Airline Pilot Salary: How Much Do Pilots Make?  11 Short Lessons

Airline Pilot Salaries

If you are considering an aviation career as an airline pilot, you might be wondering what the average airline pilot salary is.  We could easily list off the current pay rates for every airline and then go write about something else.  The problem is, those rates change so often that as soon as we print it, it would be obsolete. 

So instead of saying you will make "X" amount at this airline and "Y" amount at that airline, we will walk you through how the system works.  It is a system and the sooner you learn that the better off you will be.

Lesson #1  From the date of hire to an airline, airline pilots earn around 7 million dollars over your career as an airline pilot.

This is based on a couple of loose ideas, so before you go getting all excited about the dollars and how much do pilots make, consider these points

  • This dollar amount assumes the time frame that you will fly until you are 65, which is the current retirement age for an airline pilot.
  • This also assumes that you will pursue the max pay for a position verses a quality of life position.  This means you would automatically fly a wide body jet with a more hectic schedule verses a less popular and less paying aircraft for the bump in quality of life
  • There is no measured group of airline pilots that can be used as an actual certified example.  This is more or less math based on current numbers
How Much Do Airline Pilots Make

 Lesson #2 How is the airline pilots salary calculated?

Contrary to popular belief, airline pilots do not work for an annual salary, they work by the hour.  There is an incentive behind that, if you work more, and pick up more trips, you will make more money.  So most airlines start off airline pilots at a first year pay number.  The average number of hours flown per month is approximately 80 (just for the math example)  You would multiply the two together and get the monthly income (gross)

  • Average first year pilot pay of $94 per hour, times 80 hours per month equals $7520.  If you wanted the yearly amount you would times it by 12.
  • That is gross, so take out your taxes
  • Also if you are smart take out 15% to contribute to your 401K or the government will tax you to death
  • Don't forget to add in 2% to the union because most airlines have them and we can argue about that at another time.
airline pilots

Lesson #3  Airline pilot pay scales change after year one

Year one is the magic number, after year one you get off probation and you move up to second year pay.  Airline pilot pay is based on aircraft seating.  Basically the more seats, the more per hour you make.  This is the same as aircraft type in the bullets below.

Example: Second year pay, major airline

  • 737-700 = $124/hour
  • 757-200 = $139/hour
  • 767-300 = $147/hour

You bid or (ask for)  the plane you want to fly by what your seniority number can hold for that base.

airline pilots

Lesson #4  Captain Pay is more than First Officer Pay

  • Learn it, love it, live it, It will never change
  • A general rule of thumb is its almost double,(but not quite)
  • Its good to be the King even if you are sitting reserve in Newark (yuck)
commercial airline pilot, airline pilots

Lesson #5 Pay Rates are Subject to Change

Most airlines have their airline pilot pay rates published per contract.  That means when they negotiate a contract they ask for a certain pilot pay scale per aircraft.  This is renegotiated every few years when the contract goes up.  The newest clause to be added to most contracts is what I call the "they got a quarter" clause.

This means if another airline flying similar equipment gives their airline pilots "X" amount more per hour, then the current contract changes to match that.  It is actually quite comical to watch.  When one airline wants to brag that their airline pilot pay is the highest, a small entitlement war breaks out amongst pilots from other airlines trying to measure themselves in the same hourly rates.  This basically means as long as there are airline pilots, there will always be a raise coming because airline pilots are human and humans always want more. (I can hear the emails coming any moment about measuring worth)

  • This very factor makes it hard to give accurate numbers for pilot salaries.  

 Lesson #6, Benefits are Not Part of Your Pay

There are no airline pilots that brag about their benefits package, they will always talk about hourly pay and days off per month.  Benefits are just that, benefits.  They are part of the contract and they are important.  The most important would be 401K match and profit sharing.  But those are numbers that are meant to be negotiated with for an overall contract.

  • Some airlines have included stock options as a hiring bonus.  Keep in mind those options could expire worthless, so do not hold your breath.
  • Focus on what you can see or what ends up in your bank account.
  • Per Diem is not part of your pay package, it is an allowed expense across the board to all flight and cabin crew that travel.

 Lesson #7 Things are Cyclical

Right now the world is going through a airline pilot shortage.  Which basically means if we have a shortage of qualified pilots with the right qualifications to fill the seats needed now, that could change tomorrow, because things change.  Tomorrow may have 1000 pilots that magically qualify for hiring and then the curve changes.  The point is, today's airline pilot shortage is tomorrows surplus.  If we get another pandemic, the number of pilots needed changes

  • Don't bet the farm that a huge need for pilots will always exist.
  • If the FAA (and insurance companies) suddenly endorsed the idea of only needing one pilot in the cockpit (and then eventually zero) the whole ball game changes.
  • Economies of scale and politics all have an impact of what happens in the airline business. and always effects commercial pilot salary.
commercial airline pilot

Lesson #8  Signing Bonuses for Hiring are not Permanent

Right now a lot of airlines, especially regionals are offering a signing bonus to accept employment as part of airline pilot salaries. Pilots can expect this incentive for a good part of a year or more.  When you add the bonus to the pay package, this increases the amount of pay regional airline pilots receive.  It also increases the pay for the average pilot.

  • The moment a bean counter discovers that incentive does not make sense it will be eliminated.
  • Always check the fine print.  Chances are you have to stay a certain amount of time to qualify.
  • If this concept exists, it can be bartered away in a contract negotiation or a union vote.  Its a cut throat world when it comes to money and pilot salaries.

Lesson #9  Regional Airlines,  Pilot Salaries are the Highest that Airlines Pay.

Yes they are, and the reason is obvious, companies will do whatever they have too to keep the machine running

  • See previous point, bullet point three.
  • This is not including per diem.

major airline, commercial pilots

Lesson #10  Ignore Non Aviation Sources

I notice a lot of search returns regarding salaries, positions and airline questions coming from non aviation related sources such as Glass Door, Indeed or other job search websites.  Ignore these, they do not by any means understand any of the nuisances or even the rules mentioned here of the aviation industry or commercial pilots or what a pilot earns according to contract negotiations. 

Lesson #11  You Don't get More Money Because you Have More Experience on the plane

It was discussed once that you would make more at an airline if you just so happened to have more experience on that type of aircraft.  That is a false statement and please follow the examples in lesson three bullet points.  I will say this, you never know who you are sitting next too.  It could be a person with the most amazing experience and most impressive career, but you are your seniority number.

  • More experience on a plane means you will get an interview
commercial pilot, airline pilots

Final thoughts

If you were looking for the actual rates of a particular airline, ask around or join a aviation job search website.  Those sites are loaded with last minute changes and details.  Then use these points or lessons to figure out your life game plan.

The major airlines all reference one another in peer set evaluations in commercial pilot pay.  Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Airlines seem to be the largest and hold the most value when it comes to contract negotiations.  Remember, per diem is not a deciding factor, its what pilots make.

airline pilots make


airline pilot salaries, american airlines


 More Resources (and growing)

United Airlines pilots to get raises of more than 14%, 8 weeks of maternity leave in new contract




Airline pilotsAirline transport pilotAirlines payAmerican airlinesAnnual salaryBecoming an airline pilotCommercial pilotFlight engineersHighest paid airline pilotsHow do pilots get paidPilot licensePilot salariesPilot starting salaryPilots makeRegional airlineSigning bonuses

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published