The intricacies of seniority

I know the answer to every airline-related question boils down to seniority, but I’m trying to build a clearer understanding for myself of the different circumstances where seniority comes into play, and more specifically what pool of pilots is relevant when determining relative seniority under the varying circumstances. I haven’t really seen it laid out in its entirety anywhere (and if you have I apologize and would appreciate you pointing me in the right direction). Below is what I what I think it looks like, please let me know if/where I’m off.

From what I’ve been able to piece together from reading various forums and other online resources (and pardon my undoubtedly misused terminology), seniority comes into play primarily (1) at the system level for determining your base, aircraft and seat upon a system/vacancy bid and (2) relative to the other pilots in your specific base/aircraft/seat pool for determining monthly schedules (including whether you hold a line or are on reserve).

System bid—open slots (base, aircraft and seat) are filled based on bids and system seniority, and bids occur when required by new aircraft, routes, pilot attrition, etc. But you must wait until an open slot (can’t displace someone junior to you in a base/aircraft/seat unless someone more senior happens to be displaced, for example from retiring aircraft). When there is a base/aircraft/seat vacancy and you bid and get it based on system seniority, your seniority rank for that particular base/aircraft/seat pool would slot in based on overall system seniority.

Then, for purposes of schedules/PBS, you bid every month within the base/aircraft/seat pool that you’re in for your schedule.

So, hypothetically, as a new hire you are a FO on a 737 based in EWR. For purposes of your monthly schedule bidding, your seniority would only be relevant relative to other 737 FOs based in EWR.

Then, suppose many years later you are a very senior FO on the 737 based in EWR and there is a system bid. You bid on a captain seat on the 757/767 based in SFO and get the bid. You are actually more senior (at the system level) to some of the current 757/767 captains in SFO, and so in the SFO 757/767 Captain “pool” you slot in above those captains for purposes of monthly schedule bidding, etc.

Am I off the mark or missing anything?

Relatedly, in terms of being on reserve—is it just that the bottom x% of the seniority list for each respective base/aircraft/seat pool is going to be on reserve (if so, approximately what percentage?), or does everyone in said base/aircraft/seat pool bid each month and you may or may not be on reserve month to month depending on your seniority and what others in the relevant pilot pool bid?

Also, I imagine if the point of a seat lock is just to ensure a baseline return on an airline’s investment in your training for a particular aircraft type that there would be no restriction during a system bid on moving bases or upgrading seats before your seat lock is up, provided you stayed on the same airframe, correct? Is there an exception to allow you to upgrade to captain even on a different airframe before your seat lock is up? (all assuming your seniority could hold such a bid, of course)

Are you always assigned the most “junior” aircraft in the fleet as a new hire? I understand you would be placed based on “need”, and presumably there would only be a “need” because everyone more senior bid on other aircraft, and so by definition I would think that’s true, even if it happens to be a larger aircraft for whatever reason (although less likely). The reason I ask is because it would seem problematic to be placed on a more senior aircraft as a new hire “based on need”, and then be stuck as the most junior person for scheduling purposes/on reserve for even longer than normal because of that.

Sorry, this ended up being long and involved, but I appreciate your time and consideration as always!

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You’ve got a good grasp of the system overall, just a few tweaks. First you’re automatically assuming Reserve is only for the bottom of the seniority list. I frequently bid Reserve. Why? Because while I’m mid-seniority as a line holder I’m very SENIOR on the Reserve list. That means I can get those holidays off I couldn’t normally and since at my airline Reserves are called in “Reverse Seniority” I’ve got a great chance of not getting called at all.

Next as a new hire you will be assigned the aircraft you’re needed on. One would assume that would be the most junior but that’s not always the case. As you described seniority is relative. The 777 may be a senior aircraft system wise BUT perhaps out of ORD the trips are lousy or the base is fairly senior with pilots that bid quality of life or whatever. In that case ORD 777 may be where there’s a need. Another example, here at my airline Hawaiian we recently did a bunch of hiring and all the newhires went to the 717 which is our most junior airplane. Problem is we upgraded many pilots on the A330 due to retirements (since that’s senior). We now have more newhires coming in, BUT all the recent hires are seat locked on the 717 so all the newest pilots will be placed on the A330, our most senior airplane. Bottomline there are too many variables to predict any of this with any certainty.

Finally airline contracts can and do vary when it comes to seat locks. None will prevent anyone from moving bases. Some will allow you to upgrade on the same equipment while others will allow you to upgrade on anything.

Other than that you’ve got it! Congrats!


Thanks @Adam, very helpful!

I didn’t realize the reserve list has a relative seniority unto itself, but that makes perfect sense in practice. I’m sure that the schedule bidding procedures/software/programs likely vary quite a bit by airline, but based on what you’re saying it sounds like generally each month you bid either for a line or bid reserve? My point about the bottom x% generally being reserve is on the assumption that IF the more senior pilots hold a line than as a junior pilot you’d have no choice.

Yes Robert in that case you are correct.



When does seniority actually start at Hawaiian? What milestone?

My wife and I are military and getting ready to apply to Hawaiian. Our availability is pretty far out. Applying in October is going to be very difficult for us but it might be worth it. Our availability isn’t until middle of next year, after March/April when I suspect Hawaiian will have another round of hiring.


Seniority at Hawaiian begins the same as it does at all airlines, and that’s Day 1 aka Date of Hire. DOH is your magic number and determines everything from your monthly bid and upgrade to your boarding priority with travel benefits.

The first Neo is scheduled for Oct (its already been painted) and that is supposed to start our next big hiring boom.




I guess I’m trying to understand what constitutes your DOH. For my clarity, lets assume someone interviews with HAL, successfully earns a CJO, and accepts immediately. I assume they don’t just immediately start getting paid. Is their DOH the date they accepted the CJO, or is it the day they report for training?

In my example, if I interview this October, I could see myself accepting a CJO in December. However, my availability isn’t until May 18’ (or later for the military). In this example, would my DOH be December or May?

Your DOH is the first day you show up for training. In your case May. My first interviewed was in June of 2012, and the final wasn’t until Nov. I was offered a class in Jan 2013 which I accepted so Jan 2013 is my DOH. They wouldn’t want to reward someone for deferring now would they.



Thanks again for your help. Your answer totally nailed the DOH question for us. My wife and I are both planning to apply next month. Hopefully things work out!

Do you know how long the whole job hire process takes? How quickly do they offer a CJO if interested? How long do I have to accept the CJO?

Also, any info regarding military transitioning to HAL?



I was recently talking with one of the directors and apparently they’ve expedited the process considerably. If you’re given an interview apparently you’ll know if it’s a no within 24hrs. If not they’ll have you come back for the psych, drug test, and log book review with a few weeks (or less) and then you’ll go into a pool based on how you “scored”. After that you’ll be offered class dates as they become available which you can accept or defer. But know if you pass you go to the bottom.

Not sure what you mean as far as transitioning? You do know to even be considered you will need your FAA ATP right?



Something you said has caught my attention and something I don’t understand. How are you mid-seniority as a line holder but high seniority as reserve? Does it come down to how often you fly reserve compared to other pilots? Or does it go by your Doh but your seniority has been reset on your plane from upgrading in the past?


I can explain this for Adam as he is likely busy with his upgrade training. Most pilots bid for regular lines as they can hold them. The majority of pilots prefer a line over reserve as it is more pay hours, typically reserve lines go to the new guys. Adam lives in base and values his time off as much as increased money, so he bids reserve. As most pilots chose to bid lines, Adam is a very senior reserve bidder.

Your seniority number has nothing to do with what airplanes you have flown in the past, it strictly goes by your date of hire and nothing else.


What Chris said.

Thank you Chris :slight_smile:

Sorry if this is ridiculous, but is seniority determined by flight hours or by days since hire at the airline irregardless of how many flight hours the pilot has logged with the airline?

Adam basically answered that question a few posts up ‘‘Seniority at Hawaiian begins the same as it does at all airlines, and that’s Day 1 aka Date of Hire. DOH is your magic number’’

Hey Aaron,
Yes I read that, but I suppose what I was asking more specifically is if pilot a and pilot b both have the same DOH, but pilot a goes out of his or her way to log more hours than pilot b does, does pilot A have higher seniority or do they have the same seniority regardless?

The reason I didn’t know if it was a ridiculous question or not is because I have a few friends who are not pilots but work in aviation, and both of them have systems available to them to pick up shifts that their co-workers drop or request off. I don’t know if pilots have this same system of “picking up shifts” as they do, but if so I was wondering if it had any bearing on seniority.

Thanks for the response though!

If pilot A and pilot B both have the same DOH then it will depend on class seniority, for example if its a regional like envoy that has a cadet program then cadets are the most senior in the class and then it goes prior 121 and then everyone else by age. This differs by airline but to answer your original question it has nothing to do with hours its based on seniority number alone


It is not a ridiculous question at all. Seniority is determined by the day one was hired at the airline and nothing else.


Even pilots that are hired on the same day will not have the same seniority. Within a new hire class, pilots are typically ranked by age, with the oldest being the most senior.


And to answer your question, flight hours have nothing to do with it. DOH and that’s it. When I was at my Regional I taught ground school every other month and therefore had half the flight time of most of my peers. Didn’t matter a lick. In fact there are pilots who take a year or more off military leave. The retain their seniority without flying at all.