It is not unusual in today’s market for savvy pilots to ask which regional airline is the right one for them. With so many regional airlines vying for pilots it can be a difficult decision. As with many things it depends, and it usually depends on a pilot’s priorities.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
For example, a pilot with an immediate family to care for might choose not to commute, and therefore place more priority on base location in order to provide a more convenient move for their family. Factors like this come into play since very few regional airlines pay for moving expenses; especially for new hire pilots. A pilot looking to gain PIC time as quickly as possible might place a greater priority on upgrade time. A new pilot seeking to pay off student debt might look primarily at income verse cost of living in the bases they would likely hold as a junior pilot. These are just a few possibilities.
Needless to say the scenarios and combinations of priorities are likely as varied as the circumstances of the pilots seeking to find the right fit for them.
The following are some things beyond hourly compensation to watch out for as pilots make their choice.
Quality of Life – As pilots usually discover the quality of life they experience at their regional has a large impact on other areas of their lives and becomes in many cases more valuable than compensation. Being able to get time off, carry seniority, predict schedules, live in a desirable base, and having time simply to work on other priorities in their lives make a big difference in quality of life. Pilots quickly find being on the road 18-20 days a month may not really help achieve the goals that matter most in their life. Once enough money is made the question is often asked ,” what good is more money if all I do is work and then recover from my trips and never really live?”. The member based surveys provide invaluable insight into members experience while working for an airline.
Base Location – Does a pilot have to commute? Do they live where they want to? Does the cost of living and compensation at a base make sense. Some bases may have exorbitant cost of living levels while for pilots, pay is usually not correlated to the bases assigned.
Work rules – What does a 2 day trip or a 4 day trip pay as a minimum? How is your time away from home compensated, or is it compensated? Can your schedules be changed and if so what is offered to pilots as a trade off for this flexibility? Are trips pay protected when an airline chooses to cancel a flight? How are deadhead legs paid? (A portion of the trip where the pilot rides in the back so that the company can reposition them for a flight leg) Is international override offered? (Often international flights that require more time in customs and the extra workload needed for flight operations to and from some international destinations merit additional pay)
Bonus Programs – Bonus programs are often built outside of any long term agreement with a pilot group. This means it can leave as quickly as it came, since there is nothing contractual that says the company has to continue with the program. Often these programs are ways airlines apply a short term fix to get more applicants in the doors, while never really improving company work rules and latent compensation. Usually the larger the bonus the more careful a pilot should be when considering that airline. In some cases for the right people it can be an outstanding deal, but careful homework is required. There is always a reason an airline has to offer such large temporary bonuses.
Benefit Programs – Sooner than later benefits play a role. The best time to start saving in that 401K was yesterday, the second best time is today. Some airlines have better 401K or retirement matching than others. Some time playing with the career calculator/value of money metric, and retirement calculator will help illustrate how important the first years of saving are for ones retirement. Health insurance for some pilots will also be a large priority, especially those with families. Travel benefits are another benefit worth considering, and have usually been an area where the airlines have excelled.
Upgrade Opportunity – Last but certainly far from least, the opportunity for career progression is a large motivator for many.
Just a few things to keep in mind, as pilots consider where they want to go.
“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” Thomas Merton.