- Frontier Airlines is looking to hire 100 pilots with nearly 800 applications already received.
- The ultra-low-cost carrier is one of the few hiring pilots during an industry downturn.
- We spoke to Frontier’s vice president of flight operations to see what makes a great candidate.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
It’s been nearly a year since Frontier Airlines froze pilot hiring in March, at the start of what would be a crippling period for travel. But as aviation enters a new year focused on recovery, the ultra-low-cost carrier is ready to bring more pilots into the cockpit.
The application window for Frontier’s latest round of pilot hiring opened on January 27 with prospective pilots having until February 17 to apply. Only around 100 pilots will get to join the airline’s ranks this time around despite potentially thousands of applicants and nearly 800 applications submitted in the first seven days.
While getting a spot at a major carrier like Frontier has never been easy, the pandemic is making it even more difficult as there’s no shortage of unemployed yet highly-qualified pilots eager to get back in the air. Pilots looking to get a foot in the door at the Denver-based carrier will have to be strategic in how they present themselves when applying.
Here’s what the airline looks for when hiring pilots.
A pilot ready to choose stability over glamour
Frontier’s primary focus is domestic leisure travel with a growing number of routes to the Caribbean and Latin America. For pilots, that means exclusively flying narrow-body Airbus A320 family aircraft mostly on domestic hops instead of larger wide-bodies on intercontinental flights to exotic overseas locales.
Long-haul international flying is a glamorous perk enjoyed by those flying for the big three â€” American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines â€” but the pandemic and past economic crises have shown just how fragile that type of flying can be. Frontier’s proposition is stability over glamour.
“Some of the perks you may see at a larger international carrier, we don’t have those,” Brad Lambert, Frontier Airlines’ vice president of flight operations, told Insider. “But in exchange for that, you get long-term stable employment, quick upgrade, and we think a very bright future in terms of schedule and basing and things like that, that are always important. Quality of life, really.”
Ultra-low-cost carriers are proving to be rebounding faster than their international-oriented competitors thanks to an increase in domestic travel, which Frontier believes will help pilots better weather economic storms.
Frontier is also in growth mode with recently opened bases in cities like Miami and more to be potentially opened in 2020. New planned routes also take Frontier as far south as El Salvador in just one of many expansions announced in 2020.
“With growth comes, more crew bases, quicker upgrades, better stability, better seniority to be able to bid better schedules, and instead of having a kind of a contracting business environment, we’ve really got an expanding business environment,” Lambert said.
A first officer can typically upgrade to a captain in as little as three years, Lambert says, which comes with an increase in pay and responsibility. More importantly for some, Frontier’s model also gives pilots more control over their schedules.
“Being home more often and spending more time with your family, those are the types of family values that you get when you fly Frontier,” Lambert said. “And I think that’s huge.”
A safety-oriented and reliable pilot with good customer service skills
Frontier has technical qualifications that all applicants need to meet including 1,500 hours of total time and an airline transport pilot licence but recruiters also look at personality characteristics, especially as it relates to safety and customer service.
“This may surprise people, but customer service is really important to us,” Lambert said. “We certainly want folks that understand customer service, understand how important it is to communicate effectively, especially during [irregular operations].”
Hearing the phrase ‘this is your captain speaking’ never fails to draw attention and communication skills are especially important when delays occur or a situation arises mid-flight. Recently, an American Airlines pilot was forced to quell an impromptu political rally while over Kansas, using his authority to maintain order.
“Our motto is ‘low fares done right,’ so we work hard to control the costs and can pass low costs on to our consumers that are flying on us,” Lambert said. “But in addition, ‘done right’ means we communicate effectively, we treat people the way we would want to be treated.”
Lambert says a heavy emphasis is also put on safety and pilots with a clean record and years of experience will be more attractive candidates.
“We don’t want to look at people that have accidents and incidents on the records,” Lambert said.
A pilot that understands the business model
Frontier may be an ultra-low-cost but the airline doesn’t cheap-out when it comes to its aircraft. The average age of Frontier’s fleet is less than five years old and the airline plans to bring on more next-generation Airbus aircraft including the A320neo and A321neo.
“We’re frugal, but we provide clean, safe, reliable transportation from A to B and we keep our costs low so we can pass those savings onto our passengers,” Lambert said. “And people have to know that.”
Recruiters are looking to see if pilots truly understand the Frontier model when hiring to gauge how well a pilot will fit into the business. Someone with a cursory understanding of the business might not be its best candidate, so pilots should study up on the airline and make sure they’re making the right choice.
“There’s a natural tendency when you’re out of a job to grab the first lifeline,” Lambert said. “And we try to make sure that we talk to people on that level of saying, ‘look, is this where you really want to be long-term'”?
What to expect if you get the interview
Pilots that make it past the application stage can expect a personal interview to gauge their attributes relating to customer service and safety. Then comes a panel interview with a human resources representative and a pilot followed by a situational-based interview where pilots will be put in a mock-cockpit and asked to make decisions.
The in-person interview process is “where we really get a feel for who they really are as a person,” Lambert said.
A general knowledge test, which is standard procedure at most airlines, can then be expected. It’s something that any competent pilot should be able to easily pass.
And pilots shouldn’t discount their background when applying as Frontier tries to take a sample from the three main hiring groups.
“We try to balance out pilots from corporate, pilots from regionals, and pilots from the military,” Lambert said. “And it’s not always the third, third, and a third, but we try to keep that mix as much as we can.”
Lambert pointed out that the airline has been seeing an influx of regional airline pilots, likely as 2020 saw the disappearance of ExpressJet Airlines, Compass Airlines, and Trans States Airlines, to name a few.
About 50% of candidates that make it to the interview stage get hired. And if a pilot does manage to get in the door, it’s always best to stick to the basics when interviewing.
“In any walk of life, a great attitude helps a lot,” Lambert said.