Airline Professionals VS Worker Bee CFIs

After my blog yesterday on regional airline hiring I heard directly and on FB from 8 of my former employee/CFIs (some even started with me as students) who corrected the record for me. Thank-you guys, I am humbled and honored to have been any small part of all your lives, you are all amazing professionals and leaders in the safest aviation system in the world. I certainly did not intend to diminish that accomplishment (and in no way support the YouTube position).

One airline captain wrote this short article below to explain and clarify the current airline opportunities. Adam’s FB post was especially revealing with 19-20 days off a month, the hard-working professional CFI is certainly more accurately the “worker bee!”

The Benefits of Airline Flying

The Airline Worker Bee VS Professional CFI article makes some very good points (airline flying is certainly not for everyone!), but the YouTube video cited seems to miss the mark. The individual on the video, dressed in his former employer’s uniform, tells a tale of low pay and low job satisfaction. Throughout his narrative, he gives several examples that I feel are in need of additional perspective.


The YouTube creator includes commuting to and from his base as part of his job. It’s not, it’s a choice. Most young adults move to their place of work and aren’t afforded the ability to fly for free to their office. Virtually every regional airline is hiring right now, offering nationwide basing options. A decade ago I may have empathized, as only high cost of living bases were available to up-and-comers (e.g., JFK/LGA).

Operational Tempo

Yes, time pressure does exist at the airlines. After a year in this environment, programming the FMS and completing the prerequisite preflight checks are second nature. It’s absolutely normal to feel overwhelmed during the first year. In addition, most regionals allow meal breaks and most crews can successfully divide up the required tasks so no one goes hungry.

Compensation / Career Trajectory

In today’s environment, the road to a major airline is the quickest it has been in decades. Upgrade to a six-figure regional captain seat is currently attainable within 2-3 years, quickly followed by the ability to get hired by a major. Based on NBAA salary surveys, a young person will likely make $1,000,000 – $2,000,000 more at a major airline than a large cabin business jet captain position (over a 20-30 year career span). Loss of license and long term disability are generally included in a major airline pilot’s benefits package, in addition to a 16% 401k contribution (no match required). Robust health insurance options are also available.

Although not mentioned, I will contend that there is no better place to quickly accumulate thousands of hours of flight time in a standardized environment with hundreds of other pilots (immense exposure). Regardless of where you want to end up (corporate, instructing, etc.), the foundation that a 121 operation offers will satisfy both auditors (e.g., Wyvern, Argus) and those on the hiring board that you’ve seen quite a bit. This isn’t to say that you can’t get the same exposure in other ways (charter!), but it’s certainly a well-vetted pathway.

Quality of Life

Totally subjective. Personally, I’d rather have a fixed schedule a month in advance than be on call. Some folks like the “dynamic” nature of non-flying jobs (I did at one point), but it’s hard to justify with little ones at home. Being “just a number” pays off in dividends when trying to manipulate one’s schedule to make a recital or tend to a sick loved one.

Job Satisfaction

Had the author stayed a bit longer, he may have been able to enter into the training department, joined the safety team, or engaged in management duties. There are incredibly satisfying roles within the airlines, from designing approach procedures to on-boarding a new type of aircraft into the fleet. Alternatively, he could’ve gotten senior enough to establish a light schedule where he could “teach GA” on his own time, even opening up his own 141 school (as many have done before him).

Bottom Line

David makes some great arguments in the blog post itself. There is truly a dire need for professional CFIs. There are many other roads in aviation. Airline flying isn’t for everyone. Mid-life career-changers may not benefit from the 121 life as much as a twenty-something. The video, however, is reminiscent of a medical student complaining about residency: “paying dues”, whether right or wrong, is a part of the airline career and pays off dividends in much less time than that of a medical doctor or aspiring professional athlete.

– JM is currently a pilot with experience in the 61, 121, 135, 141, 142, and OEM sectors. The views expressed above are his own and not representative of his employer. His views expressed are personal and he makes no claim of being an “aviation expert!”

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Author: David St. George

SAFE Director, Master CFI (12X), FAA DPE, ATP (ME/SE) Currently jet charter captain.

One thought on “Airline Professionals VS Worker Bee CFIs”

  1. i also agree with David. There is a real need for full-time cfi’s who really enjoy the job. I have a non-cfi flying job as my full time occupation and part -time cfi after work. I tell everybody that my full-time job is my work flying and my part-time cfi work is my fun flying. No, the airline industry is not for everybody. Neither is being a cfi. But the attitude expressed in the youtube video is consistant with the the one we have with young people these days. It is ” I want my job to support my lifestyle and I want to start at the top”.

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