I am a person with very diverse interests and a lot of life goals I want to achieve. One of them is becoming an airline pilot (just working as one for a year or two) and the other is traveling the world.

I would like to combine two goals in one, that is becoming an airline pilot after I finish college and travelling the world at the same time, i.e. flying intercontinental flights.

So, my question is basically this: Is it possible to learn to fly and become an airline pilot within about 3 years (let's say age 20-23), then immediately get employed as an airline pilot and fly intercontinental routes (even as a co-pilot)?

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    $\begingroup$ All the long haul commercial pilots I know spent upwards of 6 years flying small craft, instructing, taking low paid jobs at small flying clubs and working their way up through local and regional airlines, to eventually reaching flight crew on long haul international carriers. The answer is going to be a big No unless you have some incredible source of funds to make this happen! $\endgroup$
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 5, 2016 at 11:10
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    $\begingroup$ becoming an airline pilot (just working as one for a year or two) - you're going to spend a large amount of money and spend many years training and progressing to do something for a year or two? To answer your question, no. It takes around 10 years to even get into the right hand seat of international flights. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Mar 5, 2016 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ +1, since after all this is a valid question, that deserves a good answer for future searches and reference. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Mar 5, 2016 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ Now it could be interesting to understand what is the life of long haul crew members, and whether they have time to visit the country they land in during their legal rest time. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Mar 5, 2016 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ If you only want to be a pilot for one or two years, it is probably best to remove it of your bucket list and use the money you save by not investing in pilot training to travel the world. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Mar 5, 2016 at 14:41

6 Answers 6


No, this is not a good idea, and No, it is not possible finish your education at 23, and then get employed as an intercontinental airline pilot.

It seems you have a distorted idea of what an airline pilot actually does. An intercontinental airline pilot usually spends just 24 hours at the layover destination. Much of that time is spent sleeping to recover from the fatigue of the long haul flight and sleeping to prepare for the next long haul flight. Not much time for sight-seeing.

The first requirement for becoming an airline pilot is a love of aviation and aircraft. Most airline pilots today have been passionate about aviation since an early age.

You will never be successful unless you are passionate about aviation due to all the roadblocks and hardships you will have to overcome in order to reach your goal.

To say that you only want to do it for 1-2 years is proof enough that you don't have what it takes.

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    $\begingroup$ Lets also mention that for the first 1-2 years of your career, you're probably running a short shuttle route in the midwest. No big jets, no international destintions. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Mar 5, 2016 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky Not every aviation career is in the USA, you know. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2016 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby or a given nation's equivalent of the boring midwest $\endgroup$
    – cat
    Mar 5, 2016 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ @tac Well, most nations aren't big enough to have an equivalent of the boring Midwest. For example, in Europe, surely most commercial passenger pilots have to be on international flights. The countries aren't big enough to have a lot of internal flights and your one-hour Chicago to Omaha flight turns into a one-hour London to Frankfurt flight. $\endgroup$ Mar 5, 2016 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby has a point. The percentage of domestic flights in the U.S. is quite unique to the U.S. That said, intra-Europe flights are mostly analogous to U.S. domestic flights, except that they do technically cross international borders (even if they might remain within the Schengen zone and not require immigration.) That said, there are some airlines that fly almost exclusively long-haul international, but these are mostly in Asia (e.g. Korean Air, Asiana, Cathay Pacific.) If you want a fast-track to long-haul intercontinental, you'd probably need to move there. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 6, 2016 at 3:54

Even once you get a job as a commercial pilot, you're not going to be starting intercontinental routes immediately.

For starters (in the US at least), you're probably only going to be able to start at a regional airline, flying short regional jet flights back and forth.

The airline industry is very much dependent on seniority, so you'll have to put in substantial time at that regional carrier before you have a chance at even getting hired by one of the big mainline airlines. Even once you do, the routes you fly on are bid based on seniority, so you're not going to get intercontinental routes for quite a while.

Also, don't forget that intercontinental flights are flown on different equipment than medium range mainline flights, which are different equipment from regional jets. you're going to have to get trained and certified for several different aircraft along the way.

So yes, if you become a pilot you may eventually be able to fly intercontinental routes and see the world, but it will likely take decades of work before you're in that position.

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    $\begingroup$ In the U.S., this is very true. You'll rarely see a young pilot flying intercontinental routes for U.S. carriers. That said, it's not true for the whole world. If you get a job at Cathay Pacific, for example, you'll be flying wide-bodies almost immediately. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 6, 2016 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ Also, judging from a few aspiring airline pilots I've known, your first years may not be with airlines at all, but with freight companies doing runs between small towns to pick up & deliver for FexEx & UPS. (In piston twins, or even singles.) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Apr 7, 2016 at 19:28

If your intention is to travel the world, then don't be a pilot. Instead, be a flight attendant.

In addition to the possibility of being on international flights relatively early in your career, you will likely be surrounded by a majority of female coworkers who will be very glad to let you walk the aisles, lift the luggage, calm the rowdy passengers, and deal with the occasional butt-pincher.

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    $\begingroup$ Another tip is to work as a freight pilot. Airline pilots fly a small number of routes. The trips freight pilots make are much more diverse. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2016 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm... At least for the case of the U.S., my understanding was that FAs had similar seniority situations to pilots, where it is mostly quite senior FAs on long-haul routes with junior FAs mostly stuck on regional routes. FAs also don't have the "move to Southeast Asia" fast-track option like pilots, unless perhaps they also happen to be young, attractive, and female. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 7, 2016 at 2:19
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab Had a friend get picked up as a flight attendant by Hawaiian Airlines a few years back and he was telling stories of adventures in Southeast Asia early on. No college, no experience either. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2016 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ @digitgopher Ah, yeah, I suppose Hawaiian would be an exception, since they have a much higher percentage of long-haul routes than other U.S. airlines (because nearly everything is long-haul from Hawaii, except the other Hawaiian islands.) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 9, 2016 at 0:03

"...a year or two"? Seriously don't even think about it. But ignoring your lack of commitment, here are some ideas.

Instead of traveling the world, try living and working in a foreign country. This can be an incredible adventure and broaden your horizons. You'll have an understanding and appreciation for international concerns that can't be matched by merely being a tourist. You might still want to travel so you can use that place as a base to visit various destinations on your time off.

Southeast Asia has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years. Some of the biggest airplane orders are coming from there. Indonesia and Malaysia are looking for good pilots. Don't know if they provide training or not. Check out AirAsia and other regional airlines. Regional in this case means the Southeast Asia region and may be international.

Or the middle-east. Here's Etihad training program

This suggests Etihad accepts non-residents for training.

  • $\begingroup$ The comments suggest that Etihad no longer accepts foreigners $\endgroup$
    – Daniel F
    Mar 5, 2016 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Judging from the pilots I've had when flying with them (and what I've heard from others,) Cathay Pacific heavily recruits Western pilots. Every pilot I've had with them was American, British, or Australian, even though the airline is based in Hong Kong. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 6, 2016 at 4:00

Is it possible to learn to fly and become an airline pilot within about 3 years (let's say age 20-23), then immediately get employed as an airline pilot and fly intercontinental routes (even as a co-pilot)?

Yes, but not in the US. You'll have to look overseas at airlines like Emirates/Qatar etc. for that.

Airline routes are offered by seniority; and pilots that have been with the airline a significant amount of years (I am talking 5+ at minimum) are given the longer routes.

In the US, where I have the most exposure to the flight training side - once you get your ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) and have acquired all the relevant type certifications - your entire purpose in life is to build up your hours as PIC (Pilot In Command) / PF (Pilot Flying).

You will be doing this on regional airlines, which may be contracted out to larger airlines. You may be flying an aircraft that's painted in United colors, but its actually a regional airline used on "feeder" routes to the larger hub airports. This is typically the case in the US (and Europe).

Or, you may be employed by an airline that has no international routes.

Outside of these areas - if you come to the Middle East, you may be flying international routes at the start of your career; simply because that's the only option - and you may be flying the long haul jets if that's all the airline has to offer.

For example, Emirates (the largest operator of 777 and the A380) flies international exclusively; and the majority of their routes are medium to long haul (greater than 3 hours flight time). You may have a chance to fly internationally, but on shorter routes like Dubai - Muscat, Dubai - Bahrain, Dubai - Kuwait (this is the shortest A380 flight by Emirates, and is used for crew training/familiarization).

Qatar Airways is similar - they use their short routes for crew familiarization and training on their newer aircraft. They flew their 777-200/300LR on the Doha - Kuwait - Doha circuit when they first got the aircraft (a route normally served by the A320); and the 787 on the Doha - Dubai - Doha circuit (again, normally served by the A320).

However, you may not have the opportunity to fly the longer routes until well into your career with the airline; and you will be starting off (training) in smaller aircraft and a lot of simulator time.

Typical training period for commercial pilots is between 3 and 4 years (if you are directly trained by an airline, such as Emirate's flight training program) and then you are qualified as an airline pilot.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, Southwest flies to Mexico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, Belize, the Bahamas and Aruba. See their map. $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2016 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @BurhanKhalid Yeah, international routes are a somewhat recent addition for Southwest. Many of them were added after they acquired AirTran Airlines, which already flew several routes to the Caribbean. Southwest doesn't have any long-haul, flights, though, as they only operate 737s. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Mar 7, 2016 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ How feasible is it to work on Middle Eastern routes with Emerates for people who don't speak Arabic? $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Nov 20, 2020 at 22:15

Seems like the hard way to see the world.

Assuming you have a private license with complex and retractable endorsements. Then the next step is to get your instrument rating, multi engine, turbine and commercial ATR rating and at least 800 to a thousand hours as PIC (Pilot in Command). By now you have spend over $50,000 and might be employable as first officer for a small low budget commuter line at a couple of G's a month.

Is it worth it? That's up to you. I have over 4,000 hours in single and multi engine prop and jet aircraft. I own and fly a Beech Baron which is considered to be one of the more challenging light twin engine planes. I do not consider myself qualified to be an airline pilot.


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