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Airline pilots at Delta, American, and United can make more than $500K a year here's how their pay compares

Taylor Rains   

Airline pilots at Delta, American, and United can make more than $500K a year — here's how their pay compares
  • Recent pay raises have made commercial-airline pilots some of the highest-paid workers in the US.
  • Three major airlines, American, Delta, and United, offer similar captain base pay of up to $447 an hour.

Commercial-airline pilots have become some of the highest-paid workers in the US thanks to a suite of post-pandemic pay raises.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines — which collectively employ nearly 50,000 pilots — have all signed lucrative contracts in recent years to attract and retain talent, and help with a lingering labor shortage. These pilots earn hundreds of dollars for every hour of flight time, with pay increasing with every year of seniority.

Across the board, the median airline pilot in the US earns just over $250,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thanks to the recent pay bumps, combined with extra income opportunities like holiday pay and profit sharing, some pilots are taking home double that.

First officers, the typically less-experienced pilots who sit in the right seat, start at about $116 an hour at American and United, regardless of aircraft type, according to figures shared by the airlines. Those at Delta earn about $113.75 hourly across the fleet for the first year.

Every year that passes, a pilot gains seniority and a sizable pay bump.

Many of these pilots climb to captain on Airbus and Boeing wide-body planes and fly long-haul routes from their US hubs to cities in Europe and across the Americas. Some fly ultra-long-haul trips to places as far away as South Africa, Japan, and Australia.

Veterans at American and United in these categories will cap out around $500 an hour when their contracts expire in 2027. At Delta, they'll hit about $475 when their contract is up in 2026.

Profit sharing and bonuses can take their pay even higher

Pilot compensation is not only in the form of a base salary rate.

Each airline has its own packages with opportunities for extra pay, like profit sharing, bonuses, per diems, incentive rates, and holiday pay. Because the extra income is not always predictable because of operational reasons, it has not been included in this article.

Between base pay and extra incentives, the annual pay stubs are reading mid-six figures for the industry's most senior pilots.

Airline-pilot pay is complex, though, and depends on the pilot's seniority, their position, and the type of aircraft they fly, among other factors.

Not your usual 40-hour workweek

Airline pilots at American, Delta, and United are paid in "block time," meaning they earn their full hourly rate only from gate to gate, earning per diems or other allowances to make up the work between flights.

Some pilots are paid to be on "reserve" when not scheduled to fly. These hours pay the same rate and have guaranteed minimums of 70 to 75 hours, depending on the airline, according to the Air Line Pilots Association.

For simplicity, the monthly and annual salary totals below are based on airline pilots who hold a "line," meaning they have a set month's schedule and are not on call. The ALPA said these pilots typically fly around 80 hours a month but can fly up to 100, per federal law.

Here's a breakdown of the base pay pilots at American, Delta, and United earn per hour of payable time, according to contracts sent to Business Insider from the airline or its union. Salaries will increase over four years, but the base pay rates outlined for each airline reflect 2024.

American Airlines

First Officers

First-year first officer: about $116 an hour on any aircraft type.

12-year first officer: between $246 and $255 an hour on narrow-bodies and about $305 on wide-bodies.

A first-year first officer flying 80 hours each month would make about $9,300 monthly before taxes and other earnings, or about $111,000 yearly. That would jump to about $293,000 annually for a 12-year wide-body first officer.

Captains

First-year captain: between $331 and $340 an hour on narrow-bodies and about $410 on wide-bodies.

12-year captain: between $360 and $374 an hour on narrow-bodies and about $447 on wide-bodies.

A first-year captain flying 80 hours each month on most narrow-bodies would make about $26,500 monthly before taxes and other earnings, or about $318,000 yearly. That would jump to about $430,000 annually for a 12-year wide-body captain.

Delta Air Lines

First Officers

First-year first officer: about $113.75 an hour on any aircraft type.

12-year first officer: between $216 and about $300 an hour, depending on the aircraft type.

A first-year first officer flying 80 hours each month would make about $9,100 monthly before taxes and other earnings, or about $109,000 yearly. That would jump to about $288,000 annually for a 12-year first officer on most of Delta's wide-bodies.

Captains

First-year captain: between $290 and about $402 an hour, depending on the aircraft type.

12-year captain: between $316 and about $438 an hour, depending on the aircraft type.

A first-year captain flying 80 hours each month on Delta's lowest-rate narrow-body, a Boeing 717, would make about $23,200 monthly before taxes and other earnings, or about $278,00 yearly. That would jump to about $420,000 yearly for a 12-year captain on most of Delta's wide-bodies.

United Airlines

First Officers

First-year first officer: about $116 an hour on any aircraft type.

12-year first officer: between $245 and about $305 an hour, depending on the aircraft type.

A first-year first officer flying 80 hours each month would make about $9,300 monthly before taxes and other earnings, or about $111,000 yearly. That would jump to about $293,000 annually for a 12-year first officer on most of United's wide-bodies.

Captains

First-year captain: between $329 and about $410 an hour, depending on the aircraft type.

12-year captain: between $358 and about $447 per hour, depending on the aircraft type.

A first-year captain flying 80 hours each month on United's lowest-end Airbus and Boeing narrow-bodies would make about $26,300 monthly before taxes and other earnings, or about $316,000 yearly. That would jump to about $429,000 yearly for a 12-year captain on most of United's wide-bodies.



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