One of the never-ending challenges in the airlines is deciding which domicile to choose. This is not to be confused with choosing the airplane you want to fly, since, as a new hire, you’re usually not given much choice. Besides, you can be “frozen” in an airplane for a while, but you can still move from domicile to domicile in that particular airplane.
There are a couple of factors to consider when choosing your base. For most pilots, the first consideration is getting off of reserve and getting a regular line. A line means more money, more days off, and peace of mind knowing what you’ll be doing and when, versus waiting for the phone to ring—which is what reserves do. Generally speaking, the best way to get off of reserve is to pick the largest domicile.
Larger domiciles also offer the best variety of flying, as you’ll see a combination of longer and shorter flights, trips that may range from one day to four, and trips that offer report times that suit your personal preference.
Pilots also pick domiciles based on how easily they can commute to and from work. If a domicile is in a major hub, commuting usually is pretty easy. If it’s at an out station or a smaller “focus city,” the commute may be much more difficult.
When I was at Comair, we had a small base in Greensboro, North Carolina. The base existed because the company had built a hangar there, but it was a challenging commute, since direct service was offered to only four or five cities, and not all of those had a great deal of frequency. Most of the pilots tended to live within driving distance.
Our Cincinnati, New York, and Detroit bases had a number of options for getting back and forth to work. Taking multiple flights to work is never a lot of fun, and it greatly diminishes your enjoyment of the job.
The last consideration that usually comes into play when choosing a domicile is the time it takes to upgrade to captain, or, to take that a step further, to have the best schedule as a captain. At the regionals, that upgrade is critical so as to accumulate your pilot-in-command time as quickly as possible. Ironically, a smaller or less-desirable domicile can be the best option for upgrading quickly. It depends on the carrier.
Generally speaking, if you’re considering a base that isn’t a hub, you should consider it a base that is forever at risk of being closed down. The economy can change, and a viable outstation base can suddenly be losing money. Hubs tend to stay hubs.
Picking a base is not always as cut and dried as it seems, but it usually comes down to one or two factors that drive the final decision. This is especially true if you’re going to live in base.—Chip Wright