American Airlines Set To Pay Pilots Up To $590,000 Per Year

Delta Air Lines has a new contract with pilots. American Airlines, United, and Southwest are all in pilot negotiations that have dragged on. Southwest pilots keep walking out on company rallies, United pilots have publicly turned their back on CEO Scott Kirby. They have leverage, because pilots remain in short supply and because pilots are able to scuttle an airline’s operations like no other work group can.

With tensions rising among pilots at American Airlines as well, management has put out a message directly to cockpit crew – rather than staying quiet in negotiations with its union – letting them know just how generous an offer they’re making: by the fourth year of the company’s proposed deal, a narrowbody captain would make as much as $475,000 – and a widebody captain up to $590,000 per year.

As first reported by aviation watchdog JonNYC there is both a letter to pilots from CEO Robert Isom and a video message as well.

American promises a first year pay increase of 21% plus more profit sharing and higher 401(k) contributions in the second year. By year four the average wage increase would be 40%. They’re making concessions on scheduling and quality of life demands, “worth more than $7 billion in incremental compensation, benefits, and quality-of-life improvements” over four years (emphasis mine).

Isom says this can be done quickly, and that the airline plans to communicate directly on a frequent basis. That’s something that doesn’t usually please union leaders.

By the way the increased costs from the pilots deal Isom is promoting is more money than the airline is currently earning, even including from the sale of frequent flyer miles. They have to hope – with wages increasing across the board – that fares will rise concomitantly, or they’re going to get themselves in trouble here.

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. Wufff, that’s a very risky gamble no doubt. On the one hand, you have the airline scaling back costs and headed down a contractionary, austerity pathway. On the other hand, its offering could considered even more generous tha Delta’s original one. It’s doubling down on its proposals. Lets just hope it works out for the, otherwise the joy and optimism will be very short lived. aka, let’s hope fares keep rising exponentially, let’s just hope people are still willing to pay for them!!!

  2. multiple news sources reported this long before some so-called “aviation watchdog”
    It is highly unusual for an airline to match a competitor’s pay proposal directly to the pilots but AA is basically saying that they are not going to get into a bidding war to go over that…. and because there are so many differences in how individual airlines manage their operation wrt pilot scheduling and benefits, AA is basically saying “you are free to spend months arguing the details or take a match to DL now”
    of course, AA and its pilots could still finish the process very quickly regardless but it does say that the Delta contract was a game changer that puts enormous competitive pressure on United and Southwest since neither seem anywhere near as willing to say what AA just said to its pilots

  3. @ Tim Dunn

    FYI AA has a ( me too clause ) in their current contract . So DL pay has to be matched or above.

  4. I don’t want to be flying on any aircraft for which the pilot was hired via “lowest bid gets the job.”

    Depending, flight crew compensation is about 10 to 15 percent of an airline’s total operating expenses. If compensation is bumped 20 percent, that’s a 2 to 3 percent rise in total operating expenses. On a $400 ticket, that $8 to $12. Now, exactly how often are we seeing such increases? Amortize it. Is anyone seriously concerned about this? Give it to ’em and let’s move on.

  5. @Nick Gary thinks pilots should work for minimum wage, he’s very vocal about how we’re overpaid. We’d never deserve pay equal to doctors or lawyers in his opinion.

  6. @ Gary — I don’t see revenue keeping up with AA’s new pay structure and high-interest junk debt payments. If airfare rises 20%, the airlines will lose alot of their new leisure travelers, and the 20% will fall
    Bottom line is that it looks like AA is sliding toward bankruptcy, AGAIN. Alaska better watch out since AA’s favorite trick is to merge under bankruptcy protection. Dougie can consult on the project.

  7. In other words: soon, your Aadvantage points will be as useless as Sky-Pesos. AA will soon be charging 100K AA-pesos for a one-way ticket from DFW to MIA in coach or 500K for 1st class.

  8. @Nick: MOST doctors don’t get paid that much. I know I don’t even some close to that and I’ve been a doctor for over 25 years. Can’t wait to see the “enhancements” AA rolls out to pay for this.

  9. As a 50 year airline vet I have to say this – that pay is obscene. It will last only until the airline files Chapter 11 which has now appeared on long range sensors.

  10. Genius idea. Pay enough so that pilots can retire in 4 years. You’ll have even fewer pilots.

  11. It’s a boom-and-bust, cyclical industry. When the global economy breaks down again, owing to interest rates or tech bankruptcies or energy costs or China invading Taiwan or nukes in Ukraine or whatever, no small number of those highly paid pilots will be laid off. They should get it while they can because the future is opaque.

  12. This new pay package for pilots helps me understand why on flights from the west coast is substantially higher than UA and LH, in Business Class.

  13. There isn’t a new pay package (yet), this is the CEO circumventing the pilot’s negotiating committee and pleading directly with the group. Standard union busting tactic that won’t garner the support he thinks it will…. In either case, Scott Kirby at UAL has committed to an industry leading contract with his group so you should fully expect them to exceed this. Also, Delta has a ratified agreement that mandates their pilot rates “snap up” to exceed either UAL or AA by 1% if they agree to a higher rate than their recently ratified PWA. This can be done once. The bar has been set!!!

  14. And doctors, lawyers get paid based on performance and for working their butts off, not on seniority.
    And for doctors making that it’s college plus 8 -10 years before they make squat.

    There aren’t many engineers making that kind of money

    And yet still pilots will whine about how tough they have it.

  15. Thanks for the laugh. Do you think pilots make salaries like this from day 1? How long do you think it takes to make it from one’s very first flight to the left seat of a wide body jet at AA? I know you are completely clueless on the subject, but at least humor us with your babbling.

    BTW. A doctor has insurance for screw ups that result in his or her customers dying. The pilot just dies with them.

  16. This pay is very excessive. 350-400K max is within reason. Anything above it is blackmail. There should be a point where management says no and lets contracts expire. They can hire pilots on a per diem basis then. Airlines should have used Covid to fire everyone and void the contracts.

  17. 1.) You Don’t have a say in anything.
    2.) Contracts don’t expire, they simply become amendable.
    3.) Pilots simply wouldn’t work for “per diem”. That’s an ignorant thought and would simply result in the airline have zero pilots.
    4.) Firing pilots doesn’t void contracts, but it will certainly make it very difficult (impossible actually) to hire more pilots. Another ignorant idea.
    5.) You have no clue what you’re talking about and should definitely sit this one out.

  18. @ John Arton Who would you nominate to decide when a pay rate qualifies as “excessive”? How, in your worldview, is $400,000 “within reason” but $475-$590,000 “excessive”? In this world you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you’re able to negotiate.

  19. It needs to be clarified that the CEO is taking many liberties to project the highest dollar figure possible.

    He’s using top-of-scale captains, yes, but also including the value of sick time, vacation time (can be sold back to company), and retirement contributions.

    Also, these are the raises over the next 4 years. The current contract expried Jan 2019.

    So subtract 8 years of inflation (4 in past 4 in future) from the gains.

  20. All well and good when mechanics rampers flight attendants still have contracts being negotiated. Power is in numbers. If the 3 latter unions join forces they can force the airlines hands and back to square one

  21. They certainly won’t be “getting themselves in trouble” paying their pilots Delta’s rates, but this is clearly more money than these employees “deserve.” It comes out of everyone else’s pockets: shareholders, customers, other employees. The Railway Labor Act applied to these millionaires is a very stupid thing.

  22. Is there anything more laughable than a bunch of pilots walking a line carrying signs trying to convince the average Joe and Jill how unfairly they are treated?

  23. Anyone complaining needs to know that Robert Isom DOUBLED his pay on day one. Good for the Pilots. To cover the cost, maybe AA could start charging real money for seats and get rid of the BE fare which are the neediest group.

  24. I think you are getting some bad info from an airline ‘insider’ trying to force the pilots hand in public. AA does not have a ‘me too’ clause in its contract. Second, no fourth year capt would get that pay amount from any airline. You are being bamboozled and don’t know it. If AA offered that kind of money, a contract would have been signed. Think about it.

    AA Pilot

  25. I don’t see the problem.. I was making that much flying an MD-80 for MuseAir in 1984. Hold on, the decimal is in the wrong place , , , I was making $50,000.00 a year!

  26. Don’t planes pretty much fly themselves? These guys are glorified bus drivers..

    They should just improve the autopilot to the point a pilot is no more than a warm body in a seat.

  27. Definitely some misconceptions here, in the comments most particularly. Those numbers are for pilots lucky enough to be at AA long enough to have the seniority to get that. The vast majority of pilots at AA, and pilots in general, will never see that kind of money. Even those that can hit that benchmark at the end of their careers will generally have made less than doctors over the course of their entire respective careers and that’s only looking at those that finish at that high water mark. Those that don’t, and that’s most pilots, will finish with overall career earnings and savings far lower than that.
    But that’s Isom’s intent here. Show the top end as though that’s what everyone gets and let public perception go against the pilots.

  28. Wow! Uh, why was my comment “moderated”? Nothing offensive. Nothing political. Can’t find a link to ask why.

  29. You are not allowed to agree with the narrative here I see. I will move on. I will not read here anymore. I will send links to people I know anymore. I now know what kind of site this is.

  30. @Mark – I’m not sure why your comment automatically went into the moderation queue, but since it was past midnight Eastern time I wasn’t around to clear it in real time. Had to wait until a bit after 5am Eastern to do that. Sorry for inconvenience!

  31. I’m 46, if I had to start my career over, I’d become an airline pilot. Is it too late for me to start??

  32. Gary and all the other experts here: Apply to be a pilot at AA. You guys all know your stuff and clearly are qualified. Let see it!

  33. Any of you clowns saying pilots are overpaid ever consider the fact that doctors don’t have to retire at 65? Doctors don’t have to take an annual jeopardy checking event on their knowledge and skills? The fact that doctors don’t have to take two jeopardy, possible career ending medical exams per year? Yeah didn’t think so.

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