A major aspect of the airline pilot career, sometimes overlooked by newcomers to the industry, is Seniority. Why do you want it? How do you get it? What does it mean? Let me break it down – Seniority rules when you’re an airline pilot.
Seniority is key to:
- your monthly schedule.
- your vacation time.
- your crew base location.
- your upgrade wait time.
The day that you show up for your initial new-hire training, you will be given a Seniority Number. The sooner you’re hired, the higher your Seniority Number, and the closer you are to gaining the benefits of real Seniority.
The Scheduling Department at your airline will publish a Bid Packet containing all the monthly lines (trip schedules) for the next month. You will then bid, or select the lines that will work the best for you. Let the Scheduling Department know which lines you select, in order of preference. Then, bids are awarded according to Seniority. The most senior pilot in your base has his schedule awarded first; the next most senior pilot will then get his schedule awarded. When your Seniority Number comes up, you will be awarded the line that you requested – as long as it hasn’t been taken by someone senior to you. Once all lines have been assigned, Schedule Bid Awards are published.
Once a year, the Scheduling Department will also publish a Bid Packet for Vacation Slots. Methods vary slightly from airline to airline, but you will be given a choice of two-week time slots in which you may take vacation during the following year. The most desirable slots are usually those around holidays or summer, when children are out of school. Once the Vacation Bid Packet is published, you will pick out the slots that appeal to you, and bid on them in order of preference. Once all of the bids have been collected, the most senior pilot will be given their first choices of slots, then the next most senior pilot get their choices and so on down the Seniority List. A Vacation Bid Award is then published.
Every airline spreads their crew bases out across their route structure. These crew bases (called Domiciles) are usually located at airline’s different hubs. As is the case with Schedules and Vacation Slots, some Domiciles are more desirable than others. When you finish with initial training, you will have to give the Scheduling Department a Domicile Bid, in which you will list all of the airline’s crew bases in order of your preference. Seniority will then decided which Domiciles are awarded to which pilots.
When you are first hired you start as a very junior First Officer (FO). As time passes you will gain Seniority and start winning the more desirable lines, Vacations and Domiciles. Eventually, your Seniority Number will entitle you to upgrade to Captain. When this happens, you will be asked to return to the Training Center for additional training and the all-important check-ride. Once completed, you will be granted an increase in pay and responsibility. Your title will also be transitioned from a very senior First Officer to a very junior Captain, with all the same seniority requirements that went along with being junior as a new FO.
Seniority rules in the Airline Industry. It is important to do whatever you can do to be hired first. You will then enjoy your Seniority, while those who took more circuitous routes to an airline career will have to wait their turn.