Skip to comments.A pilot's life: exhausting hours for meagre wages
Posted on 01/10/2010 5:35:00 PM PST by KeyLargo
A pilot's life: exhausting hours for meagre wages
$20,000 pay and lengthy commutes to work renew fears for passengers' safety Chris McGreal
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 January 2010
Some co-pilots say they now have second jobs to make ends meet. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
The old hands say there was never much glamour in piloting several tonnes of metal thousands of feet in the air.
But there's no denying that to the earthbound back in the jet-set era half a century ago when Pan Am's "Clippers" ruled the air lanes and service was modelled on transatlantic ocean liners pilots were regarded with an awe just short of that accorded to astronauts.
The exotic blend of international travel, the authority of commanding the ever larger and faster airliners, and those dashing uniforms turned heads, drew autograph hunters and attracted groupies. Pilots also made a lot of money.
Today it is different. Captain Dave Ryter earned so little when he was a co-pilot for a major airline that he lived in a gang area of Los Angeles, commuted for hours to work and made less money than a bus driver.
"I was standing at a gate waiting to commute a few years ago. I was in uniform and a passenger walks over to me and strikes up a conversation as people often do. He said: where's your second home? I looked at him, thinking he was making a joke. He was serious. I said: actually, it's my parents'," said Ryter. "I was living in a very small town home in a gang area and my wife also worked for the two of us to support our family."
(Excerpt) Read more at guardian.co.uk ...
Some co-pilots say they now have second jobs to make ends meet. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
I always try to smile and treat the stewards/esses, co-pilots, pilots with respect and thank them. Their job pretty much sucks.
Oh cry me a river.Nobody held a gun to their head to get all the ratings required to get hired by the majors.Its a calling just like the rest of aviation.
I want my pilots payed well.
Bah.....next thing, you’ll want your doctors paid well!
I’d rather my Pilots were making $5 Million a year to get me safely home than watching McNABB make a Fool of himself
throwing a football and getting trounced for $ 7 Million a Year!! OBOZO has no right to attack Our Businessmen, Doctors and PLUMBERS when he clearly Loves his Actors and Actressses making $20 Million a movie, or Oprah becoming a Billionaire serving up afternoon trash on the TV!! Did anybody hear OBOZO complaining about how much his NBA Players were making for running up and down a small court DRIBBLING!! We force Our kids to stop dribbling and drooling ASAP!! and then pay these Fools Millions for their utterly useless pastime! Go Figure! Just another way for Communists to destroy the fabric of America!....:-)
What little I ever flew, I tried to do the same.
IMO, many younger airline pilots are caught in a paradigm shift. The better jobs re pay and lifestyle are corporate ones now. Too many guys are accepting next to nothing flying for the “majors” thinking that someday, they’ll work 10 days a month and get paid $200K/yr. Those days are over...
I always wanted to be an airline pilot. The pay tops around $150,000 a year (use to go above $200,000), and retirement is great.
http://www.airlinepilotcentral.com/option,com_docman/task,doc_view/gid,62/Itemid,85.html is one of many sites showing pilot pay.
For example, flying with a major airline, as captain over 10 years on a wide-body jet gets you on rough average $175/hour with an average of 70 hours/month, or $12,250 a month.
My couple of airline pilot aquaintences complain bitterly because is was even better a few years ago. Use to be thankful when they started flying. Union attitude through-and-through, now.
A pilot’s life: exhausting hours for meagre wages
What he leaves out is the golden ring of big cash they make all that sacrifice for. Once they have their ATP, nothing much changes in their jobs except they are accruing the hours to move up into the bigger jets.
Once they get into airplanes the size of an A320 or a Boeing 737-800 etc., then the wage scale really goes up. By the time a person gets into a 777, they are going make a base rate of 320K a year approx for flying a few trips a week, and 400K a year with a little overtime.
As a career airline pilot with 20,000 flight hours, I can affirm that this is true. As an example, pilots at United took nearly 50% pay-cuts, lost all the value of the “employee ownership” experiment (about 2 years pay), and had their pensions canceled during the UAL bankruptcy. Adjusted for inflation, they are making 25% pay compared to the “good-ol-days.” Not too many happy pilots there, or anywhere.
Part of the cause is pricing. Everybody buys the very cheapest ticket they can get on the internet. If people bought the very cheapest anything, be it car, doctor, lawyer or anything routinely on the internet, the quality would fall in favor of lowest cost.
For the most part, quality people won’t be choosing aviation as a career any longer. That will affect safety eventually.
“Some co-pilots say they now have second jobs to make ends meet.”
Sheesh! I know some Captains that have second jobs, for the same reason. I disagree with the author on this one. I don’t think the job was/is as wonderful as it’s “cracked up” to be for most pilots in the industry. Whatever the public perception is, it was always formed by the airline’s PR department. You can still see this with some of the legacy carriers. At one time, more that half of the carrier’s pilots actually believed this elitist BS (Delta being the best example, United....not so much anymore).
Yeah, it sounds like a great life. No more. Did it myself for 25 years, and I know the truth. Now, you have to make it to 65, and plenty of folks don’t have a reasonable retirement plan anymore. Given the physiological stress of the job as it is, your coronaries are shot before the old retirement age of 60. The “life” is remarkably unpleasant, but like eating liver, one acquires a taste for it. You never really figure out what it has done to you till you retire and join the real world. After six months, the realization sets in that you were under a tremendous amount of stress compared to your mortal associates.
It does have an unfavorable influence on your lifespan, and given the amount of effort and financial assets expended in reaching the major’s, you could make a lot more money elsewhere (if making a lot of money is all you want).
Still, it does have certain .... aesthetic benefits. You see things, that others never had or will. Pushing metal around at 500+ mph is kinda’ neat. My appreciation for these two benefits never went away. The rest...I could have done without. But that’s just me.
While pilot pay can vary here in the US based on what kind of planes you fly, generally airline pilots are in the 6 figures........
Its always been this way, in aviation.
When I started out, just out of college, a newly minted Commercial Pilot and CFI I had to teach students, tow banners, haul jumpers and still ended up taking a full time job with a large police department in Georgia to make money. Placed my flying on hold while I went through the police academy and field training, about a year or so.
Ended up back as a CFI doing mainly private pilot and instrument instruction to weekend flyers before I finally landed myself a gig flying night cargo, then moved up to a small charter operation. Then after many nights, flying questionable equipment in and out of airfields more aptly described as Vietnam Era Forward Operating bases in weather that would make a Hurricane Hunter cringe... I applied for and was hired at my first true corporate gig.
Its been a long up and down road since then.
Today I sit left seat in a privately owned and operated Gulfstream IVSP making more than most senior airline Captains make, flying to places most only ever dream about.
I’ve paid my dues and eared the right to be here.
Typical commuter and regional airline pay is ridiculously low, some new hires start out between $16,000 and $18,000 a year with pay increases that will get them up to 24 or 25 grand a year in about 3 to 5 years as a First Officer. But most of these FO’s will upgrade to Captain around year 3 to 5 anyways on the same equipment they have been flying right seat in. WHich will put them into another pay bracket,t he left seat pay for the equipment they are assigned. Normally this would be around $28,000 to $35,000 yearly. Most regional captains will top out of the pay scale around 50 to 55 grand yearly.
What has killed the airline industry so and created such a huge gap between the criminally low pay of a new hire at a commuter airline and his or her brothers and sisters at a mainline op is the very unions these guys and gals are brainwashed into worshiping.
Airline union contracts are the parasites that kill off the host airlines.
Pilots have my deep respect.
The average regional pilot makes around $30k per year, an FO even less. Some FO’s flying for major’s pay them to get flight time currency in make and model (like paying United for allowing flight time in a 737) ...
Think about that next time you’re at 35 thousand feet and the person up front ....
The majors pay well, but the problem is building time & ratings. Pilots pay their dues at the smaller carriers for 10-20 years at poverty wages, then if they’re lucky don’t get grounded for health reasons they make the big time. One of the reasons the majors pay so well to fly the large jets is because due to supply and demand- the vast majority of pilots give up long before they qualify. My first flight instructor quit to take a construction job because he couldn’t support his family working as a pilot.
Most new first officers have 350 hours total flying time, are under 23, and are still living in their mothers’ basements. You get what you pay for. Trust me.
I flew the A320 and the B777. You are off by a mile. Do some research before you post.
And as far as the hours,most of the time pilots spend at work (away from home) are unpaid. Pilots only get paid when the airplane is moving. The 70ish hours per month number is pretty meaningless.
There is a good reason to buy a more expensive car - it lasts longer and runs better. There is a good reason to go to a more expensive doctor, he will give you better treatment. There is a good reason to work with a good lawyer, he may save you 10x his fee. Those are lasting effects, something that you pay for once and appreciate the results for many years later.
Travel, however, has no lasting effects, just like dining in a restaurant. You may be better serviced if you pay more, but that pleasure is brief, and then the money is spent and you are returning home with a lighter wallet and quickly fading memories. The memories will be gone tomorrow, but the empty wallet will be still with you.
Once you get your basic seat for, say, $1,000, then additional pleasures of being in the 1st class (wider seats, better food, quicker service) are not comparable to the additional cost of the ticket. For most people money matters far more than a temporary experience of a sardine in a can. Most people are not Snow Whites and can take it.
Not any more. $150K tops if lucky. Suggest Sully Sullenberger's book.
gets into a 777, they are going make a base rate of 320K
Who’s making $320 K?
Even Sully has a second job..
Hey why dont you add to that”You want the mechanics paid well”too.
I fly several times a month for work - much of it on regional carriers to Canada and New England. I absolutely want my pilots to be paid well - VERY well.
Sometimes I look up in the cockpit and literally see kids behind the stick. And those of you who say that they have the prospect of moving up over time, those opportunities are greatly reduced now that regionals handle most of the load. There’s only so many coast-to-coast and overseas flights available for people who want to move up to the big carriers and equipment - and most of those jobs are already filled.
Research? I was there. Of course ‘you guys’ as a group always want to keep the details of those contracts hidden from the public as much as possible. The noble savage, the noble pilot, both mythology.
I know several years back at UAL, a 5 year FO on a 737-300 would already be up at 90K, no one should have needed a second job on those wages at that time at all unless they were not managing their money well.
I was there for 25 years from 1984. I’ve ridden on the flight decks of most all of those planes from the DC-8, 727, the 747-SP on up to the 777 and 747-400 hundreds of times. And I saw what was in those contracts for the pilots, it was obscene.
Management is always an easy scapegoat to place the blame on. But it was those pilot contracts, the way their retirement benefits were set up, their thuggish strongarm tactics lead by ‘mad dog’ Dubinksy, later the summer of 2000, and their take over attempts were what ultimately bankrupted UAL.
What about the guys who wrench on the birds as well?Both go hand in hand.Both sides have aspects that suck.
Cool “glamour” jobs that pay big bucks at the top pay for crap at the bottom. Pilots, radio djs, tv reporters, baseball players. People are willing to put up with low pay on the gamble that they will make big bucks later on.
So ... how much do you pay to fly? First class, or lowest-bidder cattle class?
So ... how much do you pay to fly? First class, or lowest-bidder cattle class?
//Airline union contracts are the parasites that kill off the host airlines.//
I totally agree on that one.
Come on Mag the reason those guys up front look like kids is because we are twice their age.Right?
I know a 737 pilot with thousands of multi-engine hours from the Air Force (instructor pilot, the whole deal). He has had to work 2 jobs for years to keep his mortgage paid. Your figures are way off the mark. There’s no longer a “golden ring” in the airlines.
They only get paid when the back away from the gate.Sitting in a hotel room on layover pays squat.
“I absolutely want my pilots to be paid well - VERY well.”
I have to chortle to myself on this one. Not laughing at you, but I must make a point. I’ve had businessmen tell me this same thing as I was deadheading, and I always told them that my income was governed by my labor contract. However, I did point out that there was a loophole in said contract that did not preclude me from accepting gratuities from passengers.....SUBSTANTIAL GRATUITIES. It was fascinating how quickly these profligates began edging away from the subject when they were offered a method of making their wishes come true. Well, it just makes my point. Many folks feel safer if their pilot is well paid. Of course, they have no real motivation to make that happen with their own funds.
But good wishes are always appreciated, I suppose.
Transportation is a least cost equation for most consumers. Pilots now find themselves in a free market system, that is quite different than for those that cut their aeronautical teeth in the regulated airlines. I do not agree that there is any shortage of pilots to fill the seats at the major carriers. Well, I’ve been at this job since the 70’s, and I have never seen a shortage of pilots in any of the equipment I flew right up to the Boeings. Making it to there, had less to do with true merit (there were plenty with that who never made it). Much of it had to do with a happy conjunction of experience, industrial health and timing. Past a certain point, ability becomes less important in your progression.
Many of my “brethren” will disagree, but you can actually be too smart to be a good pilot. Most of the really good ones I’ve flown with were of surprisingly average intellect. So much so, that those of us with advanced academic degrees had/have to hide our “light” lest we intimidate those we fly with. No one wants to spend four days with a “smarty pants”, so the brainiacs go back into the closet as soon as they hit the cockpit. It makes the trip run so much better. So the superman theory of what makes a good pilot has been discounted by me for some time.
Oh, yes. Do you know how many passengers offered me a gratuity over that 20+ year span (even after the crew and I occasionally saved hundreds of their lives, and our own, just doing our jobs)?
Yeah. I’m sure the class has guessed correctly on that one. Ok, it was a gimme’. :-)
“What about the guys who wrench on the birds as well?”
Well, from my experience, it is harder to find a good “wrench” , than a good pilot. At least in the Boeings, one pretty much flies like another. It’s easier to get a good compliment of pilots at a startup carrier, than it is to get a crackerjack set of maintenance types. Believe me, crummy maintenance can kill an airline quicker than anything.
It was true 20 years ago, and I dare say it’s even more accurate today. Just sayin’.
You’ve probably heard this. My pilot friend just sent it (it’s been around a while). Has nothing to do with pay, but is funny.
How pilots should talk:
I’m still chuckling.
In a former life I flew 747-4’s, the long haul lifestyle was difficult, my personal best was 46 time zones in 5 days. One could see guys aging before your eyes. The human body was not designed for that.
This is totally news to me. I though airline pilots were well paid.
Ya nailed that one
That's a dumb opinion, unless you don't mind paying $2,000 a trip to fly from Boston to New York.
Airplane pilots won't want to hear this but pretty much anyone of us can learn to fly a jet airliner competently (with the proper training) but only a small handful of us have the physical talents to be a starting quarterback at the NFL level. That's why NFL quarterback get paid $5m or more a year while the average airplane pilot settles for around $50k.
We charter pilots have a few customers that give us gratuities. They range from a hundred bucks to lettings us bring our wives along on trips to exotic locations.