I stay at my current airline. I most likely upgrade in 3-4 years unless something unexpected happens. Plan on going to a major in 5-7 years.
Pros: I keep my seniority and gain quality of life as I become a more senior FO. No paycut involved. Get to keep living in the Pacific Northwest, keep living in our house.
Cons: Essentially stagnant wages for 6-8 years. If Dawn and I have kids, we both have to work full-time to (barely) afford it and won't be significantly paying down our student loan debts anymore. Exposed position for the next 3-4 years as I have zero turbine PIC time.
Go to a major airline, one that I could stay at my entire career.
Pros: Even with decimated pay rates, work rules, and retirements, the majors are still better than regional airlines, and things are bound to get better - at least at the airlines that survive the next few years. Senior pilot groups mean more retirements and quicker advancement. And getting in at the beginning of a hiring surge means more furlough protection when the next downturn hits.
Cons: American isn't hiring. NWA and United are very dicey prepositions, and with zero turbine PIC I'd be gambling that I'd never get furloughed. FedEx, UPS, and Southwest require turbine PIC. Delta and Continental are hiring and technically don't require turbine PIC, but you really need to know somebody in high places to get hired without it. Paycut to go to CO, UA, and NW.
Action: Thought about applying to UA or NW for about two seconds. I did put in apps at DL and CO but haven't heard anything from either. I have no internal recommendations at either airline.
Move Sorta Up
Go to a major or national airline that's not an ideal career choice but would provide higher pay than I'm making now.
Pros: Several of these airline don't require turbine PIC (jetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country, etc). Pay would increase after year one. Alaska Airlines has also started hiring FOs at my company with zero PIC time - and Alaska is the one airline where I could still live in Portland and have a short commute.
Cons: I have real doubts about the future of Spirit and Sun Country, and I think even jetBlue is in trouble. Alaska Airlines has successfully carved out a niche for itself on the west coast until now, but their conservative management has been painfully slow to react to increasing competition in the last year. The stock price has tumbled and there is a real threat of a LBO. Meanwhile, the upgrade is over ten years and I'd be without turbine PIC that entire time - back to square one at a regional if I lost my job. Slight paycut for first year at AS. Good chance of a strike at AS within the next few years.
Action: I met with an Alaska Airlines recruiter who said I had a very good chance of getting called for an interview. I began to submit my application. I even had several of my coworkers write recommendations on my behalf. Then Dawn had the miscarriage and the money problem wasn't immediately pressing and I realized it was a dumb career move with not much payoff for the risk involved.
Go to another regional airline with a quicker upgrade time. Get turbine PIC time and get out.
Pros: Once I upgraded, pay would be better than I'm making now. Would build turbine PIC quickly and could then go to a career major. Quite a few airlines with low upgrade time, a few nearly hiring street captains. Also there are a few startups - Lynx and Compass - with the chance to get in very nearly at the bottom floor, with instant or rapid upgrades and good seniority.
Cons: Don't hate myself enough to work for Pinnacle or Mesa. Lynx payrates turned out to be ridiculously low ($50/hr for Megawhacker captain). Signs that growth may halt at Skywest (last scheduled deliveries in November). Huge paycut while FO. Would have to move - couldn't afford the house as FO and few easily commutable bases from Portland. Giving up three years seniority to go to another regional is painful and somewhat risky...chasing seniority has bitten more than one pilot, and your job is one RFP away from elimination at any regional.
Action: Briefly considered Lynx until I saw their ridiculous payrates. Yes, that's year one pay but they have yet to post any sort of scale that'd indicate that pay goes up significantly with longevity. Applied to Compass Airlines in the spring and didn't hear anything back.
Take a leave of absence from my current company and go back to Ameriflight and fly the Be1900 or Metroliner for a year. Build 1000 hours turbine PIC time.
Pros: Don't have to give up seniority number at current airline; leave of absence does not delay when I can upgrade. Little career risk. In the meantime, I'll have the 1000 hours TPIC needed to get hired at the "career majors" or go to a 2nd choice like Alaska with more confidence in case something happened. Pay is about what I'm making now. Not flying 70+ seat airplanes for insulting rates. I know Ameriflight is a good company. Dawn wanted to take a year's break from teaching anyways.
Cons: Back to single-pilot freight, harder and more dangerous than regional flying. Have to move, commuting not an option. Having 1000 hrs of Metro turbine time is no guarantee of getting hired at DL or CO, especially without many contacts there.
Action: Have worked with my chief pilot on getting a LOA and Ameriflight's chief pilot on securing a Metroliner slot. Dawn took a LOA from her school. We're going to sell our house. We don't know where we're moving yet. My tentative class date at Ameriflight is September 17.
So that's where we're at. I really didn't have any great options to choose from, short of fanciful ones like Scenario A in the While I Was Out post. I'm pretty risk-adverse in my career choices, which is probably why I ended up where I'm at, looking at a seven year upgrade. Taking the LOA is the least risky of the realistic options - it allows me to pursue my goals without really sticking my neck out far. I should mention that Dawn's very on board with this - she wanted to take a break to do something else for a year. The fact that we both have jobs to come back to and we know it's for one year only makes it a lot easier. I wish we didn't have to sell the house but renting it out isn't a realistic option when I'm across the country without nonrev benefits. By the way, if you know somebody who'd be in the market for a nice 3BR/2.5BA townhome in the Portland area, give them my email. If I don't post much in the next few weeks, I'm busy trying to entice a buyer to purchase our home rather than the other gazillion for sale in our town.
Update: Between the time I started writing this post and finished it, one of the major assumptions about one of my options changed dramatically. I'm not sure if anything will come of it so I won't go into details yet. You can expect more after, say, August 14.