thing is, in most cases, it’s not a matter of intelligence or coordination but a lack of work ethic or taking things too casually like it’s a hobby. It’s not. Flying airplanes for a living is a huge responsibility and people are literally putting their lives in your hands. There’s a tremendous amount of information and skills you’ll need to learn. ATP again takes what normally takes years to learn and accelerates that knowledge into months. While most people see that and think “this is great, I can get done in a hurry and start my career” sooner, they completely miss the point of the program. ATP hasnt sped things up so you can take a short cut to a pilot career, they created this program to prepare you for the rigors of actual airline training and like it or not it will require 100% of your time and energy. We’re not suggesting the Flex Track to slow you down, it’s to help you be successful because frankly, if you’re worried about time off with your children (which is understandable) the Fast Track doesnt really allow for any.

Again you can do as you like but just because you can doesn’t always mean to should. The number one quality all good pilots must possess is good decision making skills. That means taking all the information available to you and making the best decision you can, not based on what you might want (ie, getting home early) but what’s best and safest for all.

Good luck,

Adam