How do pilots get paid?

  • February 20, 2023

Airline pilots are per flight hour, but have a minimum monthly number of guaranteed hours. This method of payment is rooted in the 'block time' concept, where pilots are compensated from the moment an airplane departs a gate to its arrival at the next gate. The hourly rate is influenced by the type of aircraft they fly and their role (Captain or First Officer). They may also receive bonuses for flying certain routes or for meeting performance targets. All pilots at major operations receive benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans. Additionally, pilots may receive additional pay for working overtime or for being on call. 


Minimum Guarantee & FAA Restrictions

Airlines provide their pilots with a minimum guarantee of around 70-75 hours per month, translating to about 900 hours annually. This means a stable income for pilots, even if they don't fly the guaranteed hours due flight cancellations or other issues. However, there is a cap on the total hours they can fly. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits airline pilots to a maximum of 1,000 flight hours per year, ensuring safety by preventing pilot fatigue.

Factors that Influence Pilot Pay 

  • Years of Experience: With each year at a company, a pilot generally sees an increase in pay.
  • Total Flight Hours: More accumulated flight hours can lead to better compensation.
  • Aircraft Type: Pilots flying larger or more complex aircraft typically earn more.
  • Company: Different airlines have varying pay scales.

How Schedule Bidding Affects Pilot Pay

One aspect of pilot pay that can have a significant impact on their income is the bidding process for schedules. This process, also known as "bid line," allows pilots to bid for the specific routes and schedules that they want to fly. The bids are typically based on seniority, with more senior pilots having a greater chance of getting their preferred schedule.

The bidding process usually occurs on a monthly basis, and pilots are given a certain amount of time to submit their bids. The airline then reviews the bids and assigns the schedules based on the pilots' seniority, the aircraft type, and other operational considerations.

For pilots, the bidding process can have a big impact on their income and quality of life. Pilots who are able to bid for and secure desirable routes and schedules can earn more money and have a better work-life balance. On the other hand, pilots who are unable to secure their preferred schedule may have to accept less desirable routes, which can result in longer periods away from home and a lower income.

Pilot Pay Per Diem & Additional Benefits

Flying for a living means pilots spend a significant amount of time away from their base. To cover expenses during this time, pilots receive a per diem ranging from $1.50 to $3 per hour. On top of their base pay and per diems, pilots receive bonuses, overtime pay, profit-sharing, and additional benefits. These benefits can include free travel, health insurance, and more, depending on the airline.

Recent Increases in Pilot Pay

The median annual earnings for airline pilots in the US was $202,180 as of May 2021, but since then the pilot shortage has led to significant increases in pilot compensation across the industry. Here's a summary of the recent changes in airline pilot salaries and compensation at the largest us airlines in just the last year.

Are you interested in a career as an airline pilot? At Flex Air, every student gains access to an airline pilot mentor through our Pilot Pathway program. Mentorship allows student pilots to learn about pay, benefits, and bidding before they decide on a specific airline. This allows the student to make the best career decisions for their personal work / life balance goals.

It is important for pilots to understand the process, be familiar with the airline's policies and procedures and make informed decisions when bidding for schedules to increase their chances of getting their preferred routes and schedules.