When It Comes to Salaries, It’s a Good Time to Be an Airline Pilot

New contracts have been good to those tasked with getting travelers from place to place

Cockpit view
The cockpit of a C919 passenger jet is being seen at the COMAC Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute.
Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

There are a few reasons why the life of a commercial airline pilot might seem fraught with challenges right now. First and foremost, there are the mechanical issues which led to a door plug detatching from the cabin of a flight earlier this year. There’s also the pilot who was hallucinating and thought that it would be a good idea to try to take control of the flight on which he was traveling. As high-stakes jobs go, it’s certainly up there. But there is one big counterpoint to the stresses that can come from piloting a commercial flight: those who do so are generally well-compensated for their work.

That’s the big takeaway from an analysis of industry data by Taylor Rains at Business Insider. Rains notes that there are several factors that can affect a pilot’s annual salary (as well as that of a first officer), including seniority and the type of flights that they handle. (The article focuses on pilots at United, Delta and American, all of whom recently signed long-term deals with ) That can be very lucrative for those who have been at it the longest. Rains writes that “the annual pay stubs are reading mid-six figures for the industry’s most senior pilots.”

That figure was calculated due to a number of factors, from the hourly rate that pilots and first officers are paid when a flight is in the air to incentives that they can receive over the course of their work. Last year, the Air Line Pilots Association estimated that the contract that its members ratified with United Airlines was worth in excess of $10 billion.

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It’s worth mentioning that flying commercial jets isn’t the only lucrative option for pilots out there. The aforementioned Business Insider article cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That data placed the annual mean wage for commercial air pilots at $257,840. Even higher, though, was that for commercial and courier services, with those pilots’ annual mean wage calculated to be $342,560. There’s one big difference there, though: there are far more positions for airline pilots than their freight counterparts.


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