Getting lucky

Not quite what it sounds. But I have a question out of pure curiosity. When I see a 747 or a 777, which are considered by many to be the ideal type to fly, what kind of people are the captains?
What I mean is, is it just that they got lucky? or had the right connections? or just seniority? Or being in the right place at the right time?
Sometimes you see a 747 f/o in his early thirties, and a 737 f/o in their late 50's, and I wonder why the older guy isn't in the bigger airplane.
Is there any resentment or jealousy towards people who fly bigger planes in the airlines?
In Korea where I used to live, a few expat pilots I got to talk to said the Korean 744 or 777 guys are well connected or had their families pay big sums to get them on those kinds of planes.
Is being the captain of a big international airliner merely the sum of years of hard work and sweat?
 

Nick

Well-Known Member
Timing.



As far as your questions go, what type of person is a captain of a widebody jet -- just like anyone else! It's a job. I just hung out at a 777 captain's house for most of this afternoon and evening, with his son who is finishing his commercial training in the next few months.

Anyway, you ask about luck, connections, seniority, and being in the right place at the right time. It is all of that. This guy was my baseball coach in little league years ago. That's how I met him. I wanted to fly back then and I've been in touch with him ever since I found his phone number on an old baseball team roster not long after I got my private license.

I've posted his little career summary on here before; I'll post it again for you since he wouldn't mind and it gives examples of the things you ask about: luck, connections, seniority, and being in the right place at the right time.

AA JFK 777 CA said:
I am not sure if I ever told you my whole story about my job hunting. I applied to the airlines when I was 25 in 1977 and 1978. The airlines hired a few hundred. I was turned down by United , Twa and American and Delta. If I would have been hired by United Twa or American, I would have been laid off for about 6 years. Delta wanted you married and alot of the others were pro military pilots. Really not sure why I did not get hired by these airlines. I guess the moral of the story is NEVER GIVE UP. In June of 1984 American started to hire again, I was hired on Oct 1,1984 and I think I was about 180 of the new guys........The hiring stopped in 1990 or 1991 and we had hired 7000 guys. On our first day we were told that we would be Captains in 5 years. I was 727 FE for 1 year and then forced to DC-10 copilot because we had bought a bunch of dc-10s from PANAM and the new copilots were engineers for 7 years and did not want to learn another plane because they were just getting used to flying again. So they forced us engineers up. I stayed on the 10 until Nov of 1990 and was 727 Captain, actually I got paid as a 727 captain in November of 1990 but did not go to school until Dec. In Jan of 1991, officially a 727 International Captain. In April of 1992, I got DC-10 captain. I only lasted there a year as things slowed down and went back to 727. Then I think I went to the Airbus for 4 months, then back to the DC-10. I think I fell off again one more time to the bus for about 8 months and then back to the 10 until 1999 when the 10 left New York. I went back through the whole school on the bus again because I was off it for more then 2 years and in Oct 1st of 2000 was awarded 777. Yes I did get on at a great time and if I would have been hired in 1977, I would have sat at the panel for 7 years or been laid off.. So it all worked out for the best. I am number 1013 out of 13,000 pilots and I have 6 and a half years to go. Timing is everything.
Updated numbers to the story as of tonight: 850 out of 13000 pilots with ten years to go.

So, you can see how getting into one company as a hiring boom commences can yield great things in the years that follow. This captain flies with first officers that say "ever since I got here there hasn't been one bit of good news." They were hired in the 90s, and though times were good then, 9/11 came around and they took a paycut, still in the right seat, now 2008 is here and AA has not grown but rather, has shrunk a bit and will continue to do so. Being in the captain seat during that time would make it less of an issue as the pay is maxed out for whatever airplane one is on.

Also keep in mind: the captain of a 777 or 747 or whatever other widebody is there because there was a vacancy at their company and their seniority could hold it, and they wanted it. Many captains below them flying domestically might have more seniority but simply prefer to do that type of flying. Particularly if they live near the airport and can get 3-4 easy, productive daytrips in each week. That could mean being home every night and getting 80-90 hours in each month and having 3-4 day weekends every week.

It is all about personal preferences, and what one can do with their seniority at wherever they work.

Others on here will have many more examples for you.
 

moocowtex

Well-Known Member
It's a combo of a whole lot of things. Getting to that job where you may eventually get to fly the heavy iron takes a lot of work and persistence. Great networking skills help out in any career. But once you get to that "dream job", it's out of your hands. Things can be sailing along, but then if you get incompetent top brass running the show, there goes your future. Likewise, things can look bleak, suddenly someone comes in who has a clue how to run an airline, and things get better. You never know if you made the right decision until the day you retire. When I got hired at Southernjets in '97, it was one of THE places to be. Fast forward seven years and people were bailing out like rats off a sinking ship (which it was!). Four more years pass, and while it's not close to what it was a decade ago, it's greatly improved. So after all this tedious and ridiculous rambling, my final answer is more than just luck, but luck plays a part.
 

Toonces

Well-Known Member
Not quite what it sounds. But I have a question out of pure curiosity. When I see a 747 or a 777, which are considered by many to be the ideal type to fly, what kind of people are the captains?
What I mean is, is it just that they got lucky? or had the right connections? or just seniority? Or being in the right place at the right time?
Sometimes you see a 747 f/o in his early thirties, and a 737 f/o in their late 50's, and I wonder why the older guy isn't in the bigger airplane.
Is there any resentment or jealousy towards people who fly bigger planes in the airlines?
In Korea where I used to live, a few expat pilots I got to talk to said the Korean 744 or 777 guys are well connected or had their families pay big sums to get them on those kinds of planes.
Is being the captain of a big international airliner merely the sum of years of hard work and sweat?

You make it sound as though everybody wants to fly a widebody across the pond. I have flown with alot of guys that have no desire to do that type of flying. I wouldn't consider all 777 pilots to be lucky either. A senior Southwest skipper makes more than a Continental Delta United 777 captain and US Airways A330 captains. To top it off they are probably home more.
 

surreal1221

Well-Known Member
Nick,

Thanks for sharing that individual's experience.

Timing really is everything in this industry. It won't always be good timing, and you'll certainly have your share of bad timing. . .so don't cry when the bad times come. Just deal with them.
 
Interesting replies from everybody. I was reading the biography of captain Taylor, who made this site, and he got kicked around a lot by the industry before he got his current job which he enjoys.
For me, after training I don't care what I fly as long has it's not some single engine cessna.
 

Derg

Cap, Roci
Staff member
What I mean is, is it just that they got lucky?
Seniority.

or had the right connections?
Gotta have connections to get the interview. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is a ATP-ME.

or just seniority?
Seniority.

Or being in the right place at the right time?
Ehh, the secretary to the hiring office works in the hiring office and knows "The Man" probably better than anyone else and she's just answering telephones and taking deliveries of flowers from guys that want interviews.

Sometimes you see a 747 f/o in his early thirties, and a 737 f/o in their late 50's, and I wonder why the older guy isn't in the bigger airplane.
Nothing at all to do with age. The older guy might have a fat military retirement as a backup whereas the young hotshot's probably going to be in DC screaming about "Age 75" one day! ;)

Is there any resentment or jealousy towards people who fly bigger planes in the airlines?
Not mine.
 

Velocipede

New Member
And, as has been said, its all about what you want. I flew a gutload of long range overseas crap in the Navy. I'll be completely happy flying domestic for the rest of my career. You can have all the Mumbai you can stomach, and good luck to you.
 

Derg

Cap, Roci
Staff member
Field commission. I was under heavy fire while eating the crew meal and asked, "Who's in command here?" Then a tired and disheveled Capt. Caucasian said, "Uhh, YOU are."

And the rest was history! :)
 

ZapBrannigan

Old School
Sometimes fate is the hunter. ;) You can do everything right... get to the majors in your early 20s... and find yourself furloughed a few years later. Get back to the majors a few years after that... and find yourself furloughed again.

Before you know it you're in your mid-30s with a wife and family looking at going back to the majors for a third time -- maybe never even upgrading, much less flying a heavy -- or trying something different.
 

JoelT

Well-Known Member
Field commission. I was under heavy fire while eating the crew meal and asked, "Who's in command here?" Then a tired and disheveled Capt. Caucasian said, "Uhh, YOU are."

And the rest was history! :)
I'm promoting you to Colonel Cracker!
 
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