Regional and Majors Retirement Plan Options, etc

Can any of you who are flying currently fill me in on the types of retirement plans currently offered at the airlines. I’m assuming they mostly are all 401k’s but what about contributions, employeer match, etc…any other details. What’s standard for the industry?

I got final approval for financing yesterday and I’m a few months away from starting ATP (still deciding on location and exact start date). But, this is one of my remaining questions, if anyone is able to help.

I’m 34 and would be changing careers and leaving a good pension system/plan that I currently have at my employer. I’d just like to get some ideas of current industry standards and maybe ease my mind on a few questions I have about retirement and further into the future.

Thanks in advance,



Sadly pensions are a thing of the past and virtually all airlines offer 401Ks to their pilots. The details of the plans vary by airline (actually by contract). Some its a match and others its a straight contribution regardless. When I was at the regional I believe it was a 7% match give or take? Now at Hawaiian we get a straight 15% and I believe that’s industry standard at most of the Majors.



I don’t know what it’s like at other regionals, but at Horizon they offer a
standard 401k or Roth 401k. The company matches up to 6%.



United has a 16% contribution to your retirement account. Meaning that for every $100 you make, they put in $16, with no contribution required on your part. This seems rather standard for the majors.

At EpxressJet they have a 5% match, which is pretty standard for the regionals.


This is also a concern of mine. Now, I believe in having a backup and triple backup when it comes to retirement (Roth IRA ect.) However, when a pilot actually retires, is it a huge standard of living change? Meaning, you were making 200K+ and I can’t imagine that your still pulling that kind of money in retirement? My current job has a great pension program so I’ve never really been too concerned about retirement. Just want to be sure on this as well. Thanks


That really depends on the individual pilot and how well they save versus what they spend. Those who are cautious with heir money seem to do just fine, those who aren’t obviously have to adjust to a life style change. I don’t mean to disregard your question, but there are so many variables that it is hard to have just one answer.



Thanks for the replies. 15-16% employer contribution is a nice chunk once you’re flying at a major. And, yes, I realize airline pensions are a thing of the past but just wanting to make sure there is some sort of security in the long run that is feasible. The older I get, the more it’s not all about the salary any more and things like retirement, retirement lifestyle and retirement age become more important. Just trying to plan for both the Short and long future!


Sounds like we are in the same situation. Police and fire, while the jobs are changing a lot (almost too much), that’s one of the benefits we (where I am) still have: a solid pension. I will say this, though; many jurisdictions are doing away with pension or changing to some hybrid system based on a 401K. I live in a collective bargaining state that recognizes (and requires) CB and a pension. But, if you live in a non-collective bargaining state or Right-to-Work state, they can and (almost inevitably) WILL move away from the pension system at some point in your career. There are only a few CB states left; Im in one of them and that’s why it’s a bigger issue to give it up than maybe say someone in a Right-to-Work state. Just doing some due diligence.

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Scott, Yep you guessed it. I’m fire and I’m also a reserve deputy. In my state (Iowa) we are a right to work state but we also have a very secure pension system. They just dropped CB for teachers and such but we are on a different retirement system. I can’t help but to think that we are on the same path as the teachers and other government workers. However, it is still very much in our favor and we still have a very good pension system. I just want to make sure if I go to the airlines that I’m making the right choice for my family and myself. Kinda scary, but I’ve always been a bit conservative and I think it’s time I take a risk. Time will tell though.

Chris, I’m overly cautious with my money. I’ve been called pretty cheap by my friends. So I see no problem with this, I just want to make sure that its not smoke and mirrors.

No smoke and mirrors. If you go to and check out the airline profiles, you can see what each airline offers in their retirement packages.


It might be a good idea to discuss these types of things with a financial planner. My wife is a physician and even though I have an MBA in finance we use a financial planner to help with our retirement planning. It’s a pretty easy process as all you really need to do is tell them you want to live a similar lifestyle when you retire. They will then tell you how much to save based on all of your financial details (employer 401k contribution, years left, etc). They will also take into account if you have any children, or plan to have any, and want to pay for their college. Given that all we really needed to do to maintain our lifestyle in retirement (plus pay for two kids in-state tuition) was to max out our 401ks each year and then save only an additional $1000 per month, I’m pretty sure you will be just fine with a 15/16% direct contribution + your contribution. Neither my wife’s nor my employers 401k matches are anywhere close to 15/16%! It was a free service too so be sure any financial planners you talk to you ask how they make their money. With ours we’ve bought other things from him like term life insurance and long term disability insurance for my wife.

When an airline like United Airlines puts in 16$ for every 100$ you make, does the 16$ come out of your paycheck or does the pay check stay the same?

The paycheck stays the same, it is an additional amount.

The one thing I have learned over the years going from army to civilian jobs is you can never invest enough into your future. A smart man (father of an ex) that made ok money but never great had the greatest plan for a secured future, it is quite simple. First off invest in your 401k the minimum for your first year, find out your limitations and what you need to be financially stable. Then as you get raises keep that number in mind and send the rest of your raise into your 401k or investments, shares, etc. if you continue this pattern, you will retire with more money than you can spend if you are able to keep your career path moving in the desired direction. The other thing is that Pensions can be taken away. As ridiculous as it may seem I have seen it happened. In Illinois it happened to a large amount of government workers and they even threatened to take it away from those that are already retired and enjoying the pension they worked for. Never rely on once source, and always have a backup plan. Just my two cents, and the smart words of a wise man.

Oh and obviously you may need to adjust for ventures such as mortgages but the idea is simple, save what you can.

Just to chime in on the current trending retirement programs, even the Army is going to 401K matching instead of pensions. Those currently in get to stay with the pension plan, but all new recruits are under the new system. I have nine years in, so if I stayed in, I could keep the pension-at-20-years retirement.


Interesting information, thanks for posting.


What exactly does it mean when a company has no matching?


When a company has “no matching” it means that they do not match your 401k contributions in any way. For example, some companies will “match” the amount of money you save in your 401k up to a certain percentage. Generally speaking, most companies have some form of this, although at my company they do not match, but instead place an additional %16 of my salary into a retirement savings plan.


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