Few careers have as much flexibility as pilots when it comes to choosing where to live. But the location choice can have significant impact on a pilot’s quality of life and career advancement. Read more to learn the factors you need to consider …

Domicile – in airline terms this is the permanent location of flight crew. Work schedules begin and end at the domicile where a flight crew is based. Some airlines have only a few domiciles while others can have several domiciles spread throughout the country, or even internationally.

One of the never-ending challenges pilots face in their career is deciding the domiciles they will work from. This decision is first made at a high-level by the employer a pilot decides to work for. But pilots will also face the decision throughout their time at a specific employer as most have the option to change domiciles.


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Living in Domicile vs Commuting

Pilots can choose if they want to live in base or if they want to commute to their base. Commuting used in this context refers to getting a space-available ride to work on an airline or cargo flight. The flight benefits and jumpseat agreements pilots have as part of their job affords the option of commuting.

Pilots that choose to commute will spend more time away from home than the pilots that live in base.

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether or not to commute:

  • Availablity of flights between home and domicile
  • Employer’s commuter policy
  • Time Spent Commuting
  • Likelihood of being on reserve for a prolonged period of time
  • Whether you want to have the option for extra flying and premium pay

Airline Flight Availability and Commuter Policy

The flights available for commuting will have significant impact on a commuting pilot’s time spent away from home. This includes the flight frequency, distance the pilot has to commute, and whether their commute will involve just one leg or multiple legs.

An employer’s commuter policy, usually defined in an employment agreement, can make a significant difference in the stress associated with commuting to work. Commuter policies give pilots assurances of no disciplinary actions for not getting to work on time – so long as the pilot makes an effort required by the commuter policy to get to work. If a pilot doesn’t make it on time they will lose pay for the missed work but are able to rejoin their trip once they make it into position.

Extra Flying and Premium Pay

Most pilot employers have opportunities to pick up extra flying either for straight up extra pay or with premium pay options such 1.5 times normal rate. The extra flying option is referred to as open time. Open time extra pay can be substantial for pilots that make it a priority.

It is difficult for commuting pilots to pick up open flying due to their availability and the extra travel time needed to pick up small increments of flying. If you want to put yourself into a position to for extra pay then living in base is a more realistic choice.

Crash Pads

Some pilot commutes are easy and allow pilots to arrive in their domicile a short time ahead of beginning their assigned trips. Other commutes require pilots to arrive in domicile well ahead of the beginning of trips.

Pilots on reserve need to spend a significant amount of time in their domicile being available to their employer while waiting for a work assignment.

Flight crew that need to spend more time in their domicile will often find crash pads. Crash pads are cheap (often shared) housing arrangements that provide pilots with the bare minimum to sleep and rest while waiting for assignments. Crash pads are an added expense for flight crew needing them.

Some employers offer a set amount of hotel room availability, paid by the employer, to commuting pilots as part of their compensation.

Domicile’s Impact on Quality of Life and Career Progression

There are factors to consider when choosing a base. The first consideration is getting off reserve and getting regular lines of flying. Regularly scheduled lines mean more days off, more income, the opportunity to pick up extra flying, and the peace of mind of having a set schedule.

The best way to get off reserve quickly is to pick domiciles staffed by more junior pilots or to pick larger bases. Crew domiciles end up being staffed by more junior pilots due to cost of living, quality of life considerations, aircraft types operated out that base, where pilots typically fly to out of a base, and trip schedules.

Not only are junior bases easier to hold a line of flying in but they can provide quicker opportunities to upgrade into larger airplane types or upgrading into a captain position.

Larger bases typically provide a wider range of flying. They will have a mix of shorter vs longer trips and a range of show times to suit each pilot’s work preferences.

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Domicile Considerations

There are several considerations when looking at potential domiciles.

East Coast Domiciles With High Cost of Living

For most pilot employers there is a trend for east coast domiciles with high costs of living to be the most junior crew domiciles. Pilots often avoid living in these areas to increase the spending power of their paychecks. West coast bases are frequently more senior for most pilot employers.

Commuter-Centric Airports

There are cities scattered around that have low cost of living while also having good flight access to several major operational hubs. These are popular cities to live in for flight crew and can sometimes be a challenge when competing with others for limited space-available seating.

Multi-Leg Commutes and Quality of Life

Commutes requiring more than one flight leg add significant time to commuting. These will cause pilots to be gone from home far more than single leg commutes and make getting to work more stressful.

Commuting to Reserve

Commuting to reserve requires pilots to spend significant amounts of time away from home. Pilots will spend a good chunk of this time from home not flying, and instead waiting for work assignments to be assigned by their employers.

Longer Trips for Commuting

As a general rule, commuting flight crew will want longer trips while at work – such as working four day trips rather than working one or two day trips. This means less time spent commuting and less need for crash pads. Commuters will often seek trips that begin late in a day or end early in a day to lessen the need to stay overnight in their domicile.

Non-hub Domiciles Are At Risk

If you are considering a domicile that isn’t a hub that base should be viewed as temporary. Airline and cargo operations are fluid and employers will frequently open and close outstations. It would be wise to not uproot families or even consider purchasing a home for a domicile unless that city is an operations hub.

Plane Lock vs Domicile Lock

Employers require pilots to stay in an airplane type for a set period of time after being qualified to fly it. This is to cover training costs and to prevent extra training cycles from pilots jumping around between airplane types.

Employers rarely lock pilots into specific domiciles for periods of time. However, if there is a specific domicile you wish to work from it is good to plan airplane types around those that are based in your desired domicile.


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Legacy and Major Airline Domestic Pilot Domiciles

ACY Atlantic City, NJ

  • Spirit Airlines

ANC Anchorage, AK

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Fedex Express
  • United Parcel Service

ATL Atlanta, GA

  • Delta Air Lines
  • Southwest Airlines

AVL Asheville, NC

  • Allegiant Air

BLI Bellingham, WA

  • Allegiant Air

BOS Boston, MA

  • American Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways

BWI Baltimore, MD

  • Southwest Airlines

CLE Cleveland, OH

  • United Airlines

CLT Charlotte, NC

  • American Airlines

CVG Cincinnati, OH

  • Allegiant Air
  • Delta Air Lines

DAL Dallas, TX

  • Southwest Airlines
  • Virgin America

DCA Washington, DC

  • American Airlines

DEN Denver, CO

  • United Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines

DFW Dallas, TX

  • American Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines

DTW Detroit, MI

  • Delta Air Lines
  • Spirit Airlines

EWR Newark, NJ

  • Delta Air Lines
  • United Airlines

FLL Fort Lauderdale, FL

  • Allegiant Air
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Spirit Airlines

HNL Honolulu, HI

  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Allegiant Air

HOU Houston, TX

  • Southwest Airlines

IAD Washington, DC

  • United Airlines

IAH Houston, TX

  • United Airlines

IND Indianapolis, IN

  • FedEx Express

IWA Phoenix, AZ

  • Allegiant Air

JFK New York City, NY

  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Virgin America

LAS Las Vegas, NV

  • Allegiant Air
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines

LAX Los Angeles, CA

  • American Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • Delta Air Lines
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • FedEx Express

LGA New York City, NY

  • Delta Air Lines
  • United Airlines

LGB Long Beach, CA

  • JetBlue Airways

MCO Orlando, FL

  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines

MDW Chicago, IL

  • Southwest Airlines

MEM Memphis, TN

  • FedEx Express

MIA Miami, FL

  • American Airlines
  • United Parcel Service

MSP Minneapolis, MN

  • Delta Air Lines
  • Sun Country

MYR Myrtle Beach, SC

  • Allegiant Air

OAK Oakland, CA

  • Allegiant Air
  • Southwest Airlines

ONT Ontario, CA

  • United Parcel Service

ORD Chicago, IL

  • American Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines

PDX Portland, OR

  • Alaska Airlines

PHL Philadelphia, PA

  • American Airlines
  • Frontier Airlines

PHX Phoenix, AZ

  • American Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines

PIE St Petersburg, FL

  • Allegiant Air

PIT Pittsburgh, PA

  • Allegiant Air

SDF Louisville, KY

  • United Parcel Service

SEA Seattle, WA

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines

SFB Orlando, FL

  • Allegiant Air

SFO San Francisco, CA

  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America

SLC Salt Lake City, UT

  • Delta Air Lines

STL St. Louis, MO

  • American Airlines

VPS Fort Walton, FL

  • Allegiant Air

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Legacy and Major Airline International Pilot Domiciles

CGN Cologne, Germany

  • FedEx Express

GUM Guam

  • United Airlines

HKG Hong Kong

  • FedEx Express

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Regional Airline Domestic Pilot Domiciles

ACK Nantucket, MA

  • Cape Air

ALB Albany, NY

  • Cape Air

ANC Anchorage, AK

  • Peninsula Airways
  • Corvus Airlines
  • Ravn Alaska

ATL Atlanta, GA

  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • Endeavor Air

AUG Augusta, ME

  • Cape Air

BIL Billings, MT

  • Cape Air

BOI Boise, ID

  • Horizon Air

BOS Boston, MA

  • Peninsula Airways
  • Cape Air

CGI Cape Girardeau, MO

  • Cape Air

CLE Cleveland, OH

  • ExpressJet Airlines

CLT Charlotte, NC

  • PSA Airlines

CMH Columbus, OH

  • Republic Airways

CVG Cincinnati, OH

  • PSA Airlines

DAY Dayton, OH

  • PSA Airlines

DCA Washington, DC

  • Republic Airways
  • PSA Airlines

DEN Denver, CO

  • Skywest Airlines
  • GoJet Airlines

DFW Dallas, TX

  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • Envoy
  • Mesa Airlines

DTW Detroit, MI

  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • Endeavor Air
  • Compass Airlines

EWB New Bedford, MA

  • Cape Air

EWR Newark, NJ

  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • Republic Airways
  • CommutAir

FAT Fresno, CA

  • Skywest Airlines

FLL Fort Lauderdale, FL

  • Silver Airways

GDV Glendive, MT

  • Horizon Air

GGW Glasgow, MT

  • Cape Air

HNL Honolulu, HI

  • ‘Ohana by Hawaiian

HPN White Plains, NY

  • Cape Air

HVR Havre, MT

  • Cape Air

HYA Hyannis, MA

  • Cape Air

IAD Washington, DC

  • Mesa Airlines
  • Trans States Airlines
  • Silver Airways
  • CommutAir
  • Air Wisconsin

IAH Houston, TX

  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • Skywest Airlines
  • Mesa Airlines
  • Republic Airways

IND Indianapolis, IN

  • Republic Airways

IRK Kirksville, MO

  • Cape Air

JFK New York City, NY

  • Endeavor Air

LAX Los Angeles, CA

  • Skywest Airlines
  • Compass Airlines

LEB Lebanon, NH

  • Cape Air

LGA New York City, NY

  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • Republic Airways
  • Endeavor Air

MCI Kansas City, MO

  • Republic Airways

MCO Orlando, FL

  • Silver Airways

MDT Harrisburg, PA

  • Piedmont Airlines

MFR Medford, OR

  • Horizon Air

MIA Miami, FL

  • Republic Airways

MKE Milwaukee, WI

  • Air Wisconsin

MSP Minneapolis, MN

  • Skywest Airlines
  • Endeavor Air
  • Compass Airlines

MSS Massena, NY

  • Cape Air

MVY Martha’s Vineyard, MA

  • Cape Air

MWA Marion, IL

  • Cape Air

OGS Ogdebsburg, NY

  • Cape Air

OLF Wolf Point, MT

  • Cape Air

ORD Chicago, IL

  • ExpressJet Airlines
  • Skywest Airlines
  • Republic Airways
  • Envoy
  • GoJet Airlines
  • Trans States Airlines
  • Air Wisconsin

ORF Norfolk, VA

  • PSA Airlines

OWB Owensboro, KY

  • Cape Air

PDX Portland, OR

  • Skywest Airlines
  • Horizon Air

PHL Philadelphia, PA

  • Republic Airways
  • PSA Airlines
  • Piedmont Airlines

PHX Phoenix, AZ

  • Skywest Airlines
  • Mesa Airlines

PIT Pittsburgh, PA

  • Republic Airways

PSP Palm Springs, CA

  • Skywest Airlines

PVC Provincetown, MA

  • Cape Air

PVD Providence, RI

  • Cape Air

RDU Raleigh-Durham, NC

  • GoJet Airlines

RKD Rockland, ME

  • Cape Air

About Greg Thomson

Greg started his professional pilot journey in 2002 after graduating from Embry Riddle. Since that time he has accumulated over 7,000 hours working as a pilot. Greg’s professional experience includes flight instructing, animal tracking, backcountry flying, forest firefighting, passenger charter, part 135 cargo, and flying for a regional airline. Greg took a 5 year hiatus from flying and worked in software development and marketing. He has since returned to flying as a cargo pilot. Greg enjoys educating and helping pilots improve their professional lives and is passionate about applying technology and new methods to help with traditional challenges.