Does Seniority Equal Raise?

From my understanding the more hours you have the higher pay, correct?

With that understanding does that guarantee a raise every year I work? Since I’ll have more flight time and experience my second year at a regional than a first-year pilot would I automatically make more than that pilot? A.K.A could I expect to get a salary increase every year I work?


Your understanding is incorrect. First we have to clarify what seniority means. Seniority is how long you’ve been at the airline and has absolutely nothing to do with flight hours. When I was an instructor at my airline I flew very little compared to other line pilots. So much so that after a few years pilots who were a few years behind me had more flight time. That however had ZERO to do with seniority. I was hired first so I’m senior. In fact to stress the point if I get hired the day before you (or are even one number senior to you in our newhire class) and right after we finish training I get hit by a bus and can’t fly for a year while you fly 1,000hrs I will still be senior to you. Make sense?

Now as for pay most airlines have yearly pay raises as negotiated by the union and they generally continue every year. Pilot contracts usually expire in 3-5yrs and rates are renegotiated. If times are good pay will go up but if things at the airline are not they could actually go down. Regardless the yearly raises are minimal and only a few dollars. Where pilots get their real pay bumps is when they either upgrade to Capt or move to a larger aircraft.



Yes and no. Pay raises are tied to years of service with the company. Most airlines that I am aware of have a twelve year scale. After the twelfth year, the pilot is “topped out” and there are no more salary increases tied to years of service.

Pay raises are also negotiated by the union. Sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t.


Thanks for clarifying seniority, it makes sense. This raised another question for me. If my first year at regional I can expect to walk into around 45,000/annually and I don’t get a pay increase every year, how do I get a return on my investment?(Investment meaning money spent on training) I came up with that number from reading other forums and discussions on first year pilots.

Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for responding!


Getting pay raises or not is not the same as return on investment:

What job out there guarantees pay raises every year?



I guess I wouldn’t say every year, but I do come from a military background. I guess I was thinking the process of a pilot would be similar to the ranking system of the military. I got this idea after reading forums and understanding the concept of time in aviation. It seems like 6 years is a long time in the Industry which lead me to believe things happen at a faster pace. No, a soldier doesn’t move up a rank every year but do very frequently resulting in a raise for every rank. For example, the Navy can go from E3 to E5 in 2 years with a major pay difference.

With it being established that there is no job that guarantees pay raises every year, I would like to go into return on investment. Does the industry allow me to get one? I want to understand is there efficiency in the investment to become a pilot, besides the benefits of having a lot of days off, and fun job.


Not sure where you got that, but 6yrs in no way, shape or form is a long time in this industry. Not even close. Both Chris and I have been flying professionally as airline pilots for more than twice that and neither of us are anywhere near being considered senior as we’re both fairly junior Capts.

Now as for your question does this job allow for a return on your investment? I’d say maybe but comparing it to the military really doesn’t work (in fact I was having this very conversation with my FO today. He’s retired Navy and he simply can’t believe how different the airlines are to the Navy. Some good some bad). I never served but there is a certain amount of security and certainty that comes with the military. While I’m sure there are factors that determine how quickly you advance in rank in the military it doesn’t depend on the economy, the price of fuel, or how well the US Navy is doing against it’s competition. IF (and this is a BIG if) you’re fortunate enough to advance to a Major airline and eventually upgrade to widebody Capt, you’d be earning over $350K a year. I’d call that a pretty good return. Problem is that will take 20yrs+ and there are no guarantees you’ll ever get there. While I enjoyed my time as a Regional pilot I never made significant money. So while it was a really great job, I’m not sure I could call it a great return on my investment? I was fortunate to get hired a Major and now all my time and effort are finally paying off but I have friends who are still trying and there’s a good chance they may never get hired.

Bottomline is if you are in fact looking for this “return on investment” you speak of there most certainly are other industries to consider and perhaps career military is one of them? There’s a reason why when people ask me if they should be a pilot I often ask “do you LOVE flying?”. The reason is I ask is because if you don’t, if/when hard times come or your career doesn’t perhaps pan out as well as you may have hoped, you may find yourself not very happy, particularly if you’re doing it for the money.



With all due respect to the military, it is a bit of an artificial bubble. In 2009, as the country was in a major recession, my airline laid off pilots and those of us that were not furloughed all made less as we flew less hours. The military got a 3.9% raise that year. In 2010, with the recession still happening, my wife (a school teacher) was subjected to a pay freeze. The military got a 3.4% raise that year.

There has never been a year where the military did not get a raise. I understand the arguments of “serving the country” and so forth, but that is simply not how the private sector works, not any job at any company.

Total pay over time constitutes ROI, not pay raises. You will make more over time, but not in the sense that you are used to. If you do want to make comparisons to the military, I would compare being a pilot to being an officer. From what I understand, advancement comes more slowly on the officer side.

Check out this article, it will help answer your question:


Comparing the military service to any “job” as apples-to-apples will always run into a number of problems. The mentors have identified a couple already. Everything eventually boils down to politics because man is an inherently political animal. How much the military gets paid is up to Congress and the President and those two bodies don’t make any decisions without calculating whether it gets them re-elected so our payscales are not connected directly to the economy. Also, though private citizens (pilots included) risk their lives when they go to work, military members do so explicitly as part of our contract with our “employer” promising to sacrifice our lives on demand and we are given benefits and reimbursement to entice us to sign the contract. This is not the forum to discuss whether that’s an ethical system (vs. conscription), so let’s not get into that. There are other reasons being an officer in the military shouldn’t be directly compared to being an airline pilot. A key one is the nature of the work. Being a commercial pilot is what it is - you are hired explicitly to be a technical expert and in-flight problem-solver extraordinaire. Being a military officer, and I feel pretty comfortable commenting on the topic after 20 years of being one, after about seven or so years on this “job” you are expected to become a manager of processes and leader of large teams. Example: Our Base Commanding Officer (essentially an appointed “Mayor”), and the other officers (O4’s and O5’s) around him are all pilots. They run the Administration Office, oversee airfield operations, housing and recreation programs, set budget priorities and ensuring that facilities are maintained. They do almost no flying; but their flight school was 100% paid for, when they do fly they get to fly in Navy planes, their pay and benefits are solid, most years they get a cost-of-living raise, and their families are taken care of with good benefits…but they obtain that security in exchange for the pain of dealing with government bureaucracy, constant budget problems, and human relations issues (hiring/firing/enforcing employment rules). To be sure, they also are still Naval Officers and when the call comes, will be asked to put their lives on the line flying over a war zone…but in times of peace they are expected to fill in the countless other leadership positions that a massive organization like the Navy has to fill.

If you want more or less guaranteed job security and payraises and don’t mind sacrificing your life (and maybe some of your happiness, since you won’t be flying a lot) to your country - military may be the best bet.

If you want to fly, and only fly because it’s what you love to do, and as long as you aren’t starving are okay with some rough times - maybe commercial aviation is the way to go.

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