Chances of becoming an airline pilot
Absolutely! I know a guy who started flying for a regional airline as his “retirement job” in his late 50’s! He had been a recreational flyer and flight instructor for fun for a long time, so he had enough flight hours to get into it pretty quickly. You can read lots of his stories here:
Now, you will have to be very dedicated. If you aren’t yet a pilot: Find a local flight school and learn to fly. NOW. Don’t delay. Even if you change your mind about wanting to fly for the airlines, you will never regret learning to fly.
You’ll need to build up 1500 hours of flight time, one way or another. This can be somewhat expensive and take a long time. The first 250 will be the most expensive - You can’t be compensated for flying until you have a commercial pilot certificate. However, if you can convince friends and family to go with you, you can *share* the costs of some of those 250 hours, but you always have to pay at least your share. But, figure 100–150 of those first 250 hours will be training and solo practice time that you’ll need to pay for yourself.
At 250 hours, you can get your commercial pilot certificate. You still won’t be able to fly people, but you can at least be paid for flying - Pipeline or powerline patrol, banner towing, ferrying aircraft, etc. can be done at this point. You can also go for your certified flight instructor (CFI) certificate at this point and teach others to fly, which is probably the most common option. However, I urge you not to do this unless you really want to instruct.
At 1500 hours, if you’re well prepared, you should be able to get a job at a regional airline and earn your Airline Transport Pilot certificate (the highest level of pilot certificate). The regionals are almost desperate for pilots at this point, so you should be able to find a livable wage and you probably won’t be on reserve for long. (Reserve is where you don’t get to bid for a schedule, you just have time where you sit at/near the airport waiting for other pilots to get sick, delayed, etc and take their flights, and all of the lowest seniority pilots are on reserve.)
If things continue as they are now, you may even get to upgrade to captain after just a few years at a regional, and you may be able to upgrade to a main-line carrier (like American, United, or Delta) in a decade or so. But, the upgrades are much slower at the large airlines.
If you’re 33, you may never make it into the captain’s seat of a 787 or A380 unless you take every upgrade as soon as you can get it (which puts you at the bottom of the seniority list and on reserve), but you can still easily make captain at a regional, or someday get into a domestic/short-haul type like the 737 or A320 at a main-line carrier.
But… Do NOT wait. The airline business has its ebbs and flows like any other, and if you hit it on the downswing you may find yourself being furloughed, sitting on reserve for years, or other not-so-fun outcomes. Get in while it’s hot.