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When Should You Apply to an Airline?

If you desire a job with the airlines, the time to apply is NOW.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.  Do it right now!  As you’ll discover once you are employed by an airline, timing is everything.

Of course, there are always complications that dictate the timing of your application to the airlines.  This is doubly true if you are planning on separating from active duty (AD)—for more information about that process, check out BogiDope’s article entitled 3 Tips for Determining When to Make the Jump to the Guard or Reserve, as it contains valuable information to help you plan your departure from AD.  

So, here you are—whether you are currently in the AD or are in the Guard or Reserve, you’ve made the decision to go for an airline job.  Good choice!  There has never been a better time to seek airline employment; the airlines are hiring like crazy right now due to a large number of upcoming retirements and worldwide fleet growth.   The hiring isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon; if you want to know more about why the airline hiring picture is so rosy, check out The Airline Hiring Boom:  A Perfect Storm of Circumstances here on BogiDope.

As soon as you’ve made the decision to pursue an airline job, it is time to get to work. The earlier you start the better off you will be both in terms of your quality of life and your finances.  Here are some great reasons why it is important that you don’t delay:

Seniority Is the Name of the Game

Once you get hired at the airline of your choice, the first number you’ll commit to memory—even before your employee number—is your date of hire.  That date will dictate everything you do and every benefit you receive while you are employed with the airline: your rate of pay, the equipment you fly, the quality of your schedule, when you upgrade to Captain, the days of vacation you get, and the city you are based in are all determined through a complicated bidding system that is governed by seniority.  

Here’s a real life story that perfectly demonstrates the importance of seniority at the airlines.  After the September 11th attacks, the airline business went into a freefall—thousands of pilots lost their jobs in the ensuing furloughs.  One pilot at American Airlines ended up being the last guy on the seniority list; one month of seniority stood between him and being unemployed. 

For him, that situation persisted for three very long years.  Had he waited to apply for his job at American even a little, he too would have been pounding the pavement looking for work.  Since your seniority number determines your position relative to the other pilots at the company, getting in sooner rather than later ensures that there are some pilots below you that can absorb the impact of a sudden economic downturn.  In a very real sense, seniority is an insurance policy.  For more information on the seniority system, check out the BogiDope article entitled Seniority is Like Compounding Interest.

Windows of Opportunity

With the increase in hiring, many airlines are accepting applications on a continual basis.  Some do not; in order to manage the flood of resumes (and it IS a deluge, even in this market), some airlines employ a “window” system whereby they only accept applications between certain dates.  These application windows open and close at irregular intervals; you have to keep an eye on their website to find out their hiring status.  You do not want to miss a window!  Once the application window closes, it might be some time before it is opened again.  Missing a window can cost you valuable time and seniority once you get hired.

Keeping Current

It isn’t a huge factor for pilots coming out of the military (unless you're coming off a non-flying assignment), but currency of flight time is important to the folks doing the hiring at the airlines.  If you decide to delay and take some time off from flying, that could be the reason that you get passed over by the airline of your dreams in favor of someone with more recent experience.

Also, consider this:  No matter what you’ve been flying in the military, having recent flight experience will make training much easier.  Flying is flying, but just like riding a bike, you’ll find it easier if you’ve been doing lots of it in the recent past.  Delaying your application to the airlines to go work a desk job for a while might make your transition to the airline world a bit more stressful.

The Nest Egg

One of the nice things about the major airlines is that you’ll eventually get to enjoy the benefits of a very nice retirement package.  Most major airlines offer very substantial 401k contributions; over time, this money will add up to a sizable sum that will ensure not just a secure retirement, but a very comfortable one as well.  Delaying your entry into the airline world means that you are literally leaving money on the table.  The sooner you get hired, the faster you can begin to build for your future.

Changing Plans

You know the saying about best-laid plans; sometimes it doesn’t work out like you intended.   Maybe you’ll make a good plan, apply to the airlines at the earliest opportunity, and then something will come up:  A delay in separating from AD, an unexpected deployment that conflicts with an interview date or a family emergency right on top of a class date. 

Don’t despair!  Keep the human resources staff at the airline you are applying to informed.  Chances are excellent that they will understand and will be more than willing to move you to another interview date or to a class further down the line.  If they weren’t interested they wouldn’t have invited you to interview, and once you’re hired they will generally do what they have to in order to keep you.

Wrapping up

So, start early.  Make sure you apply to every airline that interests you—you can’t turn down a job that you haven’t been offered and no one will take offense if you do.  Keep an eye on those websites and web boards so that you know when the application windows open and close.  Be ready; have your resume, employment and residence history and your logbooks all up to date before you apply.  This will make filling out the endless forms that much easier.  Best of luck!

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