Being a pilot is often considered a well-respected career for a variety of reasons. But do pilots really make good money and get all kinds of perks?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pilot salary in the United States in 2020 was $130,440. The salaries vary depending on airline, experience, and rank. As a First Officer starting out, the average salary among 8 major airlines is $76,625; as a 12-year Captain, it’s $310,125.
Becoming a pilot is a great goal in life as it’s a career that most people in the world respect and admire. In this article, you’ll learn all about the average salaries of pilots based on rank, experience, and airline. You’ll also read about some of the best perks of being a pilot outside of just the respectable salary.
All of the information that you read in this article comes from the personal experience of myself in the aviation and pilot industry as well as input from other pilots from all over the country. We want to make sure you have access to the best information available, so we’ve scoured the web for information on pilot salaries and perks based on all major factors.
How Much Do Pilots Make?
When you’re looking at salaries, it’s most useful to take the median rather than the average, since outliers can skew the average. The median pilot’s salary is the number at which 50% of pilots make more and 50% make less, so it’s smack dab in the middle. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of all commercial and airline pilots in the US in 2020 was $130,440.
But that doesn’t mean that all pilots make that kind of money. It really depends on quite a few things, such as which airline the pilot works for, how much experience they have, and what their rank is. So let’s break it down a little further and see how much money pilots really make.
Keep in mind that pilots aren’t technically paid a salary. Instead, they’re paid by the number of hours that they fly, known as flight hours. This number is limited to 1,000 hours per year, so that’s what the “salaries” below are all based on.
Note: the actual hourly rate that pilots make depends on many different factors, including experience and even which aircraft they’re flying at the time. All numbers below are estimates that should not be taken as a guarantee of future earnings.
Airline Pilot Salaries Based on Major Airlines
As you might imagine, one of the biggest factors in determining how much money a pilot makes will be which airline they’re working for. For the most part, the major airlines that fly all over the world (such as Delta) will pay more than the smaller, more economy airlines (like Frontier). But as you'll see, even at the smaller airlines, commercial pilots make a great living.
For the sake of transparency, we’ll throw in a couple of commercial airlines that operate cargo rather than passengers, as well as f specialized airlines that mainly fly to just one place and back (Hawaiian). So let’s take a look.
Here are the First Officer and Captain Salaries at the world’s major airlines, in their first year on the job and after 12 years, rounded to the nearest thousand:
How Do Promotions And Experience Affect Pilot Salaries?
Taking a look at the table above, you can see that the biggest difference in salary comes from going from a First Officer to a Captain. Regardless of the airline, a pilot in their first year as a Captain makes more than a First Officer in their 12th year. That makes sense considering the Captain is the top of the mountain as a pilot.
But let’s take a little bit of a deeper dive into the salaries seen in the table above and pull out some of the more interesting statistics and figures. In the three columns to the right — 12-year First Officer, 1-year Captain, and 12-year Captain — the salaries are all quite high. Especially when compared to the far left column, a First Officer in their first year.
Of the airlines listed in the table, the average salary of a 1-year First Officer is $76,625. To be fair, that’s a great living, far higher than the average salary across the country. But compare that to the average salary of a First Officer in their 12th year at the above airlines. After 12 years, a First Officer will be making about $224,500 per year. That’s a heck of a trajectory in just 12 years!
Now let’s look at the big step up that pilots get in terms of salary by getting promoted to a Captain. According to the data in the table above, Captains will make roughly $275,000 per year. That’s a 22.5% increase from a 12-year First Officer to a Captain. Lastly, after 12 years as a Captain, pilots can expect to be making $310,125 per year — not too shabby, huh?
What Are The Best Perks of Being A Pilot?
Being a pilot is a job that comes with a whole slew of perks and benefits that are some of the main reasons that people choose to become pilots in the first place. You now know how much money pilots make from above, but that isn’t the only perk of the job. Let’s take a look at some of the best perks of being a pilot.
We’ll start off with the most obvious one here, at least in the context of this article. If you’ve read until this point, then you know that pilots have a high salary at just about any level, with the potential to be incredibly high as the years go on. Even as a new pilot or a pilot working for a regional airline, you’ll still be making great money compared to most jobs.
Once you have a decade or two of experience under your belt and you’re a Captain working for a major airline, you’ll really be able to start raking in the cash. The salaries that pilots make in the latter half of their career can be even far higher than doctors and lawyers, two of the most revered careers in the world in terms of salary.
Retirement And Benefits
Retirement plans typically go somewhat hand-in-hand with salary, so being a pilot is a great way to plan for your retirement later in life. The reason why this is usually tied to salary to some extent is because many aspects of retirement savings are based on percentages of your salary. If you have it set up to automatically invest 15% in your 401(k) and your employer matches 5%, for example, then a higher salary will lead to higher contributions towards retirement!
Other than great pay and a quality retirement system, most major airlines also offer their pilots some of the best health benefits available. Typically government workers are believed to get some of the best benefits out there, but the aviation industry is not far behind. Health insurance is one of those costs that people don’t really think about until they need it, so having access to top-quality healthcare plans is a huge bonus of being a pilot.
Discounted Travel (Or Even Free!)
Alright, enough about money, retirement, and health benefits. Let’s get into some of the real perks about being a pilot that you can’t really find in any other profession. One of the best perks is the heavily discounted ticket prices on flights of your own, sometimes they’re even free!
Depending on the airline, some pilots have access to free flights on occasion. If not, most airlines offer their pilots 90% discounts through what’s known as the ID90 program. At discounts that big, a pilot can travel anywhere in the world for just a couple hundred dollars. Most airlines also offer discounts to family and friends of pilots, although it’s not quite the 90% off that they get themselves.
But it still makes travel a whole lot more affordable!
The Best Views On Earth
This is one of those perks that you really won’t find anywhere else. As a pilot, you get the best views imaginable. Sure as a passenger you might get somewhat similar views, seeing the earth from high above as far as your eyes can see. But a passengers’ view is not even close to as good as what a pilot can see.
From the cockpit, pilots can look out the windows and see as far ahead to their left, right, and forward as possible. The landscapes of the earth below. The limitless water flying over the ocean. Unencumbered views of the sunrise and sunset as the light goes through the clouds below. This is one of those things that you just can’t mimic.
Anyone who’s ever worked a standard 9 to 5 job will understand how boring that can get overtime. It’s the same thing every day. The same routine. The same schedule. Nothing changes. As a pilot, you won’t be working standard hours like that every day, which can help spice things up a bit and keep your work life a bit more interesting.
All things taken into account, pilots typically work two to three weeks per month in terms of the actual days that they spend working. The hours will also be far different than a regular schedule since it just depends on which flights they’re flying. All that time off gives pilots more time with family, friends, or to themselves to just relax and do whatever they please.
You Don’t Have To Sit In An Office
This one goes kind of hand in hand with the one above in the sense that it’s one of the reasons why being a pilot is better than your typical 9 to 5 job. Not only does having the same schedule and routine every day get boring, but sitting in an office every single day can be downright horrible!
As a pilot, you’ll spend your days in a cockpit peering out over the world below. Or maybe some of your time will be spent in an airport, trying a new restaurant you’ve never had before. You might get to spend a day in some of the best hotels on earth waiting for your next flight. In any case, you won’t be stuck at a desk all day every day!
You Get To Meet Lots Of New People
As a pilot, you’ll be surrounded by new people pretty much every day. Sure, the passengers are one aspect of that since every single flight will include new passengers, but that’s not it. What many people don’t know is that the flight crew is often different for pilots on a regular basis, meaning most of the people they work with will change regularly.
And to top it all off, you’ll get to meet new people in all of the new and exciting destinations that you fly to and spend time in. Very few other jobs in the world take you to new cities, new countries, and new destinations as regularly as being a pilot, so take advantage!
Your Work Ends As Soon As You Close That Cockpit Door
We’ve all had days at work that left us so stressed, we worried about it all night after getting home. Or maybe you have a project at work that needs to get done so you end up spending time on it at night when you get home. Some of us have bosses that will reach out to us even when we’re off to discuss what’s going on in the office.
If you’re a pilot, your work pretty much ends as soon as your flight is over. That’s not to say it isn’t a stressful job, because we all know it is. But rather, you won’t have to work on any tasks or projects while you’re off — just get to your next flight and you’re good to go.
Since most of your time spent as a pilot has you traveling around the country (or even the world), you can pretty much live wherever you want. As long as there is an airport somewhere close that’s a hub for the airline you work for, you can live anywhere in the world and still get work and fly.
This is an especially huge perk if you’re a pilot for a major airline like Delta or American, for example. These airlines fly to just about every major airport in the country and around the world, so you can live anywhere you want without fear of losing your job. Most professions don’t offer that ability!
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood