Airline Travel Is Brutal Now. Here’s How Much Airline CEOs Make Bringing It To You

Airlines lost billions of dollars during the pandemic. But their leaders shed costs, in many cases by downsizing staff and brought in government subsidies (designed to keep them from shedding staff). It was a test of leadership, and CEOs were rewarded handsomely for the task.

It’s a wet hot American summer of flying through delays, cancellations, and long lines at airports. It may be a comfort to know that airline CEOs were well paid bringing it to us. Total airline CEO compensation for 2021 is now available based on SEC filings for public companies.

Airline CEO Total Comp
Delta Ed Bastian $12.4 million
United Scott Kirby $9.8 million
American Doug Parker $7.2 million
Southwest Gary Kelly $5.8 million
Spirit Ted Christie $3.9 milion
Frontier Barry Biffle $3.6 million
JetBlue Robin Hayes $3.4 million
Alaska Ben Minicucci $3.2 million
Hawaiian Peter Ingram $3.1 million

The CARES Act, which provided $25 billion in direct payments to airlines, $25 billion in subsidized loans, and billions more for airline partners as well as tax relief for airlines included restrictions on executive compensation. (Airlines also received two more rounds of direct payments after this.) In some cases this meant airline CEOs were paid 30% less than they’d have otherwise received. These restrictions lift in April 2023.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. No information on stock options?
    That’s where the real money is…..

  2. @Jorge – That’s what the phrase “Total airline CEO compensation” means. Stock options, bonuses, retirement plans, and other perks included. They’re generally not paying them this in cash. (Besides which, stock options lets them take it out at the capital gains rate.)

  3. Oh! Okay C_M. Thanks!
    I’m a little slow today.
    Heat here in Texas is brutal…..

  4. I have friends who are flight attendants for both American and Delta. They are being worked to death for next to nothing. These CEO salaries are amoral. The end.

  5. Gary,
    I’m getting five or six emails a day. How do I change it to one a day? I tried to do it through the, but it says you have to make a domain site. Huh?

  6. Anyone with half a brain knows CEOs are not the brightest individuals in a company/corporation. Just the ones who did the most rear-end kissing.

  7. $12.4 million for Delta’s Ed Bastian. Wow. No wonder he’s so woke. He doesn’t want AOC and Crazy Bernie coming after him to pay higher taxes. Ed is buying indulgences.

  8. The CEO pay issue is across all publicly traded companies. If you look at the average total comp package of all CEOs, you’ll find the total comp package of the airlines CEOs is not materially different.

  9. Doesn’t seem too reasonable but not insane. My biz partner and I make more than half the CEOs on here but we risk our own money. These CEOs only risk shareholder and taxpayer money when they screw up.

  10. From the latest DOT air travel consumer report, Delta ended up wiht the best on-time performance for US airlines while JetBlue brought up the bottom of the list. Delta’s cancellation rate was also the lowest.
    Spirit and Frontier were also at the bottom of the list so, no matter who SAVE ends up with, on-time is going to be bad and probably will get worse.

  11. I applaud Gary for turning his spotlight on the real cause of the current airline mess: Lousy management.

    So far, so good. But you’re not going to shame these companies into becoming responsible citizens. There has to be a cost to them, a very high cost.

  12. These CEOs will always take credit when things go well at their airlines but will be quick to blame others or the weather when things go wrong.

  13. If Ed Bastian was the CEO of a Japanese or South Korean company, he would have publicly apologized and almost certainly resigned by now after all of Delta’s operational meltdowns in the last year or so.

  14. Gary, you failed. Doug Parker retired. Robert Isom took over and announced he would DOUBLE his pay when he took Parker’s place. Either way, they are all overpaid for the crappy job they are doing. Zero respect for any CEO or top executive who makes that much. Meanwhile, the lowest paid employees are doing the most grunt work and get verbally assaulted each day from the public.

  15. Whenever an airline performs poorly, the reason behind it is almost always lousy management. The industry is well-known for lousy leaders. In fact I can only think of two airline CEOs that were not only competent, but did not break the bank with their salary and perks: Herb Kellleher at Southwest, and Gordon Bethune during his too-short stay at Continental.

  16. Pales in comparison to what the Kushners made in the pandemic, not to mention the sweetheart loans received. All untold billions.

    And then there’s the Federal Reserve, Blackrock, Vanguard.

    All crickets from the corporate lying press.

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