Real Answers from Real Pilots

Seniority and Bases

Hello.

I was wondering how the seniority system works in terms of basing. I’ll use United Airlines as an example. I’ve heard that SFO is the most junior base for United FO’s. Does this mean that as one becomes more senior in the company, they can choose to stay at SFO as their base, or do they have to move on to another base?

Hello Nathan,

Under normal circumstances no one can force a pilot to change bases, seats
or aircraft unless a pilot bids to do so.

Tory

Nathan,

What seniority does is afford you the right to have more control and gain what YOU want vs others in the company. Using your example, if SFO is UAs most junior base that generally means as a newhire that’s will you’ll be assigned, whether you want to be there or not. As you build seniority you’ll have the ability to transfer to other, more SENIOR bases, if you want to. If the base you desire is also a junior base that’s a bonus for you. If a base is junior there’s usually a reason pilots don’t want to be there (equipment, trips, cost of living etc). If that’s the case while other pilots bail you’ll gain “relative” seniority quicker at that base than elsewhere affording you better schedules.

Adam

Thanks for the in depth reply.

Additionally, let’s say I was a United 777 captain based out of SFO. Because the 777 is a longer-haul aircraft, would I only get to fly the 777 routes that SFO offers? Or could I, say get a few 777 trips out of ORD, EWR, IAH?

Generally no. That again is what makes a base junior. Again it can be the base itself, the aircraft or the routes. It’s all about seniority.

Adam

Nathan,

As your seniority progresses, you can transfer to any base that your seniority allows, including staying at SFO. Increased seniority is a good thing that allows more choices.

Chris

Chris

Nathan,

If you are based in ORD, you will only fly trips that start and end in ORD, with very few exceptions.

Chris

I maybe should have been more specific. I know United flies the triple 7 domestically, for example SFO to ORD.

Would one be based out of San Francisco, fly SFO to ORD one day, and the next day fly ORD to BRU the next day, take a rest in Brussels, and do the same trip coming home to SFO?

Additional question for Chris, what is the order (from most junior to most senior) of bases at United?

Nathan,

I’m certain Chris can give you more specifics but each base has certain specific routes. While most pilots fly international and domestic trips it’s unusual to have a trip begin domestically the become international. In your example it would be much more efficient to have the ORD crew go to SFO and the back to ORD and have a SFO crew do SFO-BRU-SFO. You’re talking excessively long duty periods and time zone acclimation going in 2 directions. Again Chris can confirm but I’m fairly sure that’s how UA runs it.

Adam

Nathan,

A trip like you described would be unusual, but could happen. Generally speaking, on the widebody airplanes, the flights are usually flown by crews in the respective bases and domestic and international flights are usually not mixed into the same trips.

It would be impossible to do a straight listing of bases by seniority as that can vary so much based on different aircraft fleets, age of pilots, how big the base used to be, etc. Generally speaking though, the most junior bases are SFO and EWR while the most senior bases are DEN and IAD.

Chris

Where does LAX and IAH lie on this list?

They are about in the middle of the list, but again it depends on the fleet type in each base.

To continue building on this topic, how likely/soon is a new hire to get into a wide body like the 777/787? Assuming they take a Junior base (like SFO)?

How often do wide body crews have domestic overnights compared to international overnights?
My career end goal is to be a wide body CA flying mostly international!

Also, how long does it take (roughly) to upgrade to CA on the 777/787 at a junior base (SFO for this example)
I read other threads that say 18+ years…
in comparison how long would it take (roughly) an FO to upgrade on a 737 (at sfo)
Thanks for taking the time to give us some info/guidance! It helps put things into perspective a lot!

Austin,

It is really hard to answer these questions as every base is different and every system bid brings with it its own senior and junior people holding various positions.

  1. It is very unlikely for a new hire pilot to get a 777 or 787 position, that usually takes a few years.

  2. Wide body crews almost never have domestic overnights.

  3. I am really not sure, but I would guess at least 20 years, if not more to upgrade to 777 captain.

  4. Current upgrade tie to 737 Captain is about three years at SFO. That being said, it was nine years until I was eligible, so things can and do change.

I hope this helps.

Chris

Austin,

There are simply too many variables to give any kind of an accurate answer. Also everything is dynamic. The number today could be very different than it will be in the future. Widebody Capt, regardless of base, will always be the most senior position and at virtually every airlines will take a while to achieve.

Adam

Chris,
Thank you so much! This really does help, I know it’s a difficult question to answer given all the possible variables but this helps a lot thank you!