How Much Are Airline Bosses Cutting Their Own Pay? Probably Less Than You Think

Executives of major companies are taking a pay cut to show solidarity with the suffering of their employees, and in some cases with furloughed workers. Their pay should be cut because for most compensation has ostensibly been tied to the financial performance of their companies.

When that happens they usually announce big cuts in “base pay” or salary, not in bonus (which in some case will be guaranteed) and not in stock. And salary is usually one of the smallest components of their income.

While most of the top executives at American Airlines are taking cuts to base salary, Doug Parker hasn’t taken a base salary in 5 years. He’s paid in stock. And he’s not taking less stock. The airline, in an internal company communication, pointed out to employees that the value of Parker’s stock portfolio has fallen – as though they were supposed to feel badly for him.

  • That portfolio likely remains greater than what most of them will ever earn.

  • The value of American Airlines stock had been in precipitous decline under his leadership, even before the current crisis.

A new SEC filing has details on the most recent United Airlines corporate executive compensation. United’s CEO Oscar Munoz will take $0 in base salary until June 30. Incoming CEO Scott Kirby will do the same. But how much of a cut is that, really? (HT: Tomi Kilgore)

Here’s 2019 compensation for both Munoz and Kirby.

Time Performance-
Salary Bonus Vested RSUs Based RSUs Total
Oscar Munoz 1,250,000 2,500,000 5,375,000 5,375,000 14,500,000
J. Scott Kirby 875,000 1,093,750 3,062,500 3,062,500 8,093,750

Bonus payouts are targeted at 200% of base for Oscar Munoz and 125% of base for Kirby, dependent on hitting key metrics. Long-term incentive stock awards are 860% of base for Munoz and 700% for Kirby.

The numbers above don’t include “the special premium-priced stock option award” Kirby got when the airline announced he would become CEO.

Munoz and Kirby have so far committed to waive 31% of base salary for the year (112 calendar days).

Scott Kirby received $13 million and lifetime travel when he left American. His signing bonus at United was $5 million in stock. United’s share price is currently 35% lower than it was when he joined.

Executive compensation is unpopular during tough times for a company. Of course if United makes it through to the other side of COVID-19 Kirby may earn his pay more than ever before (although Munoz was point on the government bailout, so perhaps he’s the one with the greatest ROI on compensation).

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. Yeah it’s amusing when people see CEOs foregoing their salary and think “wow they are working for free! They are truly good people!”

    No, they are just working for 90-95% of their standard total comp.

    Offer up a chunk of your stock grants to charity, or redistributed among hourly workers, and THAT would be impressive.

  2. @scotch, I just did a back of the envelope calculation based on the change in stock price this year times my vested shares and I think I’ve made about negative $43 million. I think that is fair compensation for the value I’ve added at the helm.

  3. It doesn’t matter how much they cut their pay, totally irrelevant. The truth is that the Airline Industry will now be destroyed by the Travel Insurance industry, who will wriggle out of any future cover for travellers. This will curtail any recovery because people will be frightened to fly. If these mega CEOs were smart, they’d try to address this issue…. but they are not, they work from a standard template which just got destroyed and in the US, they don’t understand international travel.

  4. Yeah you show what they normally get. How much of those time, performance bonuses you think they are going to get when the airline is flying 20% of its normal flying and the stock dumped from $94 a share to under $30 a share. I saw another article blaming United for the Asian guy being taken off the plane when he was asked but he didn’t. Odd how that same guy didn’t mention how Alaska airlines killed 88 people on AS 261 because the management reduced maintenance. Lets see 1 guy gets hurt or 88 people die a horrible death plunging to there deaths. Whats wrong with you people.

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