PATCO LCH

RW Airline seniority system qustions.

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We know that in an airline pilots career a low seniority number can make an awful big difference in quality of life choices, advancement, and general control over his/her destiny.  The lower the better. A few things I was wondering.

1. When a pilot transfers to another domicile, say KJFK to KATL, does he keep the same seniority number and if so how does this affect those who have been at that domicile for years with higher numbers? The next bidding cycle they lose their favorite route, vacation choice, equipment or maybe even their captaincy to the guy transferring in if he chooses though they have been at KATL many years?

2. If a Captain is bumped down to FO for no fault or choice of his own (economics) does he/she retain their fourth stripe or is that surrendered as well as pay? While he is functioning as an FO how does his rank as Captain affect bidding for routes  or other things as relates to an FO who has been at his job for years with a lower number but remains an FO by choice having never made Captain? (I have heard of cases.) In other words having achieved Captaincy has no privilege over a lower seniority number? No R.H.I.P. here?

3. If a Captain bids to another aircraft he was not previously certified on I suspect he/she has to spend a certain time as FO on that equipment until certified PIC. If so does he keep his fourth strip and pay during this transition time? Economics aside how long would this FO assignment take on average before assuming Captain?   

4. Is it wonderful having a vocation most of us can only pretend on the simulator while we wonder about  things like this? 

Thanks,

Fly Safe,

Vic G.

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Posted (edited)
17 minutes ago, PATCO LCH said:

We know that in an airline pilots career a low seniority number can make an awful big difference in quality of life choices, advancement, and general control over his/her destiny.  The lower the better. A few things I was wondering.

1. When a pilot transfers to another domicile, say KJFK to KATL, does he keep the same seniority number and if so how does this affect those who have been at that domicile for years with higher numbers? The next bidding cycle they lose their favorite route, vacation choice, equipment or maybe even their captaincy to the guy transferring in if he chooses though they have been at KATL many years?

2. If a Captain is bumped down to FO for no fault or choice of his own (economics) does he/she retain their fourth stripe or is that surrendered as well as pay? While he is functioning as an FO how does his rank as Captain affect bidding for routes  or other things as relates to an FO who has been at his job for years with a lower number but remains an FO by choice having never made Captain? (I have heard of cases.) In other words having achieved Captaincy has no privilege over a lower seniority number? No R.H.I.P. here?

3. If a Captain bids to another aircraft he was not previously certified on I suspect he/she has to spend a certain time as FO on that equipment until certified PIC. If so does he keep his fourth strip and pay during this transition time? Economics aside how long would this FO assignment take on average before assuming Captain?   

4. Is it wonderful having a vocation most of us can only pretend on the simulator while we wonder about  things like this? 

Thanks,

Fly Safe,

Vic G.

Good questions.  I helped write crew software and seniority came into play in its development, although no one person understood all the complexities of it.  Route bidding is important with both pilots, flight engineers on some aircraft, and flight attendants.  With seniority comes pick of the litter, so to speak, with low seniority are the more difficult hops, overnight routes, etc.  It varies from airline to airline, I almost became a flight attendant but was put off by route bidding and the low pay entry level flight attendants receive given their hard work and the knowledge they bring to flight safety, passenger emergency medical care, and guest service and gamesmanship aboard the flight.  Just ask any flight attendant how to put down an intoxicated passenger while keeping that passenger's self esteem intact, my deceased brother was a bartender and he taught me those skills which I used as a hotelier.  The world of the airline crew is one of close ties with your fellow crew, loved relationships with frequent fliers as I had with some flight attendants who saw me on repeated flights, and their love of travel and strange and exotic ports of call, like Minot North Dakota, lol....  It was guaranteed that my wife would work for an airline, Mexicana, I met her, a ticket agent, at work in Mexico.  My Mom's words rang true when she said me, a frequent flyer, would marry someone from an airline.

John

Edited by Cactus521
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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, PATCO LCH said:

We know that in an airline pilots career a low seniority number can make an awful big difference in quality of life choices, advancement, and general control over his/her destiny.  The lower the better. A few things I was wondering.

1. When a pilot transfers to another domicile, say KJFK to KATL, does he keep the same seniority number and if so how does this affect those who have been at that domicile for years with higher numbers? The next bidding cycle they lose their favorite route, vacation choice, equipment or maybe even their captaincy to the guy transferring in if he chooses though they have been at KATL many years? Yes. It will only affect those at that domicile with lower seniority number.  It will bump them down and generally reduce their quality of life if the person who just moved in bids for exactly what the lower seniority number person wants.  This will happen regardless of how many years the lower seniority person has been at that domicile/base.

2. If a Captain is bumped down to FO for no fault or choice of his own (economics) does he/she retain their fourth stripe or is that surrendered as well as pay? While he is functioning as an FO how does his rank as Captain affect bidding for routes  or other things as relates to an FO who has been at his job for years with a lower number but remains an FO by choice having never made Captain? (I have heard of cases.) In other words having achieved Captaincy has no privilege over a lower seniority number? No R.H.I.P. here?  They no longer can wear the 4th. (Adds insult to injury). Bidding is based purely on overall seniority numbers within your world.  So if you happen to have the highest seniority as an FO, on your particular fleet (type of aircraft), in your base then you will get the schedule you want

3. If a Captain bids to another aircraft he was not previously certified on I suspect he/she has to spend a certain time as FO on that equipment until certified PIC. If so does he keep his fourth strip and pay during this transition time? Economics aside how long would this FO assignment take on average before assuming Captain?    No.  I wish this were the case.

Thanks,

Fly Safe,

Vic G.

Hello, I've made some replies in-line, above. These are based on my airline. Hope they are helpful. My replies are in bold italic...

Edited by busdriver
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Ill type up a reply later.. at Virgin we do things completely differently than at easyJet (where I was before).  All of those questions are completely airlines specific and depends on the country, if the carrier is low cost or legacy,if they have a strong union and if they bought another airline.  The example of this is when BA bought BMI and when easyJet bought GB airways for example.

ill give you some examples later.

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Thanks guys. I was under the impression that the lower your number the more senior you are since theoretically the first guy hired would be seniority number one. Is this not the case?

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2 hours ago, PATCO LCH said:

Thanks guys. I was under the impression that the lower your number the more senior you are since theoretically the first guy hired would be seniority number one. Is this not the case?

Yes, that is the case. The smaller the number, the higher the seniority.

1. You keep maintain your overall seniority no matter what base you are in. Within that base, your relative seniority depends on how you compare to others also based there. You may be very senior guy, but it you sit in a very senior base, you may still get leftover scraps for your schedule. If a more senior person transfers into the base above you, you are not going to lose your seat, because transfers can only happen if there is a vacancy. You may get bumped down in relative base seniority and be stuck with lousy schedules, but you are not going to lose your particular seat. For that to happen, it would have to be a special displacement bid where everybody in the company would be at risk for loss of seat. That kind of stuff happens during furloughs and economic hardships. This very general, and companies will have specific rules.

2. Having been bumped out of my captain seat back to fo after 9/11, I can tell you that at my particular airline at the time, we were still allowed to wear the 4 stripes, although not the ca hat, if remember correctly. However, I chose to forgo all appearance as a captain to avoid confusion during that period. This kind of stuff is company specific.

3. You do not have to have been an fo to be a ca on any particular plane. That is not to say there are no companies out there with such rules. But for all he companies that I know off, you can bid from fo of one plane to ca of another. Now, there are companies that may have issues with their pilot experience levels, so they may have more specific requirements and hurdles for someone to get into the left seat, and those places will often hire ‘street captains’ to sit in the left seat as a substitute for the lack of organic qualified captains. These are people with experience they hire directly into the left seat, but sit as new hires on the seniority list. 

 

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Statin Island,Dec 16, 1960, UAL826 VS TWA266. At age 8, I stood at the edge of the debris field of the TWA Connie as men walked around with sacks looking for remains. Didn't know at the time I was looking at the beginning of the end of my short lived ATC career as the controllers involved started the controller union that led to the 1981 strike but I digress. NTSB report ruled probable cause was the UAL DC-8 over flew it's holding fix, Preston intersection and hit the Connie on approach to LGA at around 320kts around 5000'. At the time the worst aviation disaster in history.

Studying this tragedy I can't help but conclude the DC-8 crew were seasoned prop joks who were on the latest equipment of the day because of seniority who lacked a feel for energy management and characteristics of jets. Even Pan AM lost a couple 707s where Sky gods from the flying boat days fell behind the power curve and every one dies.  We all know of other accidents when the crew was trying to diplomatically hint things weren't right but failed to directly intervene due to the lordship of the Captaincy. Many died.

I know modern CRM has addressed a lot of this yet someone has to have the final say and be able to make fast unquestioned decisions.  Hence my speculating does the seniority system if not compromise safety at least devalue it a little?  Could airlines look more at competency  and aptitude through test scores as well as objective evaluation to advance pilots more competitively rather then Grandfather clause?  I know all have to meet high requirements but sometimes youth is a bit maligned. Sometimes skills diminish with age. (I know). I often prefer a younger Doctor who is closer to the books and latest updates to an old saw bones counting the months down to retiring to his horse farm. Maybe in the above scenario a younger jet jokey from the military but not the seniority with UAL might not have let the situation get that far ahead of him. He may have been selected to fly the DC-8 because of his experience and aptitude while the older guys stayed on the DC6 or7 where they were most skilled. Just my unlearned speculation.

I am not a pilot, just an aficionado of commercial aviation as well as airline culture so knowledgably comments from active, inactive, retired or even aspiring  persons in the industry are greatly treasured.

I can see seniority for things like vacation picks, routes , days off etc. but advancement, I don't know.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, PATCO LCH said:

Statin Island,Dec 16, 1960, UAL826 VS TWA266. At age 8, I stood at the edge of the debris field of the TWA Connie as men walked around with sacks looking for remains. Didn't know at the time I was looking at the beginning of the end of my short lived ATC career as the controllers involved started the controller union that led to the 1981 strike but I digress. NTSB report ruled probable cause was the UAL DC-8 over flew it's holding fix, Preston intersection and hit the Connie on approach to LGA at around 320kts around 5000'. At the time the worst aviation disaster in history.

Studying this tragedy I can't help but conclude the DC-8 crew were seasoned prop joks who were on the latest equipment of the day because of seniority who lacked a feel for energy management and characteristics of jets. Even Pan AM lost a couple 707s where Sky gods from the flying boat days fell behind the power curve and every one dies.  We all know of other accidents when the crew was trying to diplomatically hint things weren't right but failed to directly intervene due to the lordship of the Captaincy. Many died.

I know modern CRM has addressed a lot of this yet someone has to have the final say and be able to make fast unquestioned decisions.  Hence my speculating does the seniority system if not compromise safety at least devalue it a little?  Could airlines look more at competency  and aptitude through test scores as well as objective evaluation to advance pilots more competitively rather then Grandfather clause?  I know all have to meet high requirements but sometimes youth is a bit maligned. Sometimes skills diminish with age. (I know). I often prefer a younger Doctor who is closer to the books and latest updates to an old saw bones counting the months down to retiring to his horse farm. Maybe in the above scenario a younger jet jokey from the military but not the seniority with UAL might not have let the situation get that far ahead of him. He may have been selected to fly the DC-8 because of his experience and aptitude while the older guys stayed on the DC6 or7 where they were most skilled. Just my unlearned speculation.

I am not a pilot, just an aficionado of commercial aviation as well as airline culture so knowledgably comments from active, inactive, retired or even aspiring  persons in the industry are greatly treasured.

I can see seniority for things like vacation picks, routes , days off etc. but advancement, I don't know.

The premise behind seniority being used as a way for advancement at an airline is that the more time you spend at said airline, the more experience you have and the more competancy you should be able to show.

Obviously, this isnt always the case and many people do slip through. Luckily, nowadays, most airline training departments are able to identify pilots who arent ready to upgrade to the left seat or fly another type of airplane. 

Certain issues manifest themselves during IOE/sim/ground and a pilot could possibly go to a review board. 

Your opinion is understandable and rooted in logical thought. However, the question that one has to pose after hearing your opinion is; how does an airline implement a merit based advancement system among pilots?

How do you quantify a pilot's skill set? What is it based off of? 

You mentioned test scores, prior experience. Age....

What objective standards? That's what the training department is for. If it's a good one, it will naturally weed out the bad apples. 

I think your logic is a bit misguided. The problems you are mentioning seem to be directly related to the old way of CRM....or the lack of it. 

Prior experience is a solid determining factor of how an applicant would react in certain situations. However, it can also be a huge detriment. 

The skill set among a pilot group in terms of what the operation requires is unbelievably homogeneous. 

I'm merely thinking out loud here based off my experiences in both the right and left seats and said training events. 

Ultimately, I think the accidents you mentioned as well as accidents in the modern day are a result of a poor foundation as an aviator as well as a lack of CRM.

The most important thing to understand is that seniority only provides the OPPORTUNITY for advancement. However, it doesnt GUARANTEE it.

Edited by ahsmatt7
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3 hours ago, PATCO LCH said:

I know modern CRM has addressed a lot of this yet someone has to have the final say and be able to make fast unquestioned decisions.  Hence my speculating does the seniority system if not compromise safety at least devalue it a little?  Could airlines look more at competency  and aptitude through test scores as well as objective evaluation to advance pilots more competitively rather then Grandfather clause?  I know all have to meet high requirements but sometimes youth is a bit maligned. Sometimes skills diminish with age. (I know). I often prefer a younger Doctor who is closer to the books and latest updates to an old saw bones counting the months down to retiring to his horse farm. Maybe in the above scenario a younger jet jokey from the military but not the seniority with UAL might not have let the situation get that far ahead of him. He may have been selected to fly the DC-8 because of his experience and aptitude while the older guys stayed on the DC6 or7 where they were most skilled. Just my unlearned speculation.

As Matt says -- whilst it sounds good in theory, the problem with that approach is that by definition, every active pilot at an airline has met (and is required to demonstrate every six months that they still meet) the standards required to do the job safely. In which case the airline is confident that they are competent to handle any situation they might reasonably come across. If the airline is not confident that a particular pilot is competent to do that, then arguably they shouldn't be flying at all!

Thus, in a situation where you have a large pool of people who are by definition at equally competent by virtue of having successfully completed all the required training and checks on their current aircraft, it is rather difficult to start ranking them by saying that one is more competent than another (see above).

Modern airline selection is very much based around aptitude and personality traits (CRM) at the initial stage. It is interesting that you mention the idea of "jet jockey from the military" perhaps having a better chance; arguably the evidence suggests that the people absolutely most likely to have CRM 'issues' are ex-single-seat fighter pilots who are typically a) very confident in their own ability by virtue of the sort of selection and training process they would have gone through in the military, b) formed by a strictly hierarchical military system where senior officers do not expect to be questioned and c) are used to flying on their own with no other crew members to 'keep in the loop'. Outstanding 'stick and rudder' pilots they may well be, but not always well-suited to an airline role where it is much more about management, not just of the aircraft but of the entire crew as well (an A380 Captain, for instance, has overall responsibility for a team of perhaps 22+ cabin and flight crew, plus 400+ passengers and a £300m piece of equipment, as well as being the company's representative authorised to make commercial decisions that could cost the company hundreds of thousands of pounds). Not to say that there are not many excellent airline Captains from that background -- but it is important to remember that excellent flying skills alone do not necessarily an excellent airline pilot make.

As Matt says, although seniority allows a pilot to bid on to a particular fleet, they still have to pass the course -- no pass, no seat. Likewise for FO to Captain upgrades, seniority provides the opportunity but they still have to pass a command course to actually get that fourth stripe -- a very intensive process which is NOT easy and which many people fail for many varied reasons.

As mentioned above it is quite possible to swap fleets and seats at the same time (and for most legacy airlines operating a range of aircraft types, probably fairly typical) and the length of the conversion course will vary (so for a new Captain converting to a new type, they will first obviously have to pass the standard type rating course, plus do a number of line training sectors (but less than, say, a brand-new trainee FO), plus some extra command training sectors on top as part of the command course, whereas an FO upgrading to Captain on the same fleet will only have to do a smaller number of sectors focussed mainly on operating from the LHS and command training).

The result is that the most popular fleets and bases will be very senior whilst the less popular fleets and bases will be quite junior. So, for example, a pilot might start as a short-haul FO on the B737 for four or five years (or more) by which time they may have the seniority to bid for an FO seat on, say, the B777. Short-haul commands tend to be more junior than long-haul commands, and (generally) there is a pay/pension incentive to become a Captain as early as possible (most airlines, as far as I know, have an incremental salary scale that goes up each year, but FOs pay is capped at a lower level than Captains so once you have reached the top of the FO pay scale that is it until you change seats). Of course, lifestyle comes in to it as well and some may choose to stay in the RHS on a long-haul aircraft for a longer period of time despite this -- not least because as an FO high up the seniority list on a long-haul fleet they will more or less be able to pick and choose whatever trips they want.

However, most pilots will bid for a command as soon as they have the seniority to do so and so are likely to end up back on a short-haul fleet (say the A320, to continue from above) where they will likely be very junior in comparison to other Captains on the same fleet and therefore end up with lots of "blind" assigned flights and less flexibility for a time. Then, again, because long-haul tends to be more attractive many will bid for a long-haul command eventually (say, the B744) but again it may be a toss-up between being a very senior Captain on a short-haul fleet with lots of flexibility vs going back to the bottom of a long-haul seniority list and ending up seeing lots of Lagos for a few years. It is possible to go straight from the RHS on a long haul aircraft to the LHS on a long haul aircraft but that will often have involved a long time sat at the top of the FO pay scale!

Of course, the other side of seniority is that if the airline expands quickly or when fleets change it can be possible to gain a command or get on to a particular fleet extremely quickly if one happens to be in the right place at the right time!

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Posted (edited)

Simon, 

A different perspective from an ex-military pilot (not sure a person is every an ex-military pilot) 🙂

 

2 hours ago, skelsey said:

every active pilot at an airline has met (and is required to demonstrate every six months that they still meet) the standards required to do the job safely.

We referred to this as playing "You bet your job. " 🙂

2 hours ago, skelsey said:

the idea of "jet jockey from the military" perhaps having a better chance; arguably the evidence suggests that the people absolutely most likely to have CRM 'issues' are ex-single-seat fighter pilots...…..

I'm a former military pilot and have not found this to be the case.  As I told a buddy of mine about flying in the military, "buzz one tower and you will never fly again in the military."  Military flying is very disciplined and by the book.  Inability to do this and the pilot will be grounded and lose their wings. Every class and check ride was pass/fail.  Discipline and leadership ability are as important if not more important than flying skills.    Out of flight school military pilots are expected to fly day or night and in any weather conditions and often do.  My first assignment was a war zone where I averaged almost a hundred hours a month for a year.  Unlike the airlines (union negotiated work agreements), a military pilot will get selected for a transition based on performance and not rank.   I have talked to check airmen from various airlines about which new hires were better, military or civilian, and to the person it was agreed that military pilots were much better at the start, but after about five years they couldn't tell them apart.  

 

Edited by Bluestar
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20 hours ago, Bluestar said:

Simon, 

A different perspective from an ex-military pilot (not sure a person is every an ex-military pilot) 🙂

 

We referred to this as playing "You bet your job. " 🙂

I'm a former military pilot and have not found this to be the case.  As I told a buddy of mine about flying in the military, "buzz one tower and you will never fly again in the military."  Military flying is very disciplined and by the book.  Inability to do this and the pilot will be grounded and lose their wings. Every class and check ride was pass/fail.  Discipline and leadership ability are as important if not more important than flying skills.    Out of flight school military pilots are expected to fly day or night and in any weather conditions and often do.  My first assignment was a war zone where I averaged almost a hundred hours a month for a year.  Unlike the airlines (union negotiated work agreements), a military pilot will get selected for a transition based on performance and not rank.   I have talked to check airmen from various airlines about which new hires were better, military or civilian, and to the person it was agreed that military pilots were much better at the start, but after about five years they couldn't tell them apart.  

 

I dont want to get into a civilian vs. Military debate. Both groups have their flaws and strenghts.

However, I have heard something quite different from check airmen. They have said there is no difference in aptitude between the two groups. If anything, military pilots take a bit longer to adjust. 

Like I said, I'm not looking to get into a debate. Just offer another anecdote.

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22 hours ago, ahsmatt7 said:

I dont want to get into a civilian vs. Military debate. Both groups have their flaws and strenghts.

However, I have heard something quite different from check airmen. They have said there is no difference in aptitude between the two groups. If anything, military pilots take a bit longer to adjust. 

Like I said, I'm not looking to get into a debate. Just offer another anecdote.

I have always admired military pilots and flight crew for their professionalism and courtesy to a fault.  Went to one military air show at Travis and everything, from the courtesy I received entering the base and the kind directions to the tarmac I was given, to being able to freely wander, take pictures, and listen to the emcee as he pointed out the features of various military aircraft during their fly bys.  This was right after the Start treaty, and a Russian airliner was giving tours, as I said in another recent post it was my first and only time on Russian territory.  The jet was open, airy and looked like any US commercial jet inside, and the cockpit was cool to see.  It was parked somewhat away from the other American aircraft on the tarmac, probably out of courtesy, quite a walk.  So many airline pilots are ex military, reminds me of one of the opening lines in "An Officer and a Gentleman" when the drill sergeant remarks that they will spend a million dollars training the Navy pilots so they can go fly for an airline when they have served their time, one of the most comedic moments of the movie!

When I was a school student a fellow student's father, a senior officer at Travis, gave us a tour and took us into the Tower, we got to hear the Tower ops as a 737 airlift aircraft took off to the east, we got to board a C5 and see the cockpit as well, I was in the eighth grade, it was quite a treat, it pays to know an officer and a gentleman in the air force.

 

John

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