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Salary Increases: A Look Into Recent Changes By Airlines In The United States

Date: July 7, 2022

BY LUKAS SOUZA, Simple Flying

On Wednesday, United Airlines affiliate Air Wisconsin announced an increase in starting pay for first officers. Moving forward, Air Wisconsin first officers will start out at a pay rate of $60/hour.

Air Wisconsin raises starting first officer pay

Air Wisconsin is a regional airline that operates for United Airlines as United Express with a fleet of CRJ-200 jets. Its operations are spread throughout the East Coast of the United States and the Midwest. Following suit of two other regional airlines, Air Wisconsin announced this week that it is increasing its starting first officer pay to $60 per hour. In addition to the raise in hourly pay, the regional airline is offering $20,000 in bonuses, and premium pay available up to 300%.

On its careers page, Air Wisconsin lists the following requirements for first officers

  • Legal authorization to work in the United States
  • Must be able to read, write, fluently speak and understand the English Language
  • Must have an ATP or be qualified to obtain an ATP or Restricted ATP (CFR 61.159 and 61.160)
  • Current FAA First Class Medical Certificate
  • FCC Radio License
  • Valid civilian passport and the authorization to travel to and from all cities and countries served by Air Wisconsin
  • Valid United States driver's license
  • Graduation from accredited four year college preferred
  • Recency of experience will be considered

Other US regional airlines raising pilot pay

In June, three of American Airlines' regional operators announced pay rises for its pilots in order to stem attrition and help lock in operational reliability. PSA Airlines, Envoy Air, and Piedmont Airlines announced pay rises due to a continued loss of pilots to mainline carriers, especially American Airlines.

PSA Airlines announced a pay rise which will see its pilots earn an average of 57% more annually than they could at rival airlines. In a statement, PSA said,

"This revolutionary compensation package will make PSA's pilot group the highest paid in the regional airline industry. With an added supportability premium, pilots will earn a 50-70% HIGHER (57% on average) wage than the next highest paid regional carrier, Endeavor. With this total compensation package, including bonuses, pilots can now expect to earn 10% more over the next five years than their peers at leading LCCs, ULCCs, and cargo carriers."

Envoy Air has a goal of having the highest paid regional pilots in the industry but announced its pay increase before PSA, which beat its salary increase. The airline is adding a Pilot Supply Premium of 50% to their hourly pay rate for the next two years, plus 6% for Envoy First Officers and 10% for Envoy Captains until July 2029.

Piedmont Airlines announced a similar deal to Envoy, increasing its first-year Captain's pay from $78 per hour to $146 per hour (an 87% increase) and first-year officer pay from $51 per hour to $90 per hour (a 76% increase).

Pilots are starting to receive pay raises, but what about flight attendants?

Shortly after pay raises for the pilots of the American Airlines regional airlines were announced, pay raises for flight attendants at Envoy, Piedmont, and PSA were also announced. But the pay increases for flight attendants are nowhere near as significant as the pilot increases. Starting pay for flight attendants at PSA will be increased by about 31%. While this sounds like a significant increase, when looking at the numbers, it is extremely difficult to comprehend how PSA's flight attendants are able to make a living.

With the 31% pay increase, first-year flight attendants at PSA will earn about $25,000 per year, up from about $19,000 per year. At Piedmont, first-year flight attendants earned about $17,000 before the wage increases were announced. Flight attendants at both Envoy and Piedmont will receive a starting pay of around $27 per hour, close to the amount that starting flight attendants earn at some mainline carriers in the United States.

Digging a bit deeper, it does not take much to figure out that even with the salary increases, these wages are extremely low. Many nationwide retail stores and fast-food restaurants have raised their starting salaries to $15 per hour, meaning that full-time employees earn close to $32,000 annually, significantly more than the starting annual salary for regional flight attendants. Though the starting rate per hour for regional flight attendants is almost double that of many retail stores and fast-food restaurants, flight attendants are only paid for flight hours, drastically reducing their capacity to earn a decent wage.

Months ago, an online petition called Pay Me For Boarding was created to raise awareness for the lack of flight attendant pay during the boarding process. The petition quickly gained traction and an Instagram page was created with the same name. The goal of the page is to gain insight into flight attendants' working conditions, mental states, financial conditions, and more. Recently, the page posted a poll asking "are there any flight attendants following this page that are not able to make their monthly bills, are food insecure, are on food stamps, are making below poverty level in their residential state, or are homeless?" The results of the poll are shocking and can be seen in the post below:

The post contains multiple slides which include anonymous messages from flight attendants who add insight to the results of the poll. One message states, "We had an instructor recommend that we apply for food stamps when we graduated from training in order to afford groceries." Another message says, "Me. I'm behind on all of my bills. I woke in the middle of the night and ran outside to check if my car has been repossessed, yet."

Attempt to breach contract?

Regional flight attendants are not the only ones that are paid very little, the same applies to mainline flight attendants. Simple Flying had the opportunity to speak with a flight attendant for United Airlines, whose name will remain anonymous. As part of this conversation, the flight attendant shared that it is easy for airlines to keep flight attendant pay at such a low amount.

"One of the harsh realities of our industry is that we [flight attendants] are replaceable. It sucks to say that, but ultimately, it only takes a few weeks to get new people trained up at half the pay. And the airlines really take advantage of that."

The flight attendant added that United Airlines requires its flight attendants to attend six meetings named 'connect sessions' during their probationary period (which lasts six months). These six meetings each last between one-two hours and include 10-20 minutes of homework called 'pre-work'. While this may not sound bad, United does not compensate flight attendants for the time spent on these meetings, requiring them to attend the meetings on days off or during rest periods. If any of these meetings are not attended, United counts that as a missed trip on a flight attendant's record, and more than one missed trip can result in termination. The flight attendant missed one of their 'connect sessions' and recounted the scenario.

"When I didn't get the chance to attend one [connect meeting], they gave me a missed trip for it. He [my supervisor] says I could've gone in during my sit time or during my layover. One of the layovers was a 10.5 'day-over' [rest period during the daytime] after a red-eye. I got into Dulles (IAD) at 6AM, had 10.5 hours there, and I had to work two legs back to base that afternoon. They [my supervisors] wanted me to come in around noon time to attend it. Naturally, because that's ridiculous, on top of multiple contract violations, I didn't attend, so I got my first missed trip."

This is a situation where a flight attendant should request the support of the union, which has already happened in this case. Despite union support, the crew member does not believe the situation will be resolved quickly.

"The union is looking into it, but they can be so ridiculously bureaucratic that by they time they do anything about it, it'll be fall or winter at the earliest."

32% of flight attendants (that are part of unions) recently polled by Pay Me For Boarding on Instagram hate the unions. Another 32% say they have not had to utilize the union for any grievances, and the remaining 37% love their unions.

The reason for many of the widespread issues with pilots and flight attendants is the Railway Labor Act, a law that was created in 1926 to manage the working conditions of railroad workers and now applies to airlines. The law has been amended twice, once in 1934 and again in 1966, and was expanded in 1936 to include airlines. Fighting against an almost 60-year-old law for better working conditions is no easy task. Nonetheless, flight attendants all over the United States remain strong in the fight and hope that their voices are heard by their employers.

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