Real Answers from Real Pilots

The Airline Industry in 2021

For those of you who have been working in the industry for a while, how has it changed since you started? Is it better now or you do see it getting worse?

I’m guessing things like the increase in unruly passengers and COVID has dramatically changed things…

Jacob,

From the pilot’s standpoint the industry has gotten much better than when I started 18yrs ago. When I started first year pay was $18k and you really had to bust your butt just to get an interview. There weren’t many jobs and the airlines would reject you if you stapled your paperwork wrong.

Over time, due to a number of circumstances, a pilot shortage developed and has continued to grow deeper. This has caused two very major and tangible improvements. First salaries have climbed significantly. First year pay is now $40k (plus bonuses) and the top salaries have returned to the glory days of $350k+. Further getting hired has become almost a guarantee. If you do well in training and have a clean record you will get hired. Yes it’s that easy.

As for COVID that was obviously a huge blow to the industry and the airlines were hurting pretty bad. Fortunately the govt was generous and many pilots got some time off (at more than half pay) which wasn’t too bad a deal. The best part is while the pandemic is still going on the airlines are recovering nicely and many are already hiring again.

Finally there have always been unruly passengers. It does seem like there’s more now than ever but honestly for the pilots it’s just an inconvenience. It’s really the flight attendants who are suffering from it. While it’s unfortunate, again it’s not something we really deal with beyond the occasional diversion and a call to have the police waiting on arrival.

Adam

Jacob,

I think the industry is actually much better now than it was when I started in 2005. Back then, wages were much lower than they are now, most major airline contracts were not nearly as good as they are now and the government was in the process of helping the airlines raid pilot’s mansion plans. Fast forward sixteen years and we are all making considerably more money, the contracts are more robust and well developed and we have transitioned away from pensions and into defined contribution plans, which means that they money cannot be taken back. Much of this change has been driven by the pilot shortage and some of it by a former administration in DC.

I have heard stories of unruly passengers, but I have not seen any of it myself.

Chris

Adam and Chris,

Is it possible for wages to go back down to where they were when it was much more competitive? Or would the unions not allow that to happen?

Ben

Ben,

As long as there’s a pilot shortage that’s very unlikely, but possible, sure. We’re all very fortunate that COVID, while devastating, was dealt with how it was. But let’s say it wasn’t and people continued not to fly for a very extended period (I’m talking years). Particularly at the Regional level, contracts would start to dry up and the very first thing they would do is go to the employees for concessions to make themselves more competitive.

While again in the current environment it’s not likely anything is possible.

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Ben,

I suppose anything is possible, but it seems unlikely in the current environment. We just weathered the worst possible situation for the airlines and came out okay, so it would really have to get bad for wages to be decreased.

Chris

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Welcome back Jacob!

My Flight Attendants just dealt with a disruptive passenger last week. We are well aware of the increase in passenger misconduct. As the holidays drive more ticket sales I suspect the industry will see even more passenger noncompliance.

As far as the industry from a pilot perspective, Chris and Adam touched on the increase in pay, which is true, but the field has also been narrowed slightly. While things have been good for the pilots that kept their jobs, things haven’t been so great for those that flew for Compass or ExpressJet. That said that only represents a small fraction of the industry and airlines are hiring more pilots now more than ever.

Tory

It’s really good to see the “dust” start to settle for Aviation. Whilst we still have a little while to go I think the “light at the end of the tunnel” is getting closer than ever before. I hope to one day join the Airline Pilots up there and be a part of the Aviation Family.

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