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Delta removes a big barrier to getting hired there as a pilot

Jan. 10, 2022
3 min read
Delta Air Lines A350 Taking Off
Delta removes a big barrier to getting hired there as a pilot
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Becoming a Delta Air Lines pilot just got easier for many aspiring applicants.

The Atlanta-based carrier this month removed a requirement that its pilot candidates have a four-year college degree. That’s now “preferred.”

With the change, Delta becomes the last major U.S. airline to drop the college degree requirement. Only FedEx continues to require a four-year degree for its pilot applicants, a TPG analysis of job requirements found.

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“After a comprehensive review of our pilot hiring requirements, Delta will now prefer a four-year colleague degree for first officer candidates — rather than require — effective Jan. 1, 2022,” Delta said in a statement. “Making the four-year degree requirement preferred removes unintentional barriers to those seeking a pilot career at Delta, especially those that have gained an equivalency through other operational and leadership experience.”

Delta’s decision to drop this requirement comes as airlines face a shortage of pilots that’s expected to accelerate in the coming years, though Delta noted it’s not currently having difficulties filling its new-hire classes.

“I think Delta is smart to make this decision because it increases their ability to compete for pilots at a time when we are facing a shortage of pilots in this country,” Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research, said in an interview with TPG. “Just like they must compete for passengers, airlines know that they must also compete for pilots.”

Despite the industry facing a pilot shortage, Delta noted that it is not currently having issues filling its new-hire classes. (Photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy)

Training to be a pilot is an expensive endeavor that is often comparable in cost to a four-year college education. The cost of flight training to prepare someone for the airlines usually falls somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000.

“What makes a good pilot is her or his flying skills,” Harteveldt said. “Not their knowledge of Socrates or creative writing.”

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Once that initial training is done, pilots must accrue the necessary hours to get the rating that unlocks airline jobs, a process known as "building time." Pilots usually have about 250 hours when the initial training is completed. To get hired by a regional airline, usually a first step toward employment at Delta or any other major "mainline" carrier, 1,500 hours are required. To get from 250 to 1,500 hours requires often low-paying jobs as a flight instructor, flying small aircraft charters or aerial survey work.

More: How a pilot shortage could leave travelers with higher fares and fewer options

While there are several four-year universities with pilot training programs that legally reduce 500 hours from the 1,500-hour requirement, many pilots decide that they’d rather postpone or completely forego their studies and instead train and build time full-time after they graduate from high school.

“For a lot of people who want to be pilots it's an either-or decision,” Harteveldt said. “Either they go to college to get a four-year degree or they pursue their passion to become a pilot.”

Delta’s move has been well-received in the aspiring pilot community. Its Facebook post announcing the change has been liked or loved over 1,000 times. Many comments noted that Delta’s move now opens the door for qualified candidates who otherwise couldn’t afford a college education.

Featured image by (Photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
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  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
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  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees