Ask an Alaska Pilot: Do you get to choose your flights?


By Doug Branch, Alaska Airlines captain

Doug Branch’s interest in aviation began around the same time he could say the word “plane.” Captain Branch has deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, including growing up on Bainbridge Island and learning to fly at Eastern Washington’s Big Bend Community College. After three years flying for a commuter airline in the Midwest, Doug joined Alaska Airlines in 2001. Captain Doug BranchAfter 14 years, he has a passion for doing things safely and efficiently and is honored to have the opportunity to educate passengers and to facilitate life’s great memories by getting them safely to where they need to go.

In the “Ask an Alaska Pilot” series, he will address common questions he gets from friends, family and travelers. Do you have a question you’ve been wanting to ask a pilot? Let us know in the comments and your question could be featured in a future post.

Do you get to choose your flights? (Arthur H., Facebook)

If a pilot is a “lineholder,” he or she will get to bid for their top choice of flights, which are then awarded based on seniority. A line is a monthly schedule that includes a collection of 1-4 day-long pairings, or trips. Once a pilot is awarded a trip and it’s on the schedule, for the most part it is theirs.

More about lines: Ask an Alaska pilot: What route do you fly?

However, there is a group of pilots that don’t normally get to choose specific flights: reserve pilots. Reserve pilots bid (or choose) lines that just list days “off “and “on” reserve for a month at a time. There are certain spans of time during their reserve days, in line with FAA regulations, when they are contactable and can be assigned a trip, sometimes with very short notice and anywhere Alaska flies.

Reserve pilots are just that – a reserve. They fill in for situations such as weather delays, when other pilots become ill, or when other pilots are approaching FAA flight or duty time limits. They may also operate a short-notice charter flight, reposition flight (for example, flying in a replacement aircraft for a plane that needs some maintenance work) or even fill in in the simulator for another pilot who is training and doesn’t have a simulator partner. A reserve pilot is often the one who “saves the day” and keeps a flight operating that might otherwise be cancelled or greatly delayed.

Do you prefer to pilot one long flight or multiple short flights in one workday? (Tiffany S., Facebook)

For me, that’s easy, I prefer one long flight in a workday. It’s funny though, you can ask another pilot the same question and get a different answer each time. They say one person’s junk is another’s treasure, and some pilots absolutely love multi-leg, multi-day trips.

Are you a pilot? Horizon Air is currently hiring first officers. Apply online at

More Ask an Alaska Pilot:

What route do you fly?

How do I become a pilot?

What’s your favorite airport to fly into?


  1. Las Vegas

  2. Hello- I’m 43 years old and I have 4.5 hours towards a private pilot certificate. Is it possible for me to have a career as an ATP at an airline like Alaska or Horizon? Is there really a pilot shortage that needs to be filled over the next 5 years that might make that a viable option for me? I have always wanted to learn to fly and I would love to get paid at the same time. Any realistic feed back would be much appreciated.

    1. Hi Jason –

      Here’s an answer from Horizon Air’s chief pilot:

      The answer is yes, it actually could be done for a person beginning to learn at age 43. If the person is already in possession of a Bachelor’s degree, one could focus completely at flight training at an FAA approved Part 141 Flight School. It would take approximately two years of full time dedication and about $100,000 in training cost spent to become certified as a multi-engine, instrument rated commercial pilot. They would then need to work for approximately another two to three years full time as a Certified flight Instructor to gain the hours needed for the Airline Transport Certificate. At that point they would be marketable as an airline pilot.

      It can be done, but certainly isn’t easy. And to your second question, the pilot shortage is real and significant.

  3. What’s the most challenging airport on Alaska Airlines routes in Alaska to fly into?

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