I have friends that work for some good airlines, some really bad airlines and some average airlines. I work for a good airline.
We all communicate on Facebook. Through various post and conversations I can get a good vibe on things.
For example at my airline once I get done with a reserve assignment, scheduling has to keep using me for flights or let me go home. At a friends airline scheduling can have them sit airport reserve after finishing a flight. Additionally I can sign up to be "turned back" if I want more flying. This helps out commuters as there is a better chance of getting an overnight.
My airline allows me to request 8 hours of rest behind a hotel door. "Rest" officially starts 20 minutes after blocking in and ends 40 minutes before the morning flight. So as far as the FAA is concerned, flight crews are "resting" while walking through the airport, riding hotel vans, checking in, etc. Scheduling never questions flight crew request for more rest or persuades them to take less. Additionally I can call in fatigued with almost zero repercussions. I say almost zero as a note is made on my record that I called in fatigued. At a different friends airline, if he calls in fatigued he has to go explain why to a Chief Pilot. Seems small, but I see it as a form of harassment. Another friend at a different airline isn't allowed to ask for more time. If he/the crew is late in the morning they are penalized for the late departure.
Aircraft mantanence. It's rare that I fly a plane with multiple MEL'd (Minimum Equipment List) items. When MEL's are issued they are normally fixed quickly. I know of one airline that routinely has multiple MEL's and mechanics are known to "fix" things just to clear the MEL. The next crew finds the same issue and a new MEL is issued. I don't see such occurences happening here.
In any given month I'm able to move around my reserve days. I've done this in the past to go on vacation without using vacation days. Also there are lots of options in how my vacation days are used. It's pretty easy to "burn" two vacation days and get 9+ days off. My friends at most other airlines get flat vacation and aren't able to move it around as easy. I get two weeks vacation a year, but thanks to being able to move my schedule around I am traveling with my wife much more than that.
Is my airline perfect? No. Is it horrible? No, if it were I wouldn't work here. I did a lot of research before picking my airline. I wanted quality of life above all else. I'm in this for the long haul. The fast upgrade and big equipment just aren't on my RADAR. I'm perfectly content flying around my little regional jet for a decent wage for a respectable carrier.
No disrespect to my friends at other airlines. They all have different priorities. The point of this post? Research an airline before you apply. Ask around on forums. Next time you are in an airport and you see a pilot approach and ask if he has a few minutes. Some do, some don't. I love talking about my job (hence the blog) and have taken time on more than a few occasions to answer questions. Being a pilot isn't a job, it' a career.