A New Era Of Young “Mainline” Airline Pilots

A New Era Of Young “Mainline” Airline Pilots

38

As someone who dreamed of being an airline pilot when I was a kid, I can’t help but notice the age shift among pilots at the major US carriers, and that’s really cool to see. Not only does it demonstrate a lot of hard work, but admittedly it also comes down to good timing.

Why airline pilots keep getting younger

Back in the day, a vast majority of airline pilots in the United States came from the military, as that was just the natural career progression for many, and also the most economical way to become an airline pilot. As time goes on, we see more and more “civilians” get into the airline industry, without having ever been in the military.

As you’d expect, this also means that they potentially start flying at airlines at a much younger age. You could easily get full training to become an airline pilot within a few years, while many spent a couple of decades in the military before transitioning to airlines.

Since being an airline pilot is seniority based, the goal is to land a job as soon as possible at your “forever” airline, which will ideally be one of the “major” carriers (since they pay best). You want to do that because your seniority doesn’t transfer between airlines, and your seniority allows you to fly bigger planes and advance to captain (meaning you make more money), and it also gives you more schedule flexibility.

The catch is, actually landing a job at the likes of American, Delta, and United, isn’t easy. Pilots generally work at regional airlines for years, before eventually landing a job at one of the major airlines. Hiring at the “big three” US carriers tends to happen in spurts, and is dependent on so many factors. For example:

  • In 2007 the retirement age for airline pilots was raised from 60 to 65, so that caused a roughly five year “stall” for pilots advancing positions, and also greatly reduced hiring
  • We’ve of course seen quite a few downturns in the airline industry over the years, and that also causes very few pilots to be hired

Well, there has never been a better time to be a qualified airline pilot with a decent number of hours looking for a job than now. Airlines are hiring pilots like never before. The good news is that the major carriers are having no issues hiring, since there are lots of young pilots at regional airlines who would love to “upgrade.” The bad news is for regional airlines, as there’s not a sufficient pipeline of new pilots.

And that brings me to something that I think is pretty noteworthy…

Flying as captain on a 777 takes a lot of seniority

Just how young are mainline airline pilots now?

Swayne Martin is a popular YouTuber who used to document his experience flying at a regional US airline. He’s only 25, and he’s now a first officer at United Airlines, flying the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767. A decade ago it would’ve probably been inconceivable to think that there are 25-year-olds flying Boeing 767s at a US legacy airline, but that’s the reality of the current landscape.

I’ve always enjoyed his videos — he’s clearly passionate about planes, he has such a positive attitude, and he’s a great ambassador to the airlines he flies for.

Similarly, there’s a 26-year-old Delta Boeing 737 captain on Instagram, which is beyond impressive. I can’t imagine there’s a younger captain at a “big three” US airline than him (though someone correct me if I’m wrong). Of course he presumably has almost no seniority, so he’s probably primarily on reserve and has little schedule flexibility. However, that’s a small price to pay for being a captain at 26.

Anyway, huge respect to these people. While you can’t predict timing, these guys pursued their passion for aviation at a very young age, and it’s now paying off, as they’ve landed their “forever” job, and can accrue ~40 years of seniority. I know there are many others like them out there.

Bottom line

While we’ve historically had young pilots at regional airlines in the United States, many of them are now landing jobs at the legacy airlines, as they look to hire at a fast pace. If you ask me, it’s inspiring to see people in their mid-20s flying wide bodies as a first officer, or narrow bodies as a captain.

As an avgeek and someone who wanted to be a pilot as a kid, I have huge respect for them, and am almost a bit jealous. Almost.

Anyone else noticing just how many young pilots there are at the major US airlines now?

Conversations (38)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. Randy Guest

    As a retired airline pilot, I find these incredibly young pilots, especially being made captains, a frightening sight. Being a captain takes many many years of experience to handle the job, especially if things go wrong. Unthinkable when I was going through the ranks.

  2. John S Guest

    Swayne Martin is using his social media following to skip the line at UA. He is getting aircraft and routes that others have to wait years for. Assume UA thinks his online following can help with the pilot shortage.

  3. SullyofDoha Guest

    I miss the pilots with 20 years of military flying. So much more professional leadership experience and discipline.

    1. Tini Guest

      I’m a retired military pilot (27 years) that now flies as a first officer for a major airline. I fly with captains all the time that are younger than me. Every single one I have flown with is a competent, caring professional.

  4. Robert Guest

    My high school senior son is heavily interested in this career path, we've been visiting flight schools associated with our local universities the past month. He's also visited AF ROTC detachments at the schools but i think he's ruling that path out; why delay getting started in the commercial world. We're lucky to have 3 schools within 3 hours of us with feeder agreements with multiple regional airlines. One intro flight he had last week...

    My high school senior son is heavily interested in this career path, we've been visiting flight schools associated with our local universities the past month. He's also visited AF ROTC detachments at the schools but i think he's ruling that path out; why delay getting started in the commercial world. We're lucky to have 3 schools within 3 hours of us with feeder agreements with multiple regional airlines. One intro flight he had last week the instructor pilot is nearly up to his hours and already has a regional contract in hand. Boy, I wish I had pursued this career path!

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      the university path cuts 500 hours off of the FAA requirement to become an airline pilot. In order to build those hours quickly and cheaply, you have to be willing to be a flight instructor which means dealing w/ all kinds of people. It's not the only option and not for everyone.

  5. William DeLeo Guest

    In 1935 my dad started with UAL in 2 years he was flying the Boeing 247 he retired on the 747 so I guess the more things change the more they stay the same.

  6. NK Ca Guest

    It is definitely a new era for airline pilots. It's important to understand that regardless of age, pilots go through the same initial training and captain upgrade training, with standards set by the Airline and FAA. If you notice you have a younger pilot, do not be alarmed, I assure you they are qualified.

    I've worked alongside many "younger" pilots, usually mature and a pleasure to fly with. While there are always exceptions, I'd...

    It is definitely a new era for airline pilots. It's important to understand that regardless of age, pilots go through the same initial training and captain upgrade training, with standards set by the Airline and FAA. If you notice you have a younger pilot, do not be alarmed, I assure you they are qualified.

    I've worked alongside many "younger" pilots, usually mature and a pleasure to fly with. While there are always exceptions, I'd argue the 25-30 year old FOs I've flown with are often just as sharp, if not shaper than some of the older ones. Especially during initial training, the younger ones typically pick things up faster. Not always the case, but something I've seen often in my career.

  7. Sam Guest

    There are so many factors that play in here.. he is most likely the lowest seniority pilot on 757/767 at EWR and he probably traded for those trips.. he is not able to hold a line and is probably commuting to get the shots for the “gram”

    Would you rather be higher paid on a lower level equipment on the route you want vs lower paid and taking undesirable trips (international with under 30 hour layover)?

    1. Robert Guest

      Another friend of a friend is 25 years at a regional. Even though his pay is lower he picks where he flies and he's home more often than most. There's a lot to be said for full job satisfaction vs only high pay.

  8. globetrotter Guest

    Egocentrics on social media are narcissistic and self centered with an entitlement sentiment. They also lack mental maturity. It is good to hire young talents but avoid promoting them to senior positions until they past age 35. Most in their 20s believe strongly that they will conquer and rule the world. That is why presidents must be at age 45. I wished all people were required to retire at age 70. If they desire to...

    Egocentrics on social media are narcissistic and self centered with an entitlement sentiment. They also lack mental maturity. It is good to hire young talents but avoid promoting them to senior positions until they past age 35. Most in their 20s believe strongly that they will conquer and rule the world. That is why presidents must be at age 45. I wished all people were required to retire at age 70. If they desire to stay on past age 70, it is only allowed in advisory positions, not active roles.

    1. Never In Doubt Guest

      “That is why presidents must be at age 45”

      Maybe in your country, in the US the minimum age is 35.

    2. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      "I wished all people were required to retire at age 70."

      Man, you've got some pie-in-sky shit going with you. Who knows, maybe you come from a country that actually takes care of its people. Must be nice.

      In many others, including the USA, we've got 70-yr-olds working 2 jobs, to pay off that second mortgage that they had to take out in order to survive 3 economic shocks over the past 4 decades....

      "I wished all people were required to retire at age 70."

      Man, you've got some pie-in-sky shit going with you. Who knows, maybe you come from a country that actually takes care of its people. Must be nice.

      In many others, including the USA, we've got 70-yr-olds working 2 jobs, to pay off that second mortgage that they had to take out in order to survive 3 economic shocks over the past 4 decades. It's only going to get worse, seeing as the projected median for Millennial doctors/lawyers/dentists etc to pay off their student loans is 37yrs... which will put most of them in their late 60s, without anywhere near as many assets or mortgage equity to show for it.

      Retirement? Ha!

    3. Robert Guest

      What's wrong with that conqueror attitude? Actually go accomplish something rather than being scared to try.

  9. Scudder Diamond

    I just looked at that DL kid's IG. The 737 is his third aircraft in less than a year at DL! He must have spent more time in sims than on the line! Frankly, I'm surprised DL doesn't seatlock pilots for a period after investing so much in their training.

  10. Donna Diamond

    Military pilots are allowed leave active duty much earlier than two decades! They get their training, complete their obligation going into the Air National Guard before transitioning to the mainline carriers. Some stay two decades but many leave active duty sooner. Experience, not age is more important in my view and hopefully the 1500 hour requirement will not be lowered.

    1. JRS3 Guest

      I flew F/A-18s in the Marines and never went to the Guard after I got out of the Marine Corps to go to my carrier. No idea what you’re talking about.

    2. Donna Diamond

      Here in California, many leave active duty and fly for the California Air National Guard (weekends) along with a full time airline job. They do not need to go to the Air National Guard to get a job with the airlines, it’s just a career decision they make to work toward a military retirement and career in the airlines concurrently. My cousin is an FO with United and flies with the California National Guard.

    3. Jrs3 Guest

      Sure, ok. That’s not what you said though, and the percentage of pilots who fly in the reserves or the Guard is exponentially lower than it has ever been. It’s the exception now and not the norm.

  11. Sean M. Diamond

    Perhaps a minimum age requirement of 30 to fly a mainline jet is the next step. Makes about as much sense as the 1500 hour requirement

    1. Eskimo Guest

      The age requirement is as random as hour requirements.
      Age gives you maturity.
      Hour gives you experience.
      A reliable pilot needs both.

      Therefore, by the next decade "AI" should soon make all these pilots obsolete. By the time "Alexa" and "Siri" are flying they would have the maturity of a 5 star General and 50 million flying hours each.

    2. John Guest

      @Eskimoo
      In what state are you NOT a certified mental case?

  12. Chris Guest

    This comment section did not disappoint and we're only 4 comments in! I have to say a lot of the younger pilots are really good and shouldn't be generalized because of their timing in the industry and have a great attitude. However, there are still quite a few that stink of entitlement. Especially when they get assigned a junk trip or airport reserve. You don't even hear that much whining from an alley cat.

  13. AA FA Guest

    Swayne Martin is a smug little a**hole who has an ego the size of the 767 he flies.

    As a flight attendant, I’ve never interacted with a more rude non-rev (twice!) and when I found out that he got hired at the competition I was elated that I’d never have to interact with him in a professional capacity.

    But yes, it’s great to have new blood in the flight deck. Just glad that sh*tbag ended up at another airline :)

    1. John Guest

      You can't leave it at that, you have to spill!

    2. NathanJ Gold

      In the words of comedian John Mulaney, “SAY. MORE. NOW!!”.

    3. Matt Guest

      I bet he will grow up to be a Republican senator from a midwestern state.

    4. RetiredATLATC Diamond

      Amen. The kid's a dbag (according to a few friends who have flown with him).

  14. Scudder Diamond

    That 26-year-old CA already exhibited poor decision-making by dooming himself to many years of low seniority in that seat.

    1. JRS3 Guest

      Seriously. Should have bid JFK.

  15. JRS3 Guest

    Inspiring? Maybe. I’m more worried about the overall lack of experience. Is it legal to have a 25 year old CA at DL? Sure is. Is it safe? Maybe so, maybe no.

    Delta had a mid 20’s May 2022 hire get an ATL 756CA in this last bid. UA probably will have street Captains given that they have over 200 unfilled NB CA positions from the last bid.

    Is any of that a good...

    Inspiring? Maybe. I’m more worried about the overall lack of experience. Is it legal to have a 25 year old CA at DL? Sure is. Is it safe? Maybe so, maybe no.

    Delta had a mid 20’s May 2022 hire get an ATL 756CA in this last bid. UA probably will have street Captains given that they have over 200 unfilled NB CA positions from the last bid.

    Is any of that a good thing, save for the pilots on Instagram who like to post about how young and cool they are flying for a mainline carrier?

    1. Frank Guest

      Can’t have street captains at UA.

    2. Evan Guest

      The safety factor is real. Could a 25-year-old captain have pulled off the Miracle on the Hudson? Maybe with luck, but it took tremendous maturity and experience for Sully to make a snap decision that turning toward Teterboro or heading back to LGA would end in disaster. Contrast that to the CVR from the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 on approach to Buffalo, where the captain exhibited terrible decision-making and the FO worried aloud...

      The safety factor is real. Could a 25-year-old captain have pulled off the Miracle on the Hudson? Maybe with luck, but it took tremendous maturity and experience for Sully to make a snap decision that turning toward Teterboro or heading back to LGA would end in disaster. Contrast that to the CVR from the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 on approach to Buffalo, where the captain exhibited terrible decision-making and the FO worried aloud about her lack of experience in icing conditions: "I've never seen icing conditions. I've never deiced. I've never seen any- I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. you know I'dve freaked out. I'dve have like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash."

      I fly mainline jets to avoid just this kind of pilot, but it seems that's not going to be as easy.

    3. JRS3 Guest

      FFS, Sully is not the standard.

    4. NathanJ Gold

      To the great majority of the world who now know what he did, you are dead wrong; Sully’s standard is most certainly what most people feel is THE standard.

      Here in Australia, we had First Captain Richard De Crispigny. His and his crew’s feats on that Qantas A380 years ago is certainly what the general populace down under feel is THE standard.

      Respect.

    5. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Using a bit of an extreme example there.

      Even among highly seasoned pilots, you're not going to find many Sullys, i.e. those who can handle a situation to that extent.

      Same thing with Captain Al Haynes & crew (UA232, the DC10 at SUX).... investigators took multiple crews of equal vintage, put them in a simulator with similar inputs, without telling them what was going to happen: and every single one of them crashed before making it to a runway.

  16. Gary Cleft Guest

    My bus driver was 23 the other day. Equally as impressive.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

AA FA Guest

Swayne Martin is a smug little a**hole who has an ego the size of the 767 he flies. As a flight attendant, I’ve never interacted with a more rude non-rev (twice!) and when I found out that he got hired at the competition I was elated that I’d never have to interact with him in a professional capacity. But yes, it’s great to have new blood in the flight deck. Just glad that sh*tbag ended up at another airline :)

10
Gary Cleft Guest

My bus driver was 23 the other day. Equally as impressive.

3
NK Ca Guest

It is definitely a new era for airline pilots. It's important to understand that regardless of age, pilots go through the same initial training and captain upgrade training, with standards set by the Airline and FAA. If you notice you have a younger pilot, do not be alarmed, I assure you they are qualified. I've worked alongside many "younger" pilots, usually mature and a pleasure to fly with. While there are always exceptions, I'd argue the 25-30 year old FOs I've flown with are often just as sharp, if not shaper than some of the older ones. Especially during initial training, the younger ones typically pick things up faster. Not always the case, but something I've seen often in my career.

2
Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,788,713 Miles Traveled

27,627,500 Words Written

32,315 Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT