Over 700 hundred Continental and United pilots, joined by additional pilots from other Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) carriers, demonstrate in front of Wall Street on September 27, 2011 in New York City.
Hundreds of uniformed pilots, standing in stark contrast to the youthful Occupy Wall Street protesters, staged their own protest outside of Wall Street over the past couple of days, holding signs with the picture of the Hudson river crash asking “What’s a Pilot Worth” and others declaring “Management is Destroying Our Airline.” This comes after pilots at United asked a federal judge to halt the merger with Continental, arguing that the whole thing is proceeding too quickly.
Piloting an airplane may seem like a good line of work, a high-skilled job that places many lives in the hands of a highly skilled worker. The highly-skilled portion of this assumption is true. However, pilots are among the most dismally paid workers in the country – at least when they start flying.
According to FltOps.com first year pilots make as little as $21,600 a year. Some airlines, such as Southwest, pay more than twice that. On average, starting pay for the major airlines is just above $36,000 a year.
Fortunately for pilots, the payscale does climb and it climbs pretty high. Fifth year median pay is close to double what first year pilots earn. Top pay can be much better. The high-end of the salary scale tops out with UPS and FedEx pilots who can earn over $200,000, though most major airlines average closer to $150,000.
Notably, non-unionized JetBlue is one of the lowest paying airlines. Southwest, which is almost entirely unionized, pays its pilots almost as well as UPS and FedEx. Something to think about.
See also: Why I Support the Teachers Unions